As we approach the summer solstice, it’s harder to maintain my strict evening routine. The sky is light long after dinner, and my four-year-old and six-year-old find bugs, birds, and bark more appealing than bath and bedtime.   

Who can blame them?

Everything they see sparks their wonder: spiders’ webs, swallows’ nests, ants swarming a dead beetle, bees drinking from flower bushes, plants pushing up through sidewalk cracks, peeper frogs croaking, dragonflies perching, and wild turkeys strutting down the street. They want to dig in the dirt, climb a tree, drop maple “helicopter” seeds, blow on dandelions, and hunt for four-leaf clovers.  

Daniel Tiger is right, “There’s so much to explore when you’re outside.”

Last winter, after spending too much time cooped up inside, I combed the library for picture books that would get us excited about spring and summer nature exploration. These 10 emerged as favorites.

Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods by Mary Quattlebaum (Author) and Laura J. Bryant  (Illustrator)
Here’s a new take on a familiar song. Jo MacDonald is the granddaughter of Old MacDonald (the one who has a farm). One day, she and her grandpa take a hike in the forest and encounter woodland animals. Next time you go for a walk with your child, you could sing your own version of this song, using what you see and hear as inspiration!

In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming
This Caldecott Honor book is a great introduction to pond life for preschoolers and toddlers.  Vibrant, magnified pictures of insects and animals are paired with peppy verbs such as wiggle, jiggle, waddle, wade, swoop, and swirl.  

Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup
Studying a tree is a great way to investigate seasons and animal habitats. As you turn each page, the scene changes slightly. My kids love pointing out which animals have appeared or disappeared and how the branches, buds, and leaves are shifting.

Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer (Authors) and Frann Preston-Gannon (Illustrator)
This beautiful book, with its simple text, is a great introduction to our ecosystem and the circle of life.  Because of an acorn, a tree grows; because of a tree, a bird has a place to build a nest, and so on. The next time your child finds an acorn outside, she’ll have a whole new appreciation for it.

Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul (Author) and Jason Chin  (Illustrator)
Over the course of a year, a brother and a sister experience every form of water: solid, liquid and gas.  From fog to rain, from steaming hot chocolate to frozen ponds. The illustrations will inspire your kids to jump in puddles, catch snowflakes, and gaze at summer clouds.

Redwoods by Jason Chin  (Author, Illustrator)
A young boy on the subway finds a book about redwood trees — and finds himself magically transported to a California forest. You get to peak over his shoulder and read his book along with him, learning from text and pictures about these natural wonders. It might inspire you to ask questions about trees in your corner of the world. What are their names? How old are they?

The Raft by Jim LaMarche
Nicky is not excited about spending the summer alone with his grandmother in her house in the Wisconsin woods. But as he spends hours and hours outside —  floating on a mysterious raft — he discovers magic, beauty, and adventure in nature.

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain (Author) and Yuval Zommer (Illustrator)
What nature can you find on a city street? This fold-out book takes you down down down below the sidewalk —  from pipes to animal burrows to rock layers to the earth’s core. This is the kind of book that you lay out on the floor and explore over and over again.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt and Over and Under the Pond  by Kate Messner (Author) and Christopher Silas Neal (Illustrator)
These two books pair exquisite illustrations with informative text —  introducing kids to pond and garden ecosystems. What’s happening above ground and above the water? And what is happening in the ground and under the surface?

Discover more ways to inspire outdoor exploration:


About Deborah Farmer Kris

Deborah Farmer Kris spent several years as a K-12 educator and as an associate at Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility. She is a regular contributor for MindShift and the mother of two young children. You can follow her on Twitter @dfkris.

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