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Three books to encourage healthy outdoor play

Great ideas to help kids get outside

Great ideas to help kids get outside

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
by Kate Messner is a beauty of a book. With lovely, poetic text plus detailed and colorful illustrations, Messner opens the door to understanding the complexity of life in the garden.

Nana and her granddaughter explore what the eye can see on top of the soil and also learn what is hidden beneath the dirt. The ecosystem with its dirt, leaves, and sprouts also holds earthworms digging, snakes hunting and skunks burrowing.

You’ll enjoy following this Grandma/Granddaughter journey through the gardening year with all of its planning, planting and harvesting. The book includes a glossary of creatures living in and around and under the garden.

This book is meant for children aged 5-8

READ MORE De-stress your kids: The benefits of nature play

Play the Forest School Way by Peter Houghton and June Worroll is a gem meant for parents and their children aged 8-12, but the ideas can be adapted for younger children as well. Nature Play is a growing phenomenon across the country as adults see the crying need of our children to spend more time out of doors.

The book is filled with games to play in the woods and other nature play spaces, woodland crafts, and tons of skill-building projects for children growing in knowledge and appreciation for the out of doors.

You’ll find ideas for teaching children to build fires safely, whittle a bow and arrows, creating a shelter and foraging for food. There are also nature craft ideas and suggestions for outdoor games.

Children playing in the out of doors in authentic natural settings grow in observation skills and develop resourcefulness, connection to their world and persistence as they pursue projects done by their own hands.

In addition playing out of doors reduces stress levels, and encourages children to engage in active play so necessary in this time when children tend to spend many hours in sedentary activities. 

READ MORE: Getting kids to bond with nature

Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World by Nancy Striniste is a guidebook for parents who want to bring natural settings into their own backyard. Even a deck or patio can be transformed into a more natural setting with simple additions of natural objects.

Children love to play with objects found in nature: rocks, sticks, water, sand, twigs, leaves and the like. They organize, sort, create and otherwise engage in sensory projects when left to interact with natural objects.

Such nature play enhances creativity, learning and… it’s fun. Nature play inspires imagination and increases observation skills. It’s also a great de-stressor.

In this time in which most play has been removed from the school setting, children will greatly benefit from unstructured play times in natural settings. This book will encourage you to give your kids the gift of time spent in “wild” places.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and a writer. She is the author of “Homegrown Readers” and “Homegrown Family Fun”. Find Jan at

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