Healing the Earth

Top 5 Books to Inspire Nature Lovers

Top 5 Books to Inspire Nature Lovers ~ BigHeartedFamilies.orgGiven a chance, children are so universally, so naturally inspired by the natural world. It's no wonder that the list of beautiful children's books about nature is miles long. Nurturing this love of nature inspires all of us to take better care of the wild spaces and natural resources around us. Here is a short list of wonderful stories to inspire you to get outside.

Plus, here are a few conversation starters to get your family thinking after the story:

  • Name three things that you love to do outside?
  • Where are your favorite outdoor spaces?
  • Are their any outdoor adventures you hope to have some time in the future?
  • What creature do you wish  you could see in the wild?
  • What can your family do to help take care of your favorite natural areas?

Parents may consider reading the New York Times best selling book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen.  Enjoy the peace and pleasure of a summer day in this poetic, beautifully illustrated, and fully transportable canoe trip.When you are done meeting the animals and insects in Paulsen's story, jam out with the Okee Dokee Brothers song "Can you Canoe."




Fairy Houses by Tracy Kane


Fairy House by Tracy Kane. Bring the joy of imaginative play to your outdoor experiences with this wonderful story. Join Kristin as she builds a fairy house in the woods, and follow her dream-like adventures with the fairies. Then build  your own fairy houses using the instructions in the book, and adding to them with your own imagination and natural treasures. It's a great alternative to screen time!



The Raft by Jim LaMarche


The Raft by Jim LaMarche. Follow along with Nicky's adventure in the Wisconsin woods. Nicky's summer with his raft, and his grandmother, opens him up to the natural world as well as his own artistic inclinations. The tone and the illustrations pull you in to this mesmerizing tale.



Fire Flies by Julie Brinkloe


Fire Flies! by Juilie Brinkloe. Discover the magic of fireflies on a summer night, and learn to respect the freedom wild things deserve. This is a perfect companion for a summer camping trip, along with a bug net!




Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Cool down a hot summer day  with this wintry tale. With few words and magical illustrations, this book places you in the chilled quiet of a winter night and the magical intimacy with nature that's possible in this quiet world.






3 Service Projects to Welcome Spring

Perhaps we can make spring happen through sheer force of will. Up here in Minnesota, the world is white as far as we can see. Little Miss 5 shook her head at it this morning, declaring "I will not be going outside again unless it's spring or fall or summer. I'm done with snow now."

Are you also longing for the joys of spring? Or are you shaking your head at us northerners, wondering why we live way up here?

Either way, here are three sweet and simple projects that will have you thinking spring and sharing kindness as a family, even if your weather isn't cooperating.A man sowing seeds

  1. Seeds for Change: Collect seeds to send to families who want to start their own gardens, thus providing a supply of fresh, nutritious produce. There's no better time to help people prepare to garden.
  2. Plant a Row for the Hungry: Designate the bounty from one row of your garden to donate to a local food shelf. Buy your seeds now, along with peat pots (or make pots from objects in your recycle bin),  and start your seeds inside.
  3. Birdseed Cookies: Making a batch of bird treats is a fun way to care for your local bird population. Is it me, or have the birds been singing louder, longer, and more hopefully lately. Spring is in the air, and this is a great way to welcome it into full swing!



Take a (Nature) Hike!

I love autumn. The range of colors in the park and along the boulevards makes my heart sing. I love the crispness of the mornings as much as that unexpected and all-too-brief heat wave in the middle of a sunny fall afternoon. Last week, I packed up our whole family of five and trundled them into the woods. As the baby gets older, I hope to live by that wonderful John Muir quote:

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

Not only does time spent in nature "wash your spirit clean" as I experience it.... It lends itself to the discovery of an amazing array of natural treasures. Especially in the fall.

My kids are hoarding leaves, acorns, seeds, dried berries, fallen needles, pine cones... the list goes on and on!

We've taken the kids on a hike almost every weekend in the past month. A good bug net, a bug "habitat" (or a plastic container with holes in the top for air and some grass in the bottom), and a willingness to let the kids set the pace make these hikes a lot of fun.

As you might guess, we cover about a mile an hour. Along the way we see, touch, smell, and listen to every inch of the trail.

Whether nature walks are a regular part of your family life or are vying for space on your list of things to do this fall, here are a few activities to make your next nature walk even more fun. (I've pinned them all right here, so take a look there if you'd rather have a visual explanation!)

Enjoy breaking away for a while!



Summer Bag of Tricks: Butterfly Birthday

For two summers now, I've led the girls through theme days to break up the (usually wonderful, occasionally monotonous) non-routine of summer. We've been ninjas and celebrated a bit of Japanese culture, we've been cavemen (um, cavegirls). Even pirates. We spent a few days last summer in character as the cast from The Magic Tree House.

This year we've celebrated the fire department, advocated for endangered species, posed as mermaids, created public art, and become kindness fairies.

Not all of our days have made it to the blog (I've been busy chasing Mr. Toddler). But they've all been memorable, recorded or not.

Our theme days usually begin with a costume. Always, we find a silly snack or lunch recipe to go with our theme. Often we make up a song. There are usually books, role playing games, and even the occasional field trip.

I always love passing the title of activity leader off to Miss Second Grader.

This week, she noticed that our monarch chrysalis, created by the first caterpillar she found on her own, was changing rapidly. It turned dark and then translucent, in the time it took us to eat breakfast. A final phase of the butterfly's transformation, telling us that the butterfly would soon emerge.

"It's butterfly day!" My second-grader exclaimed. "Let's have a butterfly birthday!"

And that's exactly what we did.

We read books about caterpillars and crafted butterfly decorations for our nature table. We wrote acrostic poems about butterflies, helping little Miss Not-Quite-5-In-Time-For-Kindergarten with her letter sounds.

And then, all of our waiting paid off. Miss Second Grader noticed a twitch. Then a crack.

"She's hatching!"

We watched in wonder as the wrinkly, soggy wings of our caterpillar-turned-butterfly emerged.

Of course, the snack was butterfly birthday cake.

(Nutritionists, please look away).

I actually allowed my children to feast on strawberry marshmallows topped with ready whip (left over from a neighborhood tea party) and sprinkles. In my defense, I felt reasonably sure that singing happy birthday to the butterfly before diving into our little sugar bombs indicated to everyone that this was a special occasion not to be repeated on any other random Tuesday.

While the butterfly's wings dried, we walked through our local park. Our plan was to hunt for other butterflies or caterpillars, but the call of summer lured us away to bike races and pool play.

The day ended when we let the birthday girl go. The whole neighborhood clapped and cheered as her brand new butterfly wings carried her over our garden fence and out into the wide world.

I look forward to the next child-selected, child-led theme day. There's nothing quite as satisfying as watching the kids take charge of their own curriculum and throw themselves into learning and play with such enthusiasm!

3 Ways To Do Good During Dinner

Even the busiest family has to eat now and then. Dining together is not only a wonderful way to connect amid the torrid pace of modern life, it is a great opportunity to put some of your family's green-living goals into action.

Here are three exceedingly simple steps that you could start this week.

  1. Buy Better Beef: Check out this New York Times article about grass-fed beef. Long story short, grass fed beef is nutritious, humane, and environmentally-friendly. My family has been committed to buying grass-fed, locally-raised beef for a few years. It's a simple way to feel good about your dinner choices. If you live in the Twin Cities, consider the Grass Fed Cattle Company. They make buying better beef easy. If you aren't in the area, check out Eat Wild to find a vendor near you. Once you've found a place that works for you, making a responsible meat selection becomes automatic. It's one less thing to think about.
  2. Help your kids take notice: Reflecting on the food chain can be tough with kids. At 4, Little Miss still differentiates between our "real chickens" (the five that live in our backyard coop) and the "other chicken that we eat." Big Sis, though, struggled with our Thanksgiving conversation about the free-range turkey we picked up at the farmer's market. Here is a great video from Brain Pop about the food chain that helps put it all into perspective. At almost seven, she frequently declares herself a vegetarian only to demand hamburgers the next day. Knowing that her beef comes from local, humanely raised cattle seems to make her feel somewhat better about her burger cravings.
  3. Vegetarian Variety: Because buying better meat products is, in fact, substantially more expensive than basic grocery store prices, we commit a few days each week to a vegetarian menu. Folding more brown rice and beans into our diet not only offsets the cost of grass-fed beef, it increases our dining variety. If you are looking for kid-friendly vegetarian recipes, here are three weekday staples that I love and my kids actually enjoy eating (I usually make both soup recipes in the crock pot, so they're perfect for a busy schedule).