Tag Archives: Children and Nature

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The Secret Lives of Animals: Book Review

On the heels of their highly successful and informative books, The Truth About Nature and The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, authors Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer are back with another delightful and fact-filled book that illuminates nature, The Secret Lives of Animals: 1,001 Tidbits, Oddities & Amazing Facts about North America’s Coolest Animals. Also returning for the third book is talented illustrator Rachel Riordan.


Like their other titles, The Secret Lives of Animals is colorful, easy to use, and appealing from start to finish. Animals are helpfully grouped by category, and each gets its moment in the sun, with illustrations, details and little-known facts.

Kids who are curious about animals will learn a lot about their favorites, as well as some creatures they’ve never heard of. Those who want to get outside to experience animals directly will find plenty of ideas. There is also terrific general science information to help explain concepts like migrations, taxonomies, the continental shelf, anadromous fish (I had never heard that term either), metamorphosis, keystone species, and how to tell a horn from an antler.

Inspired by the book, my family and I returned to some of our favorite activities, like crabbing, tidepooling, and making a bird feeder to attract and feed and local birds. We also took a walk to identify squirrel nests, looked at a spider web with a magnifying glass, and listened for animal sounds at night.



In addition, we learned a lot of fun facts about our animal friends and devised a quiz based on the tidbits in the book. See how well you do! (answers below.)

               Secret Lives of Animals Unofficial Quiz

  1. How do prairie dogs help their local grass?
  2. Are caribou and reindeer the same species?
  3. Do sockeye salmon change color after they spawn?
  4. What are baby mice sometimes called?
  5. Which animal dates back more than 300 million years and had a wingspan of up to 2 feet?
  6. Can you tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting the number of rattles?
  7. The Giant Pacific species of what animal weighs more than 600 pounds?
  8. How many species of fly are there?
  9. Can a sponge grow to be bigger than a human?
  10. What animal did Benjamin Franklin propose as America’s national bird, rather than the Bald Eagle?

                Quiz Answers

  1. They keep it trimmed.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes.
  4. Pinkies.
  5. Dragonfly.
  6. No.
  7. Giant Octopus.
  8. 150,000.
  9. Yes.
  10. Turkey.

If you enjoyed playing along, you will enjoy The Secret Lives of Animals! I have one copy to give away. To enter, leave a comment below, listing either your favorite animal or one you want to learn more about. I’ll choose a winner using a random generator by Midnight, PST, Weds, Nov. 4. The winner will be notified by email.

Small Wonders: Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth

I’m so pleased that Patty Born Selly, educational expert and consultant at Small Wonders, parent, Small Wonders blogger, and long-time advocate for early childhood nature play, has written a beautiful, inspiring and very thorough book, Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth.

After making the case for nature fun and offering tips for overcoming common obstacles to getting kids outside for exploration and play (“the kids are too wild”, “this is a logistical nightmare”, “we don’t have a nature area”), Selly dives into instructions for countless fun activities that inspire children’s exploration and care of nature and help them learn about weather, air, water, food, health and reuse. Each activity lists a recommended minimum age and offers detailed descriptions, as well as tips for further exploration. Many are very simple to do, such as a Sound Walk, a Color Search, a Seed Sort, or a Puddle Hunt, while offering windows to deep exploration and fun.

A few other wonderful projects include a Water Cycle Garden, in which kids create a greenhouse to observe the movement of water through plants and soil. Wind Ribbons, Kites, Rocket Balloons, and Paper Pinwheels are among the activities that help children explore air. Sunshine Sculptures, Shadow Tracing, and Raindrop Rainbows help children explore sun and rain. I love the Scent Chase, in which children experience their senses of smell with scent jars. I also love the Soap Making activity, which utilizes the melt-and-pour method and is part of a group of activities designed to help children think about healthy choices in cleaning and personal products.

Each activity includes the national science education standards that that activity meets. Each chapter includes information about the theme (such as “Weather, Climate and Energy”) suggestions for teaching and discussion of the impact of (weather) on people and of people on (weather), so that readers and the children in their lives can get a very clear understanding of the Earth’s ecosystem and their place within it. This is a very thorough, inspiring and fun book that will help parents, teachers, youth leaders and others spark children’s curiosity about and knowledge of the natural world.

Redleaf Press is offering a 30% discount on Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth from now through June 30, 2013. To take advantage of this deal, follow this link and enter the coupon code GREENEARTH.

You might also be interested in:

Patty Born Selly’s Top 10 Tips for Teaching Kids about the Environment
The Simple Joys of Tree Climbing, Small Wonders blog
Hear Patty Born Selly on the Mom Enough radio show
Felt a Bar of Soap
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
Kids Outdoor Adventure Book Makes You Want to Go Out and Play
Children & Nature Network

Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

Watching the sky and clouds can be somewhat of a luxury in our busy lives. When we think of unhurried childhoods, many of us picture a lazy afternoon or early evening, laying in the grass and gazing at the sky overhead, allowing ourselves to daydream as the clouds drift to form various shapes.

Clouds provide the perfect backdrop for our imaginations, after all. Formed from evaporated water that rose through the air and condensed, clouds are lovely, miraculous, ever-changing and not to be missed, even in the most frenzied childhood.

As you concentrate on the clouds, you’ll probably discover differences in their formations, appearances and speeds as they move across the sky. What do some different clouds look like to you? Is there a story you can make up, starring a cloud?

Got two or more people and seeking a more structured game? Have a cloud race:

  • Lie in the grass or sit on a chair.
  • Players or teams choose a cloud and root for it to go faster than the others across the sky.

Want to know more about clouds? The Enchanted Learning has great information for learning how to identify different kinds of clouds and discovering how clouds form. You may also be inspired by these 25 unbelievable cloud formations.


Have fun racing and dreaming!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Playoffs Sat. 7/14 in San Francisco

For the second year in a row, the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest inspired kids from 6-12 to create the ultimate slow games, ones that can be played outdoors with simple or minimal equipment, like hula hoops, balls, or household items.

Last year’s winner, 9-year-old Sara from Plaistow, N.H. (shown here with Julie Foudy, three-time Olympic soccer medalist) created a Sponge Ball Fill-Up Game. You can even download instructions to play!

This year, there are six finalists in the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Playoffs, and the public is invited to Marina Green in San Francisco to play their six imaginative games: North Pole South Pole, Footloose Derby, Dance Tag, Tortoise and the Hare Ball, Sidewalk Chalk Adventure and Zombie Hunt. The finalists will be competing for a $10,000 educational scholarship, among other prizes. The Playoffs will take place Saturday, July 14 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The games will be judged by an expert panel that includes Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and Founding Chairman of the Children & Nature Network, Olympic Gold Medalist Jonny Moseley, and Emmy Award-winning CBS 5 journalist Dana King.

The event is free to the public and the first 200 kids will receive a free T-shirt. There will also be live entertainment and organic snacks from CLIF Kid.

Marina Green is in San Francisco at Marina Blvd., between Scott and Webster Streets.

Here are some photos from last year’s Playoffs. And here’s to playing simple, original games outdoors!

Photos: CLIF Kid


12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Gifts That Help Others

Updated December 21, 2012

Last year, my family gave me a cow for my birthday. I never got to see it, but it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The cow helped its recipient family, which may be anywhere on the globe, in multiple ways. Milk from the cow offered nutrition to the family and neighbors and was sold to support the family and buy needed food and supplies for a larger circle. Calves from the cow were given or sold to others in the town or village, so that they too could be nourished and supported. The cow was bought through Heifer International, which offers gifts of sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and other animals and resources, to help people worldwide achieve hunger relief, self-sufficiency and income by becoming trained in farming skills. My family chose the cow for me because it seemed the most directly nourishing. I was extremely pleased and moved to be part of such a beautiful and empowering gift from an organization that has made a big impact using a simple model.

Read more stories about Heifer. They offer gifts at many levels and opportunities to get involved.

Looking for other groups to support with a gift? There are a great many organizations doing wonderful work. The following are just a few. Think about the recipient and something that would have meaning for him or her. (Please send your suggestions for more, especially those outside the U.S., so we can learn about them.) Also be sure to take these steps to research any group before donating:

Here are some organizations that have crossed my radar and are doing good work.

Children & Nature Network

Full disclosure: I work for these folks. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe heartily in their mission of building an international movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature. In an age when many children are deprived of school recess, let alone nearby yards, parks and woods, it seems essential for their future physical, psychological and spiritual health, and the health of the planet, that we support those working to reconnect children and people with the green spaces around them. C&NN does this by providing the latest research and resources to parents, teachers, urban and playground planners, health care professionals, nature professionals, and those working at the grassroots level to enact change.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

An incredible number of children, particularly those at risk, cite the lack of a caring adult in their lives. For more than 100 years, BBBS has been providing and supporting long-term, caring adult mentors to youth ages 6-18, in communities across the U.S. The carefully administered one-on-one relationships between the “Bigs” and the “Littles” has changed many lives, in terms of confidence and personal and academic achievement.

First Book

First Book provides access to new books for children in need, sometimes the first book a child will ever have. Expanded to include online content and other educational resources, First Book has distributed more than 85 million books and materials to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada. Judging by its ratings, it’s an exceptionally well-run non-profit with an admirable track record and goal.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Many historic homes and sites, neighborhood schools and public lands are in danger of being lost forever to development. Their loss can affect more than aesthetics and character — communities and livelihoods, resources and aspects of America’s rural and cultural heritage are destroyed as well. The THP brings awareness and considerable public-policy muscle to saving endangered sites. The group also works to rebuild neighborhoods after natural disasters and to revitalize communities using smart growth and sustainable practices.

American Farmland Trust

About an acre of American farmland is lost every minute. Family farms are in grave danger, from factors ranging from corporate farming to unsustainable development that results in the paving over of farms for roads, housing tracts and malls. American Farmland Trust works with legislators, communities and farmers to protect America’s farm and ranch land; promote environmentally sound farming practices, clean air and water, and a healthy food supply; and ensure an economically sustainable future for farmers and ranchers.

Your or Recipient’s Local Land Trust

Many areas have land trusts, which work to purchase and preserve land for the enjoyment, recreation, habitat preservation or agricultural use of future generations. A donation to a local land trust makes a wonderful and thoughtful gift. The Land Trust Alliance has a list of accredited land trusts.

National Wildlife Federation

NWF works to protect wildlife and wild spaces in the U.S., for everyone’s enjoyment and health. They are actively working at the public policy level to expand clean energy, reduce our dependence on oil, and improve our relationship to the natural world through areas like health and urban planning. They provide resources and education about the many ways families can enjoy nature, through programs like their popular Certified Wildlife Habitat, which allows people to nurture and learn about animals and the ecosystem in their own backyards.

Teens Turning Green

Started by students a few years ago, TTG has grown into a national movement devoted to education and advocacy about environmentally and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools, and communities. The group promotes global sustainability by identifying and working to eliminate toxins that threaten public and environmental health. At the same time, it empowers young women and men to lead and advocate.

Looking for more?

My Slow Family Resource List offers still more wonderful groups who are working to help create a rich, just and sustainable world for children, families and communities, such as The Center for Ecoliteracy, Edible Schoolyard, the National Park Trust and many more.

This list of 25 Top Children’s Charities includes many well-known ones and some you may not know, that I think are doing great work, including KaBOOM!, CASA, Children’s Defense Fund and Locks of Love.

The Good Human lists wonderful Green Charities who are doing great work, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Earth Justice, The National Resources Defense Council, and The Center for a New American Dream.

Mother Nature Network offers a list of Green Charities that features Earth Island Institute, The Sierra Club Foundation, the California State Parks Foundation, which desperately needs our help this year to prevent park closures, and the only group to make both “Green” lists, The Nature Conservancy.

And, now you can even give the gift of giving! I recently learned about Charity Checks, which allows you to order blank checks for recipients or even for your own family. Recipients receive checks in the denominations of your choice, and then they get to choose their own charities. The entire face value of the check goes to that charity. No money goes back to Charity Checks. This unique organization was the brain-child of Lisa Sonne and Victor Dorff. Not only is the structure of their organization highly unusual (a charity whose sole purpose is to funnel funds to other charities), it can have a powerful and tangible impact on families and children. Explains Lisa Sonne in Huffington Post:

You really get to watch the kid think about something that never has occurred to him or her before. There’s a certain empowerment there. It’s one thing to say, ‘What do you care about?’ when it’s abstract. But if you say to a kid, ‘Okay, here’s $25. Do you want to save a puppy’s life? Feed a hungry person? Buy a book for the library?’ Suddenly, the kids find themselves thinking about things they never thought about before.

Gifts that help others work in so many profound ways. They are truly the ultimate gifts.

Friesian Holstein Photo: Keith Weller. Bear Photo: Charity Checks.
Other photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

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