Reference and Children’s Books for Exploring the Outdoors

Are you looking for information on the importance of outdoor play or an inspiring book on hiking you can read to or with your kids? Here’s a large collection of both! You’ll find works written with years of supporting research, stories of incredible families, and children’s literature that include picture book and interactive resources for them to discover more. Do you have a favorite? Let us know by leaving a comment! If you know of other reference and children’s books for exploring the outdoors, please let us know as well!

 

1. Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

In this important book, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook shows how outdoor play and unstructured freedom of movement are vital for children’s cognitive development and growth, and offers tons of fun, engaging ways to help ensure that kids grow into healthy, balanced, and resilient adults.

2. How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love With Nature

The average North American child now spends about seven hours a day staring at screens and mere minutes engaged in unstructured play outdoors. Yet recent research indicates that experiences in nature are essential for healthy growth. Regular exposure to nature can help relieve stress, depression, and attention deficits. It can reduce bullying, combat obesity, and boost academic scores. Most critical of all, abundant time in natural settings seems to yield long-term benefits in kids’ cognitive, emotional, and social development. How to Raise a Wild Child is a timely and engaging antidote, offering teachers, parents, and other caregivers the necessary tools to engender a meaningful, lasting connection between children and the natural world.

 

3. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

In this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

4. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life

From the author of the New York Times bestseller that defined nature-deficit disorder and launched the international children-and-nature movement, Vitamin N (for “nature”) is a complete prescription for connecting with the power and joy of the natural world right now, with 500 activities for children and adults Dozens of inspiring and thought-provoking essays Scores of informational websites Down-to-earth advice In his landmark work Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv was the first to bring widespread attention to the alienation of children from the natural world, coining the term nature-deficit disorder and outlining the benefits of a strong nature connection–from boosting mental acuity and creativity to reducing obesity and depression, from promoting health and wellness to simply having fun. That book “rivaled Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring” (the Cincinnati Enquirer), was “an absolute must-read for parents” (the Boston Globe), and “an inch-thick caution against raising the fully automated child” (the New York Times). His follow-up book, The Nature Principle, addressed the needs of adults and outlined a “new nature movement and its potential to improve the lives of all people no matter where they live” (McClatchy Newspapers).Vitamin N is a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive, and practical guidebook for the whole family and the wider community, including tips not only for parents eager to share nature with their kids but also for those seeking nature-smart schools, medical professionals, and even careers. It is a dose of pure inspiration, reminding us that looking up at the stars or taking a walk in the woods is as exhilarating as it is essential, at any age.

5. Play the Forest School Way: Woodland Crafts and Games for Adventurous Kids

Forest School is founded on a philosophy of nature-based play and learning  that encourages children to develop confidence and self-esteem. This book will get your kids outside, making and building in the real world (instead of on a computer screen!). Whether your local woodland is a forest or a strip of trees along the edge of an urban park, these activities provide fantastic opportunities for family time and will encourage your children to fall in love with outdoor play.

This is the first book to share Forest School games, crafts and skill-building activities with families and friends, its magical illustrations and simple instructions drawing children easily into a world of wonder. 

6. Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World

See the world in a whole new way! Acclaimed illustrator Julia Rothman combines art and science in this exciting and educational guide to the structure, function, and personality of the natural world. Explore the anatomy of a jellyfish, the inside of a volcano, monarch butterfly migration, how sunsets work, and much more. Rothman’s whimsical illustrations are paired with interactive activities that encourage curiosity and inspire you to look more closely at the world all around you. 

7. The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms

Clare Walker Leslie shows kids how to experience nature with all five senses, whether they live in the countryside, a major city, or somewhere in between. Guiding children through inspiring activities like sketching wildlife, observing constellations, collecting leaves, keeping a weather journal, and watching bird migrations, The Nature Connection encourages kids to engage with the world outside and promotes a lifelong love of nature.

 

8. A Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-Ups

The birds, the bees, the flowers and the…TREES! How do trees grow? Why do leaves change? What kind of tree is that? The acclaimed Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s guide answers all kids’ (and their parents’) tree-related questions in an easy-to-understand way. It features 33 different trees that grow in North America, from rural Georgia to the streets of New York City to the California suburbs. Each profile includes a beautiful botanical watercolor illustration by author Gina Ingoglia showing the tree as it appears in a particular season, as well as life-size depictions of its leaf, flower, and seed. Readers of all ages will be in awe over the wonderful world of trees.

 

9. The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature

This gorgeously illustrated guide will inspire kids to look closely at the world around them! Created by the experts at the renowned Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it teaches children how to observe environments as a naturalist does and leads them on 24 adventures that reveal the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park. Detailed, scientifically based drawings help young scientists identify hundreds of North American plants and animals, while dozens of fun projects include keeping a journal, conducting field experiments, and exploring nature with all five senses.

 

10. Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up

Nature is a destination, but you don’t have to travel anywhere to find it. Just open the door and step outside. A fun, hands on approach to getting involved in nature, The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book is a year-round how-to activity guidebook for getting kids outdoors and exploring nature, be it catching fireflies in the cool summer evenings; making birdfeeders in the fall from peanut butter, pine cones, and seed; building a snowman in 3 feet of fresh winter snow; or playing duck, duck, goose with friends in a meadow on a warm spring day. The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book includes 448 things to do in nature for kids of all ages–more than one activity for every single day of the year. Each of the year’s four seasons includes fifty checklist items, fifty challenge items, three each of projects, destinations, garden recipes, and outdoor games. Throughout the book, you’ll also find fascinating facts, useful tips and tricks, and plenty of additional resources to turn to. Complete with whimsical, vibrant illustrations, this book is a must for parents and their kids.

 

11. Camp Out: The Ultimate Kids Guide

Bear bags, wilderness showers, and telling the temperature by counting the cricket chirps…

Whether you’re planning an over night in the backyard or a weekend in the wilderness, this book is packed with stuff to know. The basics, from gearing up to choosing a site to building a tarp tent. Tasty outdoor recipes: Solar Oven Pizza, Chow Down Chili and s’ more’s of course—with 8 variations.

Plus: how to keep a Field Journal, exploring the nighttime sky, creepy campfire stories, and when it’s time to go home, leaving no trace. It’s everything you need to pick up and head for the hills.

 

12. Wild Adventures

Packed with all kinds of exciting outdoor activities for children and the whole family, to encourage awareness of the natural world, to develop self-sufficiency skills – and to show how much fun it is to explore nature. The activities include: tracking skills; wildlife spotting; foraging for wild food and cooking outdoors; how to light a fire safely (with adult supervision); stargazing, including star maps; outdoor games; nature chase; how to mimic birdsong; how to make whistles and peashooters from elder stems; how to make plaster-cast animal tracks: nature collections and making art from nature finds. With full-page pictures, vignettes, captions and a glossary at the back, this is the book you need when you go out in the park or countryside.

 

13. Families on Foot

Published in partnership with the American Hiking Society, Families on Foot offers practical advice and engaging activities to make hiking even more fun for families. You’ll find clever ideas and inspiration that apply to kids of all ages–from tackling diaper blowouts in the backcountry to using smartphone apps and GPS to engage teenagers with nature. Information for children with special needs and seniors also is included. 

 

14. The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature

Plan your family camping adventure! 

Whether you’re a first-time camper or a veteran backpacker befuddled by the challenges of carting a brood—and all the requisite gear—into the great outdoors, here you’ll find all the tips and tools you need to plan the perfect nature adventure with your family. Humorous and irreverent, yet always authoritative, this guide to camping with kids, from babies through pre-teens, is filled with checklists, smart tips, recipes, games, activities, and art projects. 

Helen Olsson, a seasoned camper and mother of three, shares lessons learned over the years of nature outings with her own family. Learn the basics of family camping, from choosing a destination and packing gear to setting up a campsite and keeping little ones safe. Create the perfect camp menu with simple and tasty recipe ideas. Discover foolproof tips and tactics for keeping kids happy and entertained while hiking. Explore nature through clever and creative camp arts and craft projects. This guide is your game plan to unplugging from the digital world and connecting your kids to nature. Whether it’s roasting marshmallows around a crackling campfire or stretching out on a camp mat to gaze at the stars, the memories you’ll be making will last a lifetime.

 

15. Tracks, Scats, and Signs

Become a nature detective with this illustrative, engaging and fun Take-Along-Guide. You may not know where to look, or what to look for, but animal signs are everywhere and this guide will help you learn how to read them. You’ll learn how to spot and identify common clues that 17 wildlife species leave behind in the woods, in the fields and along ponds.

 

16. Cat in the Clouds

Stray cat Nin drifts from house to house until he meets a meteorologist named Mark. Then Nin begins his greatest journey yet- to the top of Mount Washington.

Follow Nin to a land where the wind howls, snow swirls and wild bears roam. At the Mount Washington Observatory, Nin learns that the best friends- and a wonderful home- can be found anywhere, even high above the clouds.

 

17. The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie

When hiker Dan Szczesny and his nine-year-old ward, Janelle, first set foot on the trail to Mt. Kearsarge in Nov. 2011, neither of them knew that this easy hike to one of the state’s most popular mountain tops would change both their lives. But what followed was a hiking odyssey that lasted over a year as the two hikers cross-crossed the state on their way to a 225-mile epic attempt to complete a little-known hiking list called The 52 With a View. Bondcliff Books is proud to present The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, the highly anticipated hiking memoir that chronicles the journey of the author and his young but ambitious hiking partner as this unlikely pair formed a unique and unforgettable bond that transformed both their lives.

 

18. Up A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure

When Trish Herr became pregnant with her first daughter, Alex, she and her husband, Hugh, vowed to instill a bond with nature in their children. By the time Alex was five, her over-the-top energy levels led Trish to believe that her very young daughter might be capable of hiking adult-sized mountains.

 

19. What’s in the Woods: A Nature Discovery Book

In artist Charley Harper s Birducopia, a wealth of birds, animals, trees, and plants are ingeniously portrayed, creating a complete environment of a woodsy park. Each creature and plant is extracted from the larger painting and silhouetted on the pages of What s in the Woods? The accompanying rhyming text by Zoe Burke imagines a walk through the park, identifying the flora and fauna along the way. The journey ends with a foldout page of the complete image, with a key identifying all the animals and plants.

 

20. Curious George Goes Camping

Curious George Goes Camping is an entertaining story of the Great Outdoors based on H. A. and Margret Rey’s popular primate and painted in the original watercolor and charcoal style. George tries to be helpful, but he of course just ends up upsetting a nearby camper. As he’s hiding in the woods, he meets a forest creature who catapults the mischievous monkey into a chain of even more outrageous events!

 

21. Nature Girl

Eleven-year-old Megan is stuck in the wilds of Vermont for the summer with no Internet, no cell phone, and worst of all, no best friend. So when she gets lost on the Appalachian Trail with only her little dog, Arp, for company, she decides she might as well hike all the way to Massachusetts, where her best friend, Lucy, is spending the summer. Life on the trail isn’t easy, and Mega faces everything from wild animals and raging rivers to tofu jerky and no bathrooms. On the way, though, she comes to some surprising realizations—about who she’s been in the past, and who she wants to be in the future—and the journey changes from a spur-of-the-moment lark to a heroic quest to prove herself to Lucy, her family, and the world!

 

22. Fishing in the Air

Early in the blue-black morning, a father and son slip out of the house with their fishing poles and a can of worms. But this is no ordinary fishing trip. With their lines and bobbers, they cast high into the air to catch the breeze, the sky, the sun, and best of all — some wonderful memories.

In her first picture book, Sharon Creech, author of the Newbery Medal winner Walk Two Moons, teams up with Caldecott Honor artist Chris Raschka to create a beautifully lyrical and richly imagined tale about the powerful bond between a father and son.

 

23. Owl Moon

Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird.

But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.

 

24. Over and Under the Pond

In this gorgeous companion to the acclaimed Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal bring to life a secret underwater world. In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the pond is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, tadpoles growing. These and many other secrets are waiting to be discovered…over and under the pond.
 
 
 
It took her two tries, but in 1955, sixty-seven-year-old Emma “Grandma” Gatewood became the first woman to solo hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one through hike. Gatewood has become a legend for those who hike the trail, and in her home state of Ohio, where she helped found the Buckeye Trail. 
 
 
 
 

“When Grandma tucks her pants into her oversized boots and grabs her walking stick, I run to catch up,” reports a young girl charmed by her visits to Grandma’s north woods home. Their walks take them through the seasons, to a pond with a downed tree just right for sitting, to a garden lush with tomatoes ready for canning, through a snowy nighttime woods where the only sounds are the squeak of boots on snow and the hooting of a distant owl. Whatever the month, there are plenty of woodland critters to observe: squirrels or rabbits or deer, geese or goldeneyes or mergansers. The forest of North Woods Girl is an active, populated place, brought to life by Claudia McGehee’s colorful scratchboard artistry.

Time with Grandma teaches about quiet observation, generous sharing of resources, the beauty of the forest and pond at any hour. Grandma is the quintessential north woods girl, breathing deep the piney scents, relishing the chirping activity of her animal neighbors. Small wonder that her admiring granddaughter is inspired to follow in her footsteps. With a tale as understated as Grandma herself, Aimée Bissonette shares a message of appreciating the treasures of our natural surroundings.

 
 
 
 
McGehee’s lyrical nonfiction story recounts the 1918–1919 winter spent on Alaska’s Fox Island from the point of view of nine-year-old Rocky, son of the painter Rockwell Kent. Vivid scratchboard-style
illustrations echo the rugged subject matter with enchantment as Rocky explores the wilderness and becomes accustomed to island life. Including a Common Core teacher’s guide, this engaging book shows Alaska from a young boy’s appreciative and imaginative point of view.
 
 

Once upon a time a creek burbled up and tumbled across a prairie valley. It was filled with insects and brook trout that ate them, frogs that chirruped and birds watching for bugs and fish. This is a true story about a man named Mike who went looking for that creek long after it was buried under fields of corn. It is the story of how a creek can be brought back to life, and with it a whole world of nature. 

In the words of award-winning author Jacqueline Briggs Martin and the enchanting illustrations by Claudia McGehee, this heartening tale of an ecosystem restored in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa unfolds in a way that will charm and inform young readers who are drawn to a good mystery, the wonders of nature—and, of course, big earth-moving machines.

 

29. Trekking on a Trail

 

30. S is for S’mores

Next to baseball and fireworks on the Fourth of July, nothing else seems as American as the family camping trip. From what to pack, where to go, and what to do when you get there, S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet takes readers on an A-Z trail exploring this outdoor pastime. Veteran camper Helen Foster James tackles topics such as unique camping environments, equipment necessities, famous conservationists, and national parks and other attractions. Whether your idea of “roughing it” is a blanket in your own backyard or the subarctic ecosystem of Alaska’s Denali National Park, S is for S’mores is a fun and informative guide that is sure to help campers of all ages make the most of their wilderness adventures.

 

Looking for more great books? Check out these books for adventurous women!

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allison

Allison is the founder of trailtosummit.com which she began as a way to track and share her first round of the NH 4000 Footers. Now on round 5 (the first round for her dog Ruckus) she has been honored to have taken part of many people’s firsts. She is an experienced trail maintainer, speaker, and passionate member of the outdoor community. In New England, Allison enjoys trekking along the highest peaks, bushwhacking to less traveled areas, and has a fondness for sunrise and sunset trips. Outside of New England Allison has also thru hiked the John Muir Trail and explored mountains in the German and Austrian Alps, Israel, and the Azores. Her goal is to share her passion for hiking and backpacking with others, especially with women, to inspire them to experience the freedom of the trail!

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