Posts tagged: helpful books

Raising Environmentally Aware Children (Blog Action Day)

By , October 15, 2007 12:01 am

I truly believe that the way to raise environmentally aware children is to instill a love and appreciation of nature at an early age.

Here are some ideas and resources to help parents encourage a love of nature in their children. Just one of these ideas alone may not make much of a difference, but a combination of several should begin to have an impact on the way children perceive the world we live in. I hope so anyhow! Please give some of these a try:

1) Get your kids outside! Go for a hike, or even a walk around the neighborhood. The National Wildlife Federation has a website for parents and kids called The Green Hour which is filled with ideas for what to do outside. Also check out Backyard Nature with Jim Conrad for 101 nature-oriented activities that change seasonally.

2) Have your kids plant a small garden. If you live in the city, have them plant a pot or two on the deck or even in a sunny window. Here are some of my tips for gardening with children: The Children’s Garden.

3) Subscribe to nature magazines for children such as Zoobooks (ages 4-12), Zootles (ages 2-5), National Geographic Kids (6-14), National Geographic Little Kids (ages 3-6), Ranger Rick (ages 7 and up), Your Big Backyard (ages 3-7) or for really little ones (ages 1-4) – try the National Wildlife Federation’s Wild Animal Baby. Not only do these magazines teach kids about nature, but they encourage reading too!

Note: Ranger Rick must have been around for eons, because even I remember getting it, and loving it, as a child.

4) Subscribe to a nature club such as the Arbor Day Foundation’s Nature Explore Club.

5) Put out a bird feeder, or better yet, a variety of bird feeders (hummingbird, thistle seed, suet feeders, platform feeders, peanuts in shells, as well as the traditional sunflower and millet varieties). Even in the city it should usually be possible to hang a small feeder outside a window. If you can put out a bird bath, especially a heated one for climates with cold winters, you will notice an even greater number of bird visitors.

6) Get a kit for raising butterflies, frogs, ladybugs, or hermit crabs for example.

Or how about an ant farm?

Or my personal favorite…sea monkeys!

7) Set an example. Whether we like it or not, kids model parents’ behaviors. Show your own interest in nature, and point out interesting animals, insects, plants etc. on a daily basis. To inspire yourself, I suggest reading Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder. Read my review of it here. Also, you can check out the adult resources here, at the Hooked on Nature website.

8) Come up with some nature-themed art projects for your children, or recycled art. Good resources for ideas are: Nature’s Art Box, Recycled Crafts Box, and Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children

If you are interested, I reviewed Earthways here.

9) Involve children in your recycling. Let them help sort. Take them with you when you drop it off. Older children might benefit from a book like Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming. Read my review here for more information.

10) Read nature-themed stories to your children. Here are some suggested reading lists by age from the Hooked on Nature website:

Ages 3-8
Ages 6-14

11) Set up a seasonal nature table in your home where children can display their outdoor finds. A fall table for example might have fall leaves, acorns, and pine cones, whereas a spring table might have spring flowers, feathers and grasses. Change the table seasonally and see what wonders your children come home with.

12) Start solstice celebrations in your home. Explain about the movement of the Earth, what causes the seasons, and what the solstice means. Last year we had our first annual solstice celebration on the winter solstice. We lit candles and had a special meal. The children gathered whatever they could find outside to create the centerpiece (pine branches, pine cones, rocks, and twigs). They still talk about that evening more than any other holiday celebration that we have had! I believe that being more aware of the natural rhythms of life, helps build an awareness of the importance of nature and the planet.


I really wish I had begun this post three weeks ago instead of last night, because I know that there are many more great ideas for getting kids excited about nature and the environment. This will definitely have to be an ongoing project for me.

I hope you have enjoyed my ideas, and will find them useful. The main point is that children are the future of out planet. Get them outdoors and teach them just how wonderful our planet is…PLEASE!!!!

Great Resource for Keeping Young Toddlers Busy!

By , October 11, 2007 8:57 pm

At the end of September I wrote a post entitled How to Get By Without the Electronic Babysitting Box, inspired by the frequent questions I get along the lines of “how do you make supper without a TV to keep the kids occupied?” In the post I mention that for me, the1 to 2 year-old range is the most challenging one to keep independently busy when necessary.

This evening I was going through one of my bookshelves and I happened upon a little book that has very simple and creative ideas for keeping 1.5 to 3 year-olds busy. It is The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner.

I was given this book as a gift when my oldest was just a baby. Honestly, at first I was completely underwhelmed by it. Not knowing much about little ones, I had no idea what challenges I would face when my sweet infant became an active young toddler. Activities such as “Car Wash” (p.128 – child washes riding toys) or “Pasta Sort” (p.184 – child sorts different shapes of pasta into small containers) sounded pretty boring and unimaginative. After all, wouldn’t my little one be creating art masterpieces and reading War and Peace by age 2?

Well, several years and several children have taught me that activities such as “Car Wash” and “Pasta Sort” are, in fact, the absolute height of brilliance! I think that for adults, well for me anyhow, it is much easier to come up with projects and ideas for older children because they are more physically capable and think on a level closer to our own.

As I said in my Babysitting Box post, I do not believe in being my children’s entertainment committee, but there are times when they just mope about bored. So, especially being without TV, I find it useful to have a few ideas to throw out there for them to try. Older kids can do art, or origami, or crafts, or make books, or any number of things that adults can relate to.

Little ones are more of a mystery. Plus, they rely more on a grownup to play with them, or at least supervise a suitable independent project for their age. I find it challenging to think of appropriate ideas. Since most grownups would find pouring dried beans incredibly boring for example, it might not occur to us that something so simple can be a mesmerizing project for a 1.5 year-old!

This book has 365 such projects. Some are more complicated or require a bit more parental involvement than others, but all would truly be entertaining for a child in the 1.5 to 3 range. When I read these simple ideas now that I am on toddler number three, I often have a reaction of: “A ha! Why didn’t I think of that?” For example, the “Car Wash” idea would be a great toddler distraction on a warm day while Mom tries to garden. Or why not have your little one sort pasta shapes in the kitchen while you make dinner?

The 365 ideas in this book are organized by theme to make it easy to find just the one you need for any particular situation. The themes are:

  • Rainy Day Play
  • Kids in the Kitchen
  • Water Play
  • Outdoor Adventures
  • Out and About
  • Nursery Rhymes and Finger Plays
  • Early Learning Fun
  • Music and Movement
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Birthdays and Holidays

There are also sections on what to keep on hand in your craft cupboard, craft recipes (playdough, homemade paint, etc.) and other useful tidbits.

Trish Kuffner has written a series of other “Busy Books” too. We have also recently acquired The Children’s Busy Book : 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 6- to 10-year Old Busy, but have not used it yet. Leafing through it, I must say that the projects look really interesting. We’ll have to try a few of them soon. I’ll report back!

Here are links to all the books in the Kuffner “Busy Books” series in case you feel like browsing.

A Really Useful Art Book

By , August 30, 2007 11:11 am

Yes, I have stumbled upon yet another art book full of really great art activity ideas that I will never have time to do with my children. Big sigh.

The Usborne Book of Art Ideas is a cute miniature (5″x7″) hardcover book packed with neat projects that are very handily arranged by medium (watercolor paints, inks, and chalk pastels for example). The photographs are bright and very appealing (very much like those in the DK Publishing books if you are familiar with those).

Here are some photos of the inside:

This book seemed like an Amazon bargain to me at only $7.95 for a hardcover with tons of ideas (over 200, the cover claims). Plus it is eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 Promotion.

The ideas are very original and doable with things that most families have on hand. A few that struck me as interesting are:

– Glue pictures (creating a raised pattern or drawing using Elmer’s-type white glue)

– Blow paintings (using a straw to blow paint around on paper to create spiky shapes)

– Pulled cardboard prints (using thick cardboard to spread paint on paper)

– Cracked wax effect (creating a crackle appearance using crayons and paint)

There are also tips for working with each different medium as well as technical hints such as painting perspective, painting skies, etc.

This book is also full of useful odd bits of information. Did you know that “If you sprinkle salt onto watercolor paint, the salt soaks up the color, and leaves a grainy effect when it dries” (p.58). This makes sense now that I think about it, but it never would have occurred to me before I read this.

I would try out these ideas with my 5 and 7 year-old, but for the under-4 set, many of them might be too complex or messy. Imagine a 3 year-old blowing paint, the image is not a pretty one! A few of the ideas might be easily adapted to younger children though, so if you are interested, check it out of the library and take a look.

There is also an interesting-sounding large Usborne book called The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas. According to an Amazon reviewer, it is apparently a compilation of this little book, plus two other Usborne titles: The Usborne Book of Art Skills and The Usborne Book of Art Projects (Art Ideas). This might be a good one to look at too if you think you might also buy the other books in the series.

The Usborne Book of Art Ideas inspires me to drop my laundry basket and sit down to do some art. In fact, I think I shall!

Also take a look at these:

Activity Idea: Shadows

By , July 14, 2007 8:22 am

A dog? A deer? A rabbit? An ostrich? An ostrich!!! Yes! that’s what it is!!!

A dog? A deer? A crocodile? Our dog Belle? Hmmm……….

I was recently reminded of the fun ancient “unplugged activity” of casting hand shadows on the wall. My kids had never seen this before, but REALLY enjoyed it. I made these up myself, but if you really want to get into it, here are some web and book resources!


Shadow Puppets: Designing, Building, and Performing

Hand Shadows to be Thrown Upon the Wall
(Henry Bursill), a free, public domain downloadable e-book from the 19th century (from Project Gutenberg) – or buy it in real book form below from Amazon

Exploring Shadow Puppets

Make a Shadow Puppet Theatre

What Changes a Shadow’s Size
(science experiments from NASA’s Kids’ Science News Network)


The Dangerous Book for Boys (Conn & Hal Iggulden)

By , June 26, 2007 7:53 pm

There has been a lot of press and controversy surrounding The Dangerous Book for Boys. I first heard about it in an interview with one of the authors on public radio’s On Point (it seems the interview is no longer available to listen to). I found the interview to be vaguely annoying, in part due to one of the “guests,” but I also felt that the moderator was not handling things well either. However, the subject matter and theory behind the book sounded so interesting that I absolutely had to check it out. It seemed to be fitting for our unplugged family, and for Unplug Your Kids.

This book is coauthored by two British brothers who wanted to share with the world the activities that they enjoyed, and subjects that had fascinated them as children. According to the interview I heard, the authors are frustrated with plugged-in children, interested only in x-boxes, computer games and TV.

The book soared to the top of the best-seller list in England and now is climbing steadily here. Apparently certain subjects were altered to appeal to the American market (ex. cricket was removed, baseball was added). It is really sort of an encyclopedia of activities and knowledge “for boys.” The “for boys” part is what seems to have stirred up all the controversy.

Call me a wimp, but for better or worse, I am a very non-confrontational person and I really don’t want to get into a feminist, nature vs. nurture, girls vs. boys, or any other kind of debate here or anywhere else. All I can say is that the title does not bother me in the least. Might some girls like this book? Yes. Might some boys NOT like this book? Yes. Could/should the authors have called it something else? I don’t know. End of subject. I want to talk about the book, not the controversy.

This book is a bit of an encyclopedia, or guidebook, to certain activities and knowledge that might be considered lost on today’s youth. Even the cover and marbleized end papers of the book recall a bygone era.

The introduction is wonderful and explains the whole premise of this book: unplug your kids! Here is the first paragraph:

“In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage. The one thing that we always say about childhood is that we seemed to have more time back then. This book will help you recapture those Sunday afternoons and long summers-because they’re still long if you know how to look at them.”

Here, here! I so agree!

As for the rest of the book, it contains an odd array of activities (for example: Making a Periscope, Coin Tricks, Charting the Universe, Making a Battery, Marbling Paper, Secret Inks, Making Crystals, and Making Cloth Fireproof) and very diverse information (ex. Famous Battles, Navigation, The Fifty States, Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, The Rules of Rugby, Latin Phrases Every Boy Should Know, Books Every Boy Should Read, Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary, and The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). There is even a brief, two page section on advice about girls which might offend some, but I found quite amusing (for example: “Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of windbreaking will not endear you to a girl…”).

I have spent quite a few evenings reading this book in bed, and have learned a lot. It is really fascinating to me! The book is too advanced for my just-turned-5-year-old boy and also for my 6-almost-7-year-old-girl. We could maybe try a few of the activities together, but they won’t be reading it cover to cover for a while yet.

When they are older it will definitely be a fun reference for them. We’ll skip the sections on “Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit,” and “Tanning a Skin,” but some of the other information and activities will be perfect later on down the road.

The whole point is simple: kids should be out in nature and experiencing life, not sitting in front of a screen. The aim of this book is to provide a little non-preachy inspiration and some fun ideas for things to do with your kids that don’t involve a screen or a joystick.

If you are at all concerned about the political correctness of the book, or the suitability of any of the suggestions or information, then I would advise you to check it out of the library before buying it. Make sure that you are comfortable with it and that it is right for you.

I, however, love it and think it will be a fun book for us.

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