Do Books Have a Role in Nature Play?

Since taking the nature play plunge, I've made a lot of changes...

Spending my days outdoors instead of under fluorescent lights is the most obvious, but there have been dramatic changes to my educational philosophy as well, especially when it comes to literacy learning. 

These days I studiously avoid worksheets and rote literacy drills and instead emphasize practices like group journaling and student-driven learning through play. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is my belief in the incredible importance of quality books in early childhood education. I make sure to include at least one whole-group read aloud during every single class session, and I carry pocket guides and other reference books with me whenever we explore outdoors. 

 Do Books Have a Role in Nature Play?

Reading together does more than just expose children to a range of key language and literacy skills; high-quality picture books also play an essential role in deepening authentic play and learning. By selecting books that relate to student interests or reflect seasonal happenings, these story times offer the class a pool of shared knowledge, meaning, and vocabulary from which to draw on, allowing for richer play and exploration. 

This past month, with winter approaching, my Nature School students started to notice some curious things outdoors:

What’s that salamander doing under this rock?”

“Where are those geese flying?”

“Why is there a pile of black walnut shells on that stump?” 

While most had some basic understanding of the ideas of hibernation, migration, and adaptation, reading a combination of fiction and non-fiction books around these topics has provided context for their observations, expanded their knowledge, and prompted them to engage in richer imaginative play around these topics. 

Inspired by John Yeoman's story The Bear's Winter Housefor example, the children set about collecting sticks, leaves, bark, and moss to create their own miniature animal dens for small plastic animals. That quickly sparked an interest in building on a larger scale, and soon they were working together to transport large logs and sticks, creating multi-roomed child-size dens. This play wasn't just deepening their understanding of the concepts of seasonal change and hibernation; it was pushing them to work as a team, to strengthen their gross and fine motor skills, and to explore the realms of engineering and physics through building. There's no better way to foster creativity, problem solving, and authentic learning than through outdoor play and exploration, and quality books play a key role.  

Starting in January 2018, I’ll be sharing monthly round-ups of high-quality picture books to support nature-based early childhood learning. Make sure to sign up for my newsletter so you don't miss out on any updates (plus you'll get free access to my Ultimate Nature Play ToolkitI)!

 

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Emma Huvos