Children’s Nature Book Review: Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt


Book Review: Susan Olcott

A great new book just came out…Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal.  If you have not seen this book yet we highly recommend it!

Topics – Gardening, spring, seasons, insects

Summary – Following on the theme of Over and Under the Snow, one of my favorite winter books, the same illustrator/author pair have written a lovely book about the secret happenings under the dirt as spring emerges.  I love the idea of what you see and what you don’t see and encouraging kids to use their imagination to think of the busy world that exists underground filled with bugs and worms that all make the vibrance above possible.  Reading this after planting our spring garden was perfect in encouraging patience in waiting for seeds to sprout and wondering what is happening to make them grow.  Spring continues into the fall when things become quiet and dormant again and the natural world prepares for winter’s rest, which gives the book a nice seasonal progression.  At the end, there is a great section at the end of the book that gives extra information on the animals that are part of the story.

As a little girl and her nana plant, tend, and harvest their vegetable garden, they discover that the world in the dirt is just as busy as the world above. While they water the garden, eat fresh green beans, and read under the sunflowers, down beneath the leaves, pill bugs chew, a tomato hornworm rests, and skunks work the night shift gobbling cutworms. This nonfiction title ends with information about the various animals found in gardens.

Complimentary Outdoor Activities: 

-Plant a garden and watch and wait for seedlings to emerge.

-Have a sprouting race by planting the same seeds indoors and out and seeing which ones emerge first – you might be surprised!

-Dig in the dirt outside and see what bugs you find.

For more activities related to this book check out this blog…Chronicle books blog

Suggested Ages:  This is a wonderful book for all ages due to the great illustrations-it has very few words per page so a great book to use with preschoolers on up!

Nature Families rates this book 5 out of 5 Acorns!  Check it out of your local library or add it to your own library–click here to purchase from Amazon-Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt!

lucy garden

Butterfly Activities

By: Susan Olcott

butterfly 3Our family nature club, Nature Nuts,  recently met and participated in this fun lesson all about butterflies…perfect for the warm spring weather we have been experiencing.  You might want to try all or some of these ideas with your family and friends!

Have Fun, be creative, and please share if you add more to these ideas!

We started the day by reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and passing out the fruits in the story to each child to hold up during the reading when their particular fruit came up as an item the caterpillar ate.  This was a fun way to engage the children with this wonderful classic story!

butterfly lesson 1            Butterfly lesson 2

Then we made butterfly hand kites out of butterfly shaped construction paper-we just drew and cut out our own design, thin crepe paper (streamers), straws (for a proboscis) and pipe cleaner antenna.  To make a hand kite you simply cut a strip of construction paper and make it into a loop-and attach it to the bottom of the paper butterfly.  The children can then use this as a handle and can run around “flying” their butterflies.

butterfly 4            butterfly 5

Next, we wrapped the children up in towels with their butterfly hand kites.  The children then pretended to be caterpillars hatching out of their cocoons into the butterflies they had made.  They wiggled until their “cocoons” began to break.

butterfly 6Butterflies are cold blooded and have to huddle for warmth when it gets chilly, so we had a butterfly huddle and then migrated all together across a local bridge and back.

butterfly 7            butterfly 8

Tired from the “migration”, we huddled up and read a few more butterfly poems from the great book Butterfly Poems before getting hungry and going on a hunt–a short hike– for food (flowers, seeds) and then returning to have a fruit feeding frenzy where we had a group snack of fresh fruits.

butterfly 9We finished by making butterfly feeders out of our plastic snack plates, punching holes and then adding string to create a hanger.  Butterflies love jelly-which you can put on the feeders and hang up at home to watch and observe butterflies in your own yards and gardens.

Supplies List:
Beach towels, Construction paper, Tape, Crepe paper, Scissors, Pipe cleaners, Colored straws, Paper bags (for collection of seeds and flowers during migration), Cut fruit, String, Plastic Plates, Hole Punch



Children’s Nature Book Reviews: “Nest” by Jorey Hurley

nestNature Book Review by Susan Olcott

Nest is a lovely picture book about the life cycle of a family of robins.  The book begins with the mother and father taking care of the egg and ends with the fledged baby meeting its own mate and taking care of a new egg.  She follows the seasons beautifully and simply with just a few words, which leaves children to their observation skills to look at what changes over time – the leaves, the spots on the young robin’s breast, the food they are searching for, for example.  Hurley includes the story of how she wrote the book for her daughters after observing a family of robins herself, which is fun to share with kids.  She also includes additional facts about robins, all of which is great information that isn’t too complicated. We recommend you try to check this out from your local library but here is a link to Amazon as well….NEST.

Optional Supplemental Activities – After reading this book consider looking at a real bird’s nest if you have one or go for a walk in the woods looking for old nests!

susan nest

Looking at real birds nest while reading the book can be very fun!

Another fun idea that we tried was we went outside and looked for nesting materials and then made nests out of paper bowls that we lined with yarn, sticks, and leaves using glue sticks.  This was EASY and A LOT of fun!

maya nest

Collecting Nest Building Materials

nest 2

Building the Nest!

nest craft molly nest

I also gave my kiddos plastic eggs with a candy peep inside to take care of for a week and then we had a hatching party.

Nature Families Rating:  5 out of 5 Acorns for simplicity and amazing illustrations!

Appropriate for All Ages but recommended for: Ages 3-7

Topics Related to This Book: Seasons, Life cycle, Nests, Birds

Let us know if you like this book and share your ideas with us on how you paired it with fun activities as well!

Exploring Your Local Wild Places in the Spring…A Quick and Easy Idea!


Discovering an ingenious homemade sap collection system in our local woods!

This has been a beautiful, tumultuous  and rambunctious spring here in New England, and much like my two and four year old daughters, new surprises seem to await behind every corner.  We have been spending a lot of time outside enjoying the 50 degree days-delighting in the warmth and rejuvenation we have so missed feeling over the long winter; and then the next day, bundling up on the snowy 30 degree days-experts now at the whole dance of zipping snowsuits, finding mittens and the boot and hat shuffle.  It seems it is hard to predict what will come next, but that is something that makes spring a really exciting and enjoyable season to explore with children!  Every morning now the girls are running to the window wondering if it will be snowing, rainy or sunny!

I have been spending time lately thinking and teaching about spring and the signs of spring and will post more detailed lesson plans for family nature clubs or early childhood educators in few days, but I think as a parent it is important to remember that we don’t have to do long-well planned activities with our kids to get them outside having an awesome nature experience!  As parents we just need to help get our kids outside and into their local world-offering them safe spaces for exploration and play.  Here is a quick idea that you can do in the next few weeks in your own neighborhood this spring as a family or with friends… Have fun exploring!  If you have ideas on fun spring activities that you do with your family or friends please share!!!

Signs of Spring Walk

Take a walk around your neighborhood or in a local park or woods and look, listen, and feel the signs of spring.  Take your phone or camera along and take pictures with your kids of the signs they discover…you could even print them when you get home and make a little book or poster with them for their room.  This is a fun way to watch the evidence of seasonal change and to help your children explore a local place!  Here are just a few examples of the fun photos we took from our Signs of Spring Hike.


A perfect Deer Track was discovered in one of the last remaining snow patches


Snow drops first blooming!

Tunnels of Small Animals Emerging

Tunnels of Small Animals Emerging