Children’s Nature Book Review: Over and Under the Pond

 

Over and Under the Pond

Over and Under the Pond, by Kate Messner

Topics – ponds, spring, tadpoles

Summary

What better sign of spring is there than the appearance of new life in a pond? In Over and Under the Pond, Kate Messner and Silas Neal capture this magic. This is another in the terrific series, including Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, about what you see and what you don’t. Messner’s simple and lyrical text is full of questions between a mother and child exploring a pond. There is so much imagination here – watching the shadows under water and the reflections on its surface. She uses a series of interwoven images over the pond and then under the pond, following the animals as they surface and then disappear. The text is peppered with great sounds as well, like, “gurgle, gurgle, sploosh,” which help the reader to think of him or herself as the observer. Silas Neal’s illustrations are colorful and bold and help us to see the connection between above and below as the main characters float along the surface. The progression from day to night as the mother and child return home to listen to the pond sounds as they fall asleep make it a lulling bedtime book. Having left the scientific facts out of the main text of the story, Messner puts additional material at the end about pond ecosystems and each of the pond animals she includes. There is also a helpful list of additional books and websites on ponds. I loved ponding with my girls and coming home to read this one and learn more about the animals we had seen.

Suggested Ages – This book is written for ages 5-8, but older readers and parents will appreciate the extra material at the end with more information on the animals in the story.

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

Children’s Nature Book Review: On the Move: Mass Migrations

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Book Review by: Susan Olcott

On the Move: Mass Migrations, by Scotti Cohn

Topics – migration, seasons

Summary:  This is yet another great educational book by Arbordale Publishing (formerly Sylvan Dell) that is a treasure trove of information both in the text, afterwards in the “For Creative Minds” section, and in the additional online resources. In On the Move, Scotti Cohn, gives wonderful descriptions of the migration patterns of a variety of animals. From seaside horseshoe crabs to arctic caribou, she covers many types of habitats and even includes seasonal interactions of animals in such as the salmon and the eagle. The details she adds like, “a mother caribou snorts and shakes her head. She is telling her calf to stay close to her,” help the reader to imagine being that animal. Susan Detwiler’s illustrations in this book as well as Scotti Cohn’s other stories, One Wolf Howls, and Big Cat, Little Kitty, are both eye-catching and realistic. These are all terrific books that I would highly recommend to classroom teachers as well as to parents.

Suggested Ages – This book is suggested for ages 4-8, but would be a wonderful text for slightly older readers as well. They can delve into the details and extra information at the end of the story. The illustrations will appeal to younger readers along with the sweet details of each animal’s life.

Children’s Nature Book Review:Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Hebert Yee

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Hebert Yee

Topics – tracks, winter, snow

Summary:

After we had exhausted ourselves skiing, sledding, and fort building, my girls and I spent the remainder of the first snow day looking at who else had been out playing atop the freshly fallen snow. In Tracks in the Snow, Wong Herbert Yee leads the reader out of a cozy house into the fields to discover who has left a set of mysterious tracks. With an inviting series of questions, Yee piques his readers’ curiosity. The little girl on the story makes both wonderful scientific observations about what animals would be there at that time of year and some wacky ones like, “maybe it’s a hippopotamus”, both of which make her seem real. As she follows the tracks through her field, she unknowingly encounters a series of animals tucked away in nests and burrows for the winter. It is as if they are watching her instead of the other way around. And, indeed, in the end, she discovers that it is her own tracks she has been following. The story has a lovely sense of completeness as Yee ends with her sitting at a table at home with her mom drinking tea. The fuzzy pencil illustrations add to both its frosty and cozy qualities. The repetition and rhyme throughout also heighten the sense as a reader of walking along in the snow. Along with the others in his seasonal series, “Who Likes Rain, Summer Days and Nights and My Autumn Book, Tracks in the Snow captures a child’s enchantment with the signs of the seasons.


Suggested Ages – This story is great for early readers who can find repeated, simple words and will enjoy the short phrases. Younger children will like the rhyme and can imagine making their own tracks along with the narrator of the story.

Children’s Nature Book Review: Feathers: Not Just for Flying

 

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Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart

Book Review by Susan Olcott

Topics – feathers, birds

Summary – Did you know that feathers could be eyelashes or that baby sand grouse can drink from their papa’s feathers? In Feathers: Not Just for Flying, Melissa Stewart uncovers the myriad ways birds use their feathers. She provides an overarching simple storyline and tucks rich natural history into what look like handwritten field notes taped to each page. Sarah Brannen illustrates these notes with portraits of each bird along with lovely details of their feathers. Stewart’s comparisons of feathers’ functions to everyday objects like a backhoe or a life jacket are perfect to help readers understand how each feather works differently. I pull this book out every spring and draw new tidbits from it each time. Having recently met Melissa Stewart at a writing conference, this year I was particularly interested in her Author’s Note at the end about the process of writing the book. She is truly a master of writing clever books about the outdoor world in ways that reach a variety of readers. I highly recommend them all!

Suggested Ages – This book is suitable for pre-K readers who will love the illustrations and simple story, as well as grade school students who can glean more information from her natural history notes.

You can find this book at your local library or link to it here on Amazon…Feathers: Not Just For Flying

“I Noticed Nature Subtly Dictating My Brush Strokes…”

An Essay by Janimarie Lester DeRose

Art in Nature Specialist for Nature Families

I am a clay artist working in Cache Valley, Utah, a beautiful home of farms and marsh land, tucked in the Rocky Mountains.  Recently, I was surprised at how starkly cold the decorated surface of my pottery was. Black and grey silhouettes of birds and tree skeletons graced my forms. It was February and a cold and lingering winter in Utah. I was working daily in the studio, and it was not till I looked back at the photographs from the year that I noticed the extremely strong connection between the seasons and the way I decorated my work. It was as if nature was subtly dictating my brush strokes.

In the spring, my art echoed the marshes that grace Cache Valley. Light blues and chartreuse circles with brush work of birds and reeds, brought a serene quality, full of new life to the pots.

Later, as summer sat heavily upon us, reds and oranges emerged with Red-winged Blackbirds and Poppy’s smothering the surfaces.

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Summer

And as autumn seeped into the mountains, I was drawn to a simplistic branch and berry design, leaving expanses of open space.

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Fall

This new awareness of how deeply my creativity is connected to the natural world’s cycles, has brought me a sense of settled balance and belonging to my home.

Making art in all seasons with our children, or even by ourselves, connects us more deeply to the places we live and the natural cycle of the seasons.  Whether you are an experienced artist or simply playing with art with your children-I hope you enjoy this connection as much as I do.

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Children’s Nature Book Review: Water is Water

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

A Book About the Water Cycle: Water is Water, by Miranda Paul, Illustrations by Jason Chin

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Topics – water, water cycle, poetry

Summary – “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is Water.” Thus begins Water is Water, as author Miranda Paul invites us to patter, slide, and seep us through the water cycle. Her simple, lyrical phrases help us to experience water in its many forms. Early readers will identify with the crisp sounds and poetic format of the writing. Jason Chin’s illustrations perfectly complement the text by showing what fun water can provide. The additional information at the back of the book is presented as a glossary of terms with illustrations that is both readable and informative. This is followed by another section of illustrated quick fun facts about the importance of water to our bodies and to the earth.

Suggested Ages – This non-fiction book is appropriate for pre-K children as well as early readers, as there are different levels of information tailored to each level of comprehension.

You can find this awesome book at your local library or here on Amazon!

Invitation to Nature-Based Play: Snow Kitchen

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The Snow Kitchen was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play”

Towards the end of summer, we posted an invitation that described how you might make an outdoor Mud Kitchen for messy, but fulfilling, nature based play. Recently I was giving some thought to repurposing this mud kitchen into a Snow Kitchen. The homemade cooktop, all of the pots, pans and utensils, the various dishes and muffin tins could be reused. The water and mud would be replaced with endless amounts of snow. To sweeten this kitchen experience, and to add a couple of new touches, I gave my sons spray bottles filled with colored water and a few more ice gems (see previous post: Snow Gems).

The Snow Kitchen, just like the mud kitchen, was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play, rich vocabulary, and (fleeting but appreciated) moments of cooperative play.

They made a dozen snow muffins, a variety of snow cakes (formed by compacting snow in a potato ricer), bowls of snow ice cream (using an ice cream scoop), trays of snow cubes, and mugs of snow cocoa, all decorated with the red and blue water sprayed on top.

This time the boys realized that the space below the cooktop could be used as an oven to bake the snow creations.

IMG_1390Once all of their goodies were made, they opened a Snow Café and served their Dad snow drinks and snow snacks.

IMG_1429This was so much fun that we all forgot how cold is was outside (at least, for a little while). Happy Nature-Based Snow Playing!

Invitation by: Laura Grunze-Franz

Invitation to Nature-Based Play: Snow Gems

Invitation by: Laura Grunze-Franz

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There are days when getting the boys out into the snow and cold is very difficult. The difficulty does not lie in the fact that it is cold and snowy, but in their desire to stay in the cozy, warm house. However, they can be easily coaxed out. Ice Gems are one way to coax them out…

All you need are ice cube trays, food coloring, and water. If you want to add a teachable science moment, use only primary (red, yellow and blue) colors and show your kids how to mix them to make other colors. My young boys think color mixing is rather magical.

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Just mix the food color into the water, pour the colors into the different ice cube molds, and freeze. Make as many different colored ice cubes as you want. We made two trays full. I set the ice trays outside to freeze the water, just to avoid any color spill “mishaps” in my freezer. Once they are frozen, let the kids take them to the snow and play with them as they see fit.

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We did an ice gem search in the snow. My youngest boy made a little cave for his gems and stored them in there. We let ours sit out for days until they melted and turn the snow many pretty colors. This is just a little invitation to add even more fun to nature’s wonderful playground of snow.  Happy ice gem hunting!

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Top 10 Tips for Celebrating Winter Solstice With Your Family…

We at Nature Families think it is really fun to create Nature-Based Family Traditions with your families and friends that reoccur with the seasons every year.  These traditions are something that keep childhood exciting and magical.  Winter Solstice is a perfect opportunity to create an alternative to the Christmas obsessions with items and materialism.  Consider reconnecting with you family on the solstice by spending time together instead of rushing around buying things for each other!  Here our our top ten ideas for fun activities to celebrate the solstice.  If you have other ideas you have tried with your family please share!  Lets keep this list growing and add to our traditions from year to year!  Happy Solstice!

blowing out wish garden

1.  Wish Gardens, the child writes their goals/wishes for the coming year on a small pieces of paper. They then bury (plant) the wishes in soil and then decorate their garden with rocks, little bits of shell, glitter, anything found in nature. Place tea candles on the top of the wishes and light, have the child remember what their wishes were as they blow out the candles. As the smoke rises, so too do their wishes.

2.  Build Pine cones encrusted with peanut butter and bird seed, and orange slices hung in the trees for the Chickadee’s and Flickers.

bird oranges

3.  Faceted Crystal hung to catch the sun and bring back the colors.

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4.  At sunset on Solstice toast in the “return of the Sun”, ring bells, and light candles and lanterns.

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5.  Cut a pomegranate to represent the seeds of coming spring.

6.  Hide a golden foiled chocolate orange to represent the Sun, break and share on Solstice.

7.  Prepare a Solstice Feast! The food can be shaped like the sun or the color of the sun. Talk about how all the food in the feast is connected to our Sun.

butternut squash

8.  Read a solstice story:  Here are a few great choices…

Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve” by Caitlin Matthews and Helen Cann

My Mama Earth” by Susan B. Katz and Illustrated by Melissa Launay

The Winter Solstice” by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis

9. Make a fire outside and roast marshmallows and sing songs…or consider making a fire inside with led tea lights and blocks…a real fire outside is better, but not when it’s 40 degrees and raining!

10.  Construct lanterns out of old milk jugs or soda jugs, glue thin pieces of crate paper on the outside for a stained glass effect.  Use a dowel or stick as a handle and connect it with a string.  Use a battery operated tea light inside.  After dark have a parade of lanterns around her yard or neighborhood!  Maybe your family solstice tradition can bring cheer to your community as well as your family!

Happy Winter Solstice From Nature Families!

candle

 

Invitations to Nature-Based Play: Gobble Gobble Gourds

By-Laura Grunze Franz

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This week we brought home a few gourds from the market, and my son and I were joking about how they looked like birds. Thus was born the idea of turning our gourds into turkeys.

To set up this nature-based invitation, we collected maple leaves, oak leaves, gingko leaves, and maple tree “helicopter” seeds. I added small pinecones and whole cloves to the mix.

First we painted the helicopter seeds red to be used as waddles. gourd7

Next, I thought we could push the cloves into the gourds to make the eyes. I was so very wrong. Nothing can penetrate those gourds, although I did not try a drill. So the boys decided they would like to use googly eyes instead. This was a good, cute choice but the sticky backs wouldn’t adhere to the gourds.

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Finally, we decided that the boys would loosely tape their materials (eyes, waddles and feathers) to their gourd turkeys and then I would use the hot glue gun to secure it all when they were finished.

It can be a good learning opportunity to be part of a project that hits roadblocks; it allows for creative problem solving. This bumpy, but creative, process ended in some very cute birds and two very happy boys.

Happy Nature Crafting!