Once Upon a Trail
Here are some suggestions for using beloved children's books to extend children's fun in and appreciation of nature--and vice-versa--through nature walks and related craft activities.
* Topic: Animals in the Woods
* Book: The Mitten by Jan Brett (Putnam Juvenile, 1989)
In advance, place a white pillowcase outside at the beginning of a "trail" through your yard or a natural area you will follow with your child/children. Further along the trail, place puppets or stuffed toys representing the animals in the story. These will be discovered as you walk the trail. Read The Mitten. Then go outdoors and find the huge "mitten" (the pillowcase) you've placed there. Take the "mitten" and walk along, finding the animals along the way and placing them all in the big "mitten." After you've found the mouse, re-enact the huge sneeze of the bear. Back inside, extend the fun by making a mitten-shaped bird feeder using floral wire, Cheerios (or another cereal with a hole in the middle), and raisins. String the cereal and raisins on the wire, fold over the wire ends so the feeder is circular-shaped, and then re-form the wire to look like a mitten. Hang the feeder outdoors.
* Topic: Who Lives Here?
* Book: Possum and Peeper by Anne Hunger (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)
Ahead of time, place puppets or toys representing the four animals in the story, plus up to four more animals that inhabit the local area. Listen to a tape of a spring peeper chorus and look at a real frog close-up. Read Possum and Peeper. Go on a "hidden puppet hike" and find the four animals from the story plus the others.
For a craft project, make peeper bag puppets using paper lunch bags, glue, scissors, and colored paper. You can find frog paper bag instructions and templates at:
* Topic: What do Animals Eat?
* Books: A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock (Random House, 1958)
Using photos, introduce the concept of food chains and food webs. Read A Fly Went By. Arrange to show your child/children a live snake and talk about what and how it eats. Go on an "animal foods hike" and look for leaves with holes chewed in them, nuts, bees on flowers, etc. For a craft, make a bird feeder using pinecones, peanut butter with corn meal, and bird seed. (Of course, use a substitute if any kids have peanut allergies.)
* Topic: Animals That Change
* Book: Butterfly Story by Anca Hariton (Dutton, 1995) and/or The Caterpillar and the Polliwog by Jack Kent (Aladdin, 1985)
Show photos or posters of tadpoles becoming frogs and caterpillars becoming butterflies. Read Butterfly Story and/or The Caterpillar and the Polliwog. Visit a local butterfly show, nature center, or natural history museum to see all the stages and to see a variety of butterflies close-up. For a craft, make insect antennae using aluminum foil folded and fitted around the head like a headband, with antennae made of pipe cleaners folded around the front of the headband.
* Topic: Animals That Live in Water
* Book: Box Turtle at Long Pond by William T. George and Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow, 1989)
Show big photos of stream animals. Read Box Turtle at Long Pond. Show a live box turtle and live pond turtle and talk about how they live and how their bodies are alike and different. Go to a stream with nets and see what you can find that lives there. After looking at what you catch close-up, release all aquatic animals back to stream.