BOOK REVIEW: Our Great Big Backyard

I don’t generally put the Bush family and connecting kids to nature in the same thought, but former First Lady Laura Bush has advocated for bringing children outside again and protecting wild spaces in Texas, where she lives (see here). So I wasn’t too surprised when I learned that Bush and one of her daughters have authored a new kid’s book about exploring in national parks as a family (to coincide with the National Park Service’s centennial this year).

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Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, Our Great Big Backyard (New York: HarperCollins, 2016), 40 pp. Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. Age: 4-8.

Publisher’s description Our Great Big Backyard follows Jane, whose plans of spending the summer playing video games with her friends are dashed when her parents announce that her family is going on a road trip to national parks around the country. Yet somewhere between the Everglades and Big Bend National Park, things begin to change. Jane starts paying attention to the magnificent sights and spends less time looking at her screen. The stunning views open up her imagination as she and her brother see everything that nature has to offer. And the more Jane discovers, the more she realizes how much there is to love about the outdoors—whether she’s in a national park across the country or right in her own backyard.

Our Great Big Backyard is a colorful introduction to national parks for young readers. The text is simple and the illustrations lively. And the different national parks shown give kids a sense of the diversity of landscapes across the United States. I have no problem with a book featuring a child using a mobile device while on a trip (since by the end of the trip she doesn’t even remember that she packed away her iPad), and her hopes of spending a summer with technology being the impetus to why she at first dislikes the idea of her family going on a big summer trip. But it strikes me the wrong way considering that this book is intended for ages 4-8. How many kids in this age range might face such a dilemma? Using a smartphone to text friends while heading out on the trip? Attached to something on an iPad while on a canoe in the Everglades? On an iPad while the rest of the family is checking out stars through a telescope in Texas? Or taking selfies to send to friends from the Grand Canyon?

Perhaps it is that my family is behind the times, but are kids in this age range really spending time on devices like this while on road trips? While I appreciate that later in the trip Jane no longer feels connected to her device, decides to use postcards to communicate with friends back home, and happily sports a Yosemite t-shirt when they return home, but I feel that her behavior shown in the book regarding technology (and that of her friends) might not necessarily mesh with the age range of the book’s intended audience. If I am wrong on this, please let me know!

The front and back inside covers of Our Great Big Backyard include a U.S. map showing the family’s road trip route and the parks they visited (with the back on including Jane’s notes about her experiences). And at the end of the book a list of national parks by state, and some links to learn more about national parks as well as one to everykidinapark.gov where 4th graders can sign up for an annual national parks (and all federal lands and waters) pass that is good for their families, too. So far we’ve used ours to visit Crater Lake National Park, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Mount Rainier National Park (twice), and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and will visit Olympic National Park in August.

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Upcoming nature events in Portland

— Please check for any schedule changes or registration requirements —

Nature-based camps for Summer 2016 – now registering!

Community canoe paddle schedule with Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

Early morning bird walks at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge: July 2, August 6, Sept. 3Sept. 3, and Oct. 1

Now playing at OMSI’s Empirical Theater in 3D: National Parks Adventure

Upcoming paddle events with Tualatin Riverkeepers

Nature classes at Hoyt Arboretum, Summerlake City Park (Tigard), and Mary S. Young Park (West Linn) from Tinkergarten

Discovery Hikes with the Forest Park Conservancy

Hike series with Friends of the Columbia River Gorge

Hike series with Oregon Wild

Summer nature programming (pp. 165-170) from THPRD

Summer nature programming from the Friends of Tryon Creek

Summer nature programming at Jackson Bottom Wetlands (Hillsboro)

Summer nature programming at the Tillamook Forest Center

Free Skills Series from Rewild Portland (every month)

Bird watching outings with Audubon Society of Portland

Bird walks with Backyard Bird Shop

 

June 22 | 6th Annual Regional Trails Fair | Metro

June 25 | Great American Campout | NFW

June 25 | 27th Annual Tualatin River Discovery Day | Tualatin Riverkeepers

June 25 | Animal Tracking Adventure | Metro

June 26 | Sunday Parkways: North Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

June 26 | Dry Creek Falls Hike and Sternwheeler Days | Friends of the Columbia Gorge

June 29 | International Mud Day | Everywhere

June 30 | Twilight Thursday at Smith and Bybee Wetlands | Metro

July 7 | Free Metro parks day | Metro

July 12 | Book talk: Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America | Powell’s City of Books

July 21 | Book talk: Coyote America | Powell’s City of Books

July 23 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

July 24 | Sunday Parkways: Northeast Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

August 11 | Turtles of the Tualatin | Tualatin Riverkeepers

August 13 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

August 15 | Best Adventures Near Portland Release Party | Adam Sawyer

August 21 | Sunday Parkways: Southeast Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

September 17 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

September 24 | National Public Lands Day | NEEF

October 2 | Sunday Parkways: Sellwood-Milwaukie | Portland Bureau of Transportation

Regular nature outings (check websites for seasonal scheduling):
Nature Days in the Park and Nature Mobile from THPRD’s Natural Resources
Honeybee Hikes at Leach Botanical Garden
Story and Strolls and Guided Nature Walks at Tryon Creek State Park
Ladybug Nature Walks with Portland Parks Environmental Education
Puddle Stompers at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Tadpole Tales with Columbia Slough Watershed Council (beginning May 2)
Farm Fridays at Zenger Farm
Second Saturdays at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, WA
Guided hikes at Columbia Springs in Vancouver, WA (third Wed. of most months)
Tillamook Tales at the Tillamook Forest Center

Did you know?
– $2 admission at OMSI the first Sunday of every month
– $3 admission at the World Forestry Center the first Thursday of every month
– $4 admission at the Oregon Zoo the second Tuesday of every month
– FREE admission at the Portland Art Museum the first Thursday of every month, 5-8pm
– FREE admission at the Portland Children’s Museum the first Friday of every month, 4-8pm
– FREE admission at the Oregon Historical Society & Museum every day for Multnomah County residents

*My friend Laura posts a monthly listing of kid and family-friendly events of natural, scientific, and cultural interest. June’s list is here.

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BOOK REVIEW: Whatever the Weather: Science Experiments and Art Activities that Explore the Wonders of Weather

I am delighted to see this book come to fruition. For perhaps a year now I have been following the authors’ blog, Twitter, and Facebook page/group Mud Puddles to Meteors, as well as one of the authors on her own Instagram. They sure do inspire everyday nature connection with their photographs and suggestions for things to do outside with kids. It only seemed natural that they’d publish a book such as Whatever the Weather.

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Annie Riechmann and Dawn Suzette Smith, Whatever the Weather: Science Experiments and Art Activities that Explore the Wonders of Nature (Boulder, CO: Roost Books, 2016), 216 pp. 

Publisher’s description The weather around us offers a perfect starting point for exploring nature: paint in the rain, send kites soaring in the wind, build ice orbs, and become a snowflake scientist. The engaging science experiments and open-ended art activities in this book provide a hands-on approach to exploring and understanding the weather we experience every day. This guide to weather science encourages creativity, questioning, and a spirit of curiosity; it will inspire a sense of wonder and adventure—no matter what the day brings.

Most nature activity books are organized by season, their authors suggesting particular activities for spring, summer, fall, and winter. And while Whatever the Weather is set up this way too, the emphasis is on the type of weather one is experiencing and how that can guide the choice of outdoor activity. So, chapters are defined by the type of weather: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (ice and snow); “Saving for a Rainy day;” “Let the Sun Shine In;” and “Where the Wind Blows.” But, while these follow a seasonal chronology, if one is experiencing a very windy and dry day in the spring, they can take a look at the fourth chapter; or, find an activity in the second chapter on a particular rainy fall day.

Each chapter contains between 6 and 8 activities, and for each activity the authors provide a list of needed materials, the steps for the activity, and suggestions for more things to do to explore the topic. But the best part of each activity, for me at least, is “The Science Behind the Scenes.” The authors give detailed information about the scientific processes at work – and the text in these bits show that they really know there stuff! The photography throughout the book is a delight, too. The book also includes over a dozen “Wondering About Our World,” where the authors delve a little deeper into topics related to the activities. And each chapter includes a suggestion for a discovery walk.

Overall, Whatever the Weather is a beautifully produced activity book that is a pleasure to simply flip through. The forecast here in Portland shows unseasonably high temperatures for this upcoming weekend. Although we are still in spring, I just might have to find an activity in “Let the Sun Shine In” to do with my kids on Saturday – making solar prints, perhaps.

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Linda of Rain or Shine Mamma has a giveaway of this book on her website, open for just a few more days: http://rainorshinemamma.com/whatever-the-weather-review-giveaway/

Posted in books, nature art, science, Uncategorized, weather | 2 Comments

Wednesday photo of the week: mushroom hunter

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Wednesday photo of the week: upward

2016-05-11 - Holly Farm Park

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How we celebrated #KidstoParks Day 2016

Last Saturday was the National Park Trust’s annual Kids to Parks Day. I hosted a giveaway here for two cool National Geographic kid’s books about national parks, and the random winner was Stephanie of Raising Kids Wild. Thank you all who entered!

We spent Saturday morning at one of our favorite natural areas in the Portland region, Tualatin Hills Nature Park in Beaverton. Enjoy these photos of some of what we saw!

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Siblings are happiest together when outside

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Impressive fort we came upon

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Do you see the bunny behind the skunk cabbage?

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Robin egg – leafminer tunnels – old lichen pattern – Pacific sideband snail

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Spying a song sparrow nest

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Love that this park has two of our Children at Nature Play signs!

 

 

 

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Monday thought of the week: let my kids be kids

A thought:

… I respectfully ask that you let my kids be kids.

– Julie Walsh Holcombe, in an open letter to a guard or teacher who told her sons not to climb trees and go home after school hours. Check out her Facebook post to see the permission slip for climbing trees she typed up, too.

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Upcoming nature events in Portland

— Please check for any schedule changes or registration requirements —

Nature-based camps for Summer 2016 – now registering!

Community canoe paddle schedule with Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

Now playing at OMSI’s Empirical Theater in 3D: National Parks Adventure

Starting April 2: 10-part “Explore Your Natural Areas” program from Portland Parks & Recreation

Portland-Vancouver Regional Eco-Blitz Series: May 7 at Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville; May 14 at Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove; May 21 at Powell Butte Nature Park in Portland; and May 21 at Fort Vancouver

Upcoming paddle events with Tualatin Riverkeepers

Nature classes at Hoyt Arboretum, Summerlake City Park (Tigard), and Mary S. Young Park (West Linn) from Tinkergarten

Sunset nature programs & Lunch with the Birds with Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve (Hillsboro)

Discovery Hikes with the Forest Park Conservancy

Hike series with Friends of the Columbia River Gorge

Hike series with Oregon Wild

Winter & spring and summer nature programming (pp. 165-170) from THPRD

Spring nature programming from the Friends of Tryon Creek

Spring nature programming at Jackson Bottom Wetlands (Hillsboro)

Spring nature programming at the Tillamook Forest Center

Free Skills Series from Rewild Portland (every month)

Bird watching outings with Audubon Society of Portland

Bird walks with Backyard Bird Shop

 

May 21 | Kids to Parks Day | National Park Trust

May 21 | Tualatin River Bird Festival | Friends of the Refuge

May 21 | Summer Splash FREE Kayak Demo Day | Next Adventure

May 21 | Free Metro parks day | Metro

May 22 | Turtle Walk at Smith and Bybee Wetlands | Metro

May 26 | Evening Canoe the Slough | Columbia Slough Watershed Council

June | Great Outdoors Month

June 1-12 | 30th Annual Great Blue Heron Week | The Intertwine

June 4 | National Trails Day | American Hiking Society

June 4 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

June 5 | Trees of Scouters Mountain Nature Park | Metroy

June 11 | National GetOutdoors Day | NFW

June 11 | Explorando el Columbia Slough | Columbia Slough Watershed Council

June 14 | Kalmiopsis Discovery Day | Leach Botanical Garden

June 18 | The Birds of Killin Wetlands | Metro

June 20 | Toothrock Full Moon Hike | Friends of the Columbia Gorge

June 22 | 6th Annual Regional Trails Fair | Metro

June 25 | Great American Campout | NFW

June 25 | 27th Annual Tualatin River Discovery Day | Tualatin Riverkeepers

June 25 | Animal Tracking Adventure | Metro

June 26 | Sunday Parkways: North Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

June 26 | Dry Creek Falls Hike and Sternwheeler Days | Friends of the Columbia Gorge

June 29 | International Mud Day | Everywhere

June 30 | Twilight Thursday at Smith and Bybee Wetlands | Metro

July 7 | Free Metro parks day | Metro

July 23 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

July 24 | Sunday Parkways: Northeast Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

August 13 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

August 15 | Best Adventures Near Portland Release Party | Adam Sawyer

August 21 | Sunday Parkways: Southeast Portland | Portland Bureau of Transportation

September 17 | Guided Nature Walk, 9:30am | Tualatin Hills Nature Park

September 24 | National Public Lands Day | NEEF

October 2 | Sunday Parkways: Sellwood-Milwaukie | Portland Bureau of Transportation

Regular nature outings (check websites for seasonal scheduling):
Nature Days in the Park and Nature Mobile from THPRD’s Natural Resources
Honeybee Hikes at Leach Botanical Garden
Story and Strolls and Guided Nature Walks at Tryon Creek State Park
Ladybug Nature Walks with Portland Parks Environmental Education
Puddle Stompers at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Tadpole Tales with Columbia Slough Watershed Council (beginning May 2)
Farm Fridays at Zenger Farm
Second Saturdays at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, WA
Guided hikes at Columbia Springs in Vancouver, WA (third Wed. of most months)
Tillamook Tales at the Tillamook Forest Center

Did you know?
– $2 admission at OMSI the first Sunday of every month
– $3 admission at the World Forestry Center the first Thursday of every month
– $4 admission at the Oregon Zoo the second Tuesday of every month
– FREE admission at the Portland Art Museum the first Thursday of every month, 5-8pm
– FREE admission at the Portland Children’s Museum the first Friday of every month, 4-8pm
– FREE admission at the Oregon Historical Society & Museum every day for Multnomah County residents

*My friend Laura posts a monthly listing of kid and family-friendly events of natural, scientific, and cultural interest. May’s list is here.

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Wednesday photo of the week: tree trekker

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BOOK REVIEW: A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature

“It’s easiest to imagine outdoor play on a sunny, warm day, maybe even on a beach with waves crashing and warm sand between your toes, but outdoor play is important for kids year-round.” So says Asia Citro of the website Fun at Home with Kids. And with her new book A Little Bit of Dirt, parents, teachers, and caregivers can find inspiration for simple ways to engage their kid’s interest out the front door.

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Asia Citro, A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature (Woodinville, WA: The Innovation Press, 2016), 128 pp. Photography by Asia Centro. US $16.99.

Citro notes that these activities do not necessarily need to be done in a natural space. Gathering the materials necessary for the activity and bringing them inside to do still provides a sense of connection to nature – by observing, touching, and manipulating natural objects. And while she also notes that “unstructured play in nature is ideal” (the sort of nature connection that makes up 99% of the time my kids and I spend outside), sometimes parents will find that their kids need a little extra motivation for what to do.

So A Little Bit of Dirt might not be the book for every family, but for those who are constantly asking, “Well, what can we do outside?” it is perhaps the starting point and return-to guidance that is needed to make outside play a part of every day. The book consists of 52 activities – perfect for a year of nature fun! And the author’s wonderful photographs of her own kids along with some friends doing various activities are enjoyable to see.

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