Spring is officially here, the days are getting longer, and there’s no better time than now to start spending more time outdoors. The Child Mind Institute has compiled a list of benefits to children of getting outside. These include an increase in confidence and creativity and a decrease in stress. Below are five easy ways for you and the students in your life to get in more sunshine time. In addition, below you can find some books to explore while you’re outdoors.
Five Easy Ways to Spend More Time Outdoors
- Create an outdoor reading space. This can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. You can use anything from a quilt or pillow laid out on the grass to a vine-covered arbor with a comfortable bench.
- Invite students to take homework outdoors. Outdoorosity.org has five easy steps to start studying outdoors. Leaving electronic devices indoors while working on homework outdoors also helps to increase focus.
- Jot observations in a nature journal. Writing in a nature journal during a break from reading or schoolwork helps students to tune into the details around them. What animals and plants do they notice? What questions do they have? Students can use some of the books below to help find answers.
- Take up birdwatching. As students read, study or explore outdoors, they will most likely see and hear plenty of birds. Why not learn more about them? Students can track sightings in their nature journal. At Audubon.org, you and the students in your life can learn more about birds in your area and connect with local birders. In addition, you can find a field guide specific to your region to help identify the birds you find.
- Plan a visit to a park. Visit a local, state or national park. There you can explore how the history of your area has been shaped by the availability of water, dirt for growing crops, and other natural resources.
Books to Help Explore Your Natural World
The students in your life and you can use the books below to learn more about your natural world:
Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature Paperback by Jennifer Swanson. This book takes readers on a journey to explore how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology. The inspiration for the next great discovery just might be in your own backyard.
Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk and Feel by Nancy Castaldo. This book provides insight into animal intelligence. Readers can explore how animals communicate, show empathy, use tools, and interact in social societies.
Insects and Spiders by Christine Taylor-Butler. This book provides readers with an up-close look at insects and spiders including their habitats and unique abilities. In addition, the book provides insight into dangers facing these creatures and how humans can help keep these species alive.
National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Butterflies of North America by the National Audubon Society. This guide is small enough to carry almost everywhere, but it is packed full of information to help readers identify 80 of the most common butterflies .
Super Science: Are Ants Like Plants? by Sue Heavenrich. This book takes readers deeper into the world of ants and plants and introduces students to fascinating facts about how these living things access food, grow, and communicate with their friends.
The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet) by Brooklyn Botanic Garden Educators (Author) and László Veres (Illustrator). This guide provides readers with information on how to observe their natural world as a naturalist does. In addition, it leads them on 24 adventures to explore the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park.
The Rocking Book of Rocks: An Illustrated Guide to Everything Rocks, Gems, and Minerals by Florence Bullough (Author), Amy Ball (Author) and Anna Alanko (Illustrator). This book helps students explore the diverse world of rocks, gems and minerals. As a result, they just might become budding geologists.
Trees, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom by DK with contribution by the Smithsonian Institution. This book helps readers explore the diverse and intriguing world of plants. It features more than 1,000 images and interesting facts to take readers into the botanical world, from tiny seeds to giant trees.
Ultimate Bugopedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Nancy Honovich and Darlyne A. Murawski. This book invites readers to explore the hidden world of the most popular bugs on the planet.
Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery (Author) and Iris Gottlieb (Illustrator). This book invites readers to explore the interesting science behind poop and to discover how poop has a purpose. In addition, readers will learn about the role that poop has played in history.
Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson. This book helps students become citizen-scientists with dozens of hands-on activities and habitat-creation projects.
For more information to help explore the natural world of the students in your life and you, please check out our STEM Tuesday section.
For all of us who ever said, “I wish I’d known then, what I know now,” the Mixed Up Files has a special treat. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, has put a middle-grade twist on her adult series—13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do—to create 13 Things Strong Kids Do. It presents different scenarios along with constructive activities to help kids start thinking in new ways … and I’m researching ways to send it back in time to my 13-year-old self!
Sean McCollum: I wish I’d had a book like 13 Things Strong Kids Do when I was in middle school! Its information and exercises might have given me the tools to sidestep some of those self-defeating adolescent mistakes or given me the tools to better handle them. How did the idea for this book come about?
Amy Morin: So many of my adult readers said the same thing—they wished they had been able to learn about mental strength when they were young. So I wanted to write a book that would teach kids how to start building mental strength so they can develop skills and tools that will continue to serve them well throughout their whole lives.
SMc: Would you be willing to share an anecdote from your own teen years about a time you weren’t “strong,” and how advice from this book might have helped?
AM: Well, many of the stories in my book stem from my own childhood. There were plenty of times I wasn’t strong. One example is when I quit playing the saxophone after one day! I was in the sixth grade and I only went to one lesson before I decided it was going to be too hard for me. I could have used several exercises from the book to help me persist—like creating my own catchphrase or writing myself a kind letter. Those types of things would have helped me drown out all those negative thoughts I had about not being able to do it.
SMc: How might educators and other professionals use this title in their schools and classrooms?
AM: This book gives adults a common language to use with kids. When an educator or a professional asks, “Is that a BLUE thought or a true thought?” it’s a reminder to a child that they can take action to change their own thinking.
Adults can empower kids when they understand the skills and tools kids have at their disposal. Rather than taking responsibility for creating change, professionals can encourage kids to do it on their own with a little guidance.
My hope is that professionals will use the book as a guide so they better understand how to reinforce healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in kids.
SMc: Could you share three “healthy habits” our readers could put to use right now?
AM: Label your feelings. When you name how you’re feeling, like sad or angry, you’ll instantly feel just a little bit better. Research shows labeling our emotions helps our brains make a little more sense of things and it reduces our stress.
Ask yourself if your feelings are a friend or an enemy. Any feeling can be a friend sometimes—even sadness or anger. After all, being sad might help you honor something you lost and being angry might give you courage to speak up for someone else. But, those feelings can be an enemy when they cause you to get into trouble or keep you from having fun in life. If your feeling is a friend, embrace it. If it’s an enemy, take steps to change how you’re feeling.
Change the channel in your brain. When you’re thinking about something that causes you to feel awful—like that mean thing someone said—change the channel in your brain. Dance to some music, sing a song, or read a joke book. That will change the channel in your brain and help you stop thinking about things that cause you to feel bad.
SMc: Do you recall a favorite middle grade book and any life lessons it taught you?
AM: I loved reading Judy Blume’s books. Blubber was my favorite. It helped me see that growing up is tough for everyone and I wasn’t alone in many of the things I was thinking and feeling.
SMc: Do you practice the exercises in this book?
AM: Yes, even though I’m no longer a kid, I find the exercises really helpful! Whether I’m calming my brain and my body when I’m nervous or I’m trying to face my fears one small step at a time, the skills that work for you when you’re young will help you when you’re grown too.
To follow Amy Morin and her life-helping work, check out:
Thanks so much for making to time to speak with us, Amy!
Readers, remember to enter our Rafflecopter raffle for Amy’s book. (This one is for American readers only.)