Owning a piece of the same homestead that my ancestors settled makes me a steward of this earth. Like my parents and grandparents, there are days when I am sweaty and exhausted from good honest work in the soil; there are days when I sit in my cushioned chair on the deck admiring the clouds. I am fortunate to have ”one foot in the city” and “one foot on the farm.”
You might expect me to be sitting by the fireside
during these recent Kansas snowstorms, but I’m using the time more productively
to prepare for one of my favorite volunteer efforts – creating a love of nature
in three to five year old children.
As a Kansas master naturalist, I enjoy working in
the local gardens and nature centers and as a lifelong educator, I am dedicated
to the idea of kids loving nature too.At Great Plains Nature Center, one of my favorite activities is a weekly
group for preschoolers called “Little Nature Lovers.”
As you might expect, the attention span for this age
group is short, so we have found a switch of activity about every 12 minutes
works fairly well with parent help.My
group does one fiction and one non-fiction book on a topic followed by a simple
craft for them to take home.
The selection of the literature is extremely
important.If your public library is
like mine, it has thousands of books for children, but I look for books with
both fiction and nonfiction, I look for books that reflect animals and life forms
that are “real” and not personified. Sometimes
I find a quality story that might have an animal talking, but I always point
out to the children that “we” know that animals can’t really talk and that it
is just a story.An example of this
might be Owl Babies by Martin Waddel, where the baby owls do speak, but
say what we might imagine any baby saying when left alone.The book’s redeeming value is in introducing
what owls eat and the hunting practices of owls.Still another example might be some of the
books by Eric Carle, such as The Very Quiet Cricket, where speech is
used, but with insect characteristics. Much information is added in excellent illustrations.
Don't forget to stop and talk about what you see
Second, I look for books that either have excellent
and realistic illustrations, or photos. These are becoming much more available
with the new national standards emphasizing nonfiction comprehension.I particularly like the books written by Jim
Arnosky because the illustrations are full and beautiful and worthy of
discussion as a picture book.I also
like the Lerner “Pull Ahead” books that have photographs and excellent
text.I am developing this week’s lesson
on the eastern cottontail rabbit and chose Rabbits & Raindrops by
Jim Arnosky and Cottontail Rabbits by Kristi Gallagher.The latter is a Lerner publication.
Finally, I look for good content that is accurate
and appropriate for the preschool age. I like the Lerner publications for this
reason as well.The pictures and text go
well together and allow children to respond with their own prior
knowledge.Sometimes I select a book with
great pictures, even if it is over their heads, and select the best of the information to avoid overload.
Many families are joining the effort to introduce
their children to nature as well.If you
are interested in pursuing the effort, I would recommend the “Children and
Nature Network” for ideas and links.It
is at www.childrenandnature.org.