Boost Your Child's Nature Education with 'Outdoor School' Book Series

Interactive guidebooks give kids valuable tools to navigate the natural world.

little girl looks for bugs

Getty Images/Fatcamera

One thing that is missing from most children's educations these days is natural history. By that, I mean getting out into nature and digging in the dirt, catching bugs, identifying tracks, hunting for rocks and fossils, and learning the names of animals, birds, and trees. 

No amount of book- or computer-based learning can ever replace the experience of messing around in the wilderness and experiencing it firsthand. As biologist Elaine Brooks says in Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods": "Humans seldom value what they cannot name." Children must become familiar with nature, or else they will not understand why it needs to be protected.

But how does one teach a child to know nature, especially if one does not possess that knowledge? A new series of educational books called "Outdoor School" might be able to help. This series, just published by Odd Dot, an imprint of MacMillan Children's Publishing Group, consists of three detailed and interactive textbooks, two waterproof reference guides, and three sticker books, all of which offer a wealth of facts, skills, and diagrams about the natural world to curious children. 

The three 400-page textbooks—titled "Animal Watching," "Hiking and Camping," and "Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting"—double as journals, with each chapter providing pages for making observations, answering questions, illustrating sightings, and reflecting on what the child has learned. As explained in a press release, "Kids will learn how to use a compass, how to identify wildflowers, go animal spotting, build a rock collection, set up a tent, go on night hikes, and so much more."

Outdoor School books
Two of the textbooks in 'Outdoor School' series.

Odd Dot / MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

As a parent who has been homeschooling my kids one and off for the past few months, due to a COVID-induced shutdown in Ontario, these books have come in handy. I use the "Animal Watching" book as part of their daily lesson plan, requiring them to read one chapter a day and participate in the activities outlined in the journal section. It has become the highlight of their day, heading outside with book and pencil in hand, to sit and observe the comings and goings of birds and small mammals in our yard. Sometimes they venture further afield to the town pond or the Lake Huron beach to look for amphibians, fish, and shells. 

The series comes with two pocket-sized reference books, called Outdoor School Essentials. These are waterproof and tearproof, made from washable Tyvek material that makes them perfect to take along on hiking or camping trips. One outlines survival skills, such as dealing with hypothermia, filtering water, avoiding dangerous wildlife, and building emergency shelters; the other is a small reference book for animal tracks.

Last but not least, the three sticker books—Birds, Plants, and Animals—are "gorgeous [and] scientifically accurate." From a personal perceptive, they're so lovely I hardly want my children to use them up, but my youngest does not share that view. Any chance he has to apply salamander, vole, armadillo, and anemone stickers to random surfaces in our home, he takes.

sticker books
Outdoor School series sticker books.

Odd Dot / MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

"America’s kids are caught in one of the largest mass migrations in recent history: the movement indoors and online," MacMillan writes in a press release. "According to the Child Mind Institute, 'the average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.' With Outdoor School, kids can unplug from screens, reclaim their freedom, fire up their imaginations, and experience the wonders of the natural world." 

The series caters to children living in all sorts of environments, whether rural, urban, or suburban. There is plenty of information about city-dwelling animals (like squirrels, mice, and raccoons), rocks, shells, and fossils that can easily be found in urban parks or shorelines. 

Outdoor School does more than just get kids out into nature; it provides them with the tools to navigate it, understand it, and engage with it more fully. That's a priceless gift that they'll keep for life.