Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv – I can not say enough about this book. It is one of the most important books that I have ever read. It has spawned a world wide movement to help get children outside. It has inspired legislation, hospital and school design, school curricula, nature centers, playground design, parents, and teachers around the globe. The main premise of the book is that most children now are deprived of nature and frequently suffer from “nature deficit disorder,” a phrase coined by Richard Louv in this book. They are less healthy mentally and physically and spend an AVERAGE (in the US) of almost 8 hours a day in front of screens (TV, phones, etc…). Louv discusses what the implications of nature deficit disorder are, the research that is currently out there, and he suggests many ways to help prevent it and recover from it. I strongly recommend that you read this book if you have children in your life in any way.
UNPLUGGED: 15 Steps to Disconnect from Technology and Reconnect to Nature, Yourself, Friends and Family by Jason Runkel Sperling – What if a few new activities could completely transform your family? Imagine waking up in the morning feeling excited to take on the day. This book will show you how to increase your happiness, health, and connection with a few simple steps. We’ve adopted this book as our Families in Nature start a family nature club training book.
The Nature Principle by Richard Louv – This book is the follow up to “Last Child in the Woods.” It is expands the concepts discussed in the first book and explains how nature deficit disorder affects adults as well. It proposes changes to cities and workplaces to create happier, healthier people. I also recommend that you read this book (even if you don’t have kids in your life.)
Nature’s Playground by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield – This is a beautiful book of simple activities to do with your own children, your grandchildren, or a whole group or class of children. It is one of my favorite books because the photos are incredible and serve as a good source of inspiration to actually go outside and do the activities described. The book is arranged by seasons, so you can find creative outdoor activities for any time of the year. Many of the activities could be presented to a child and then the child can go off and spend 10 minutes or 3 hours doing the activity on their own or with you or with their friends. My own children have repeated the activities in this book over and over on their own while playing everywhere from our own backyard to the forests on the Olympic Peninsula. I also like that this book encourages kids to really look at what is around them in nature – colors, textures, shapes, etc… and to touch it. I firmly believe that it helps children to connect to nature if they actually touch leaves, sticks, and (safe) bugs, and this book has many low impact ways for kids to do just that. I use this book often.
Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown – This book is an extremely comprehensive guide to becoming an outdoor leader. This book contains information on how to teach outdoors (leading rather than lecturing), activities to do with a group of students outdoors, lists of common medicinal and edible plants, information on how to track an animal and how to teach a kid to track an animal, and almost everything else you might need to know if you are an outdoor educator. It is a little dense and sometimes confusingly worded, but it has a plethora of useful knowledge, songs, and activities. I highly recommend this book if you are going to lead a group outdoors, especially if you are new to outdoor education.
Kids Camp! by Laurie Carlson and Judith Dammel – This is a book that I have used for years, as a classroom teacher, as a parent, and as an outdoor educator. It is a very simple and succinct book with information ranging from packing lists and how to make your own camping gear to camp food recipes and outdoor crafts. It has knots, home-made (cheap) science materials, birding basics, and games to play while camping. I highly recommend this book as well.
Camp Out! by Lynn Brunelle – This book contains everything from packing lists and knot tying to crafts, recipes, games (to play in the day and in the dark), and song lyrics. There are 366 pages and I think each one has a different activity on it. It even has (actual size) footprints of common animals that you can look for while camping and descriptions of the types of clouds. I also use this book often – particularly when I have forgotten how to play a game or the words to a song.
Nature School by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom – This book seems to be aimed at parents of younger children (2-8 yrs old), though older kids would certainly enjoy some of the activities in it. This book has a lot of information, especially for parents/teachers who are not outdoor experts. It is a great starting place and has some interesting ideas in it.
Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth by Patty Born Selly – I just bought this book at the Grass Roots Gathering for the Children and Nature Network. I have not yet read it but it looks very informative.
50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do) by Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler – This book is exactly what it sounds like – a list of 50 things to do with your kids that parents rarely do now. When we were kids, we were frequently sent outside or into the garage to do whatever we wanted (within reason). Now kids are much more controlled in all aspects of their lives – their playgrounds are frequently boring and too safe to be challenging or interesting, kids are watched constantly when they are outdoors, and they are rarely allowed to “tinker.” This book can give you the confidence as a parent to let your kid learn by doing, and not to be a “helicopter parent.” I highly recommend this book as I recommend that you let your kids climb trees. It is often that other parents will see my kids climbing trees in the park and voice their opinions on it. They are frequently upset that I let my kids do something so dangerous, and at the same time, they are impressed that the kids are strong enough to climb that high into a tree with no low branches. I always reply that if you let your kids climb trees, then they will be strong enough to climb trees. If kids are strong and know their limits, they are actually less likely to hurt themselves than if they never climb trees and try it one day when no one is looking. The same is true of “tinkering” as this book describes. There is a lot of science to be learned from doing dangerous things.
Project Wild – This is a workshop that you can take. Taking the short class will allow you to get the book full of activities. I took the class at the beginning of college when I had an outdoor education internship. Many different places offer this workshop – they are searchable on the website.
Project Wild Aquatic – This is also a workshop you can take that will allow you to get the book of activities. It is similar to Project Wild, but to be used in an environment with water nearby.