Book Review: The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie
Book Review: The Nature Connection – An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families and Classrooms by Clare Walker Leslie
304 pages; 7 3/4 x 9 1/4 ISBN: 978-1-60342-531-5
Clare Walker Leslie is an artist and author of several books on nature journaling. Her newest book, The Nature Connection, is a workbook aimed at getting kids outdoors and exploring.
The book features a sturdy waterproof cover and is of a size that makes it worth using as a workbook or journal, but isn’t so big that you don’t want to schlep it around in your pack. The text is divided into three sections; the first – ‘How to Be a Naturalist’ – covers some basic naturalist skills and tools: what to take outdoors, how to record observations, and some guidelines on drawing. The second section is called ‘Learning the Sky’ and gives the reader straightforward information on seasons, weather and astronomy. In both of these sections along with all the rest that follow, the emphasis is both on learning key natural history information and then encouraging the learner to go out and observe and record in the spaces provided.
The third section is divided up by each month of the year, and provides facts, drawings and resources based on the natural world during the season that each month falls in. This section comprises about 2/3 of the total book and often builds upon facts and lessons in earlier chapters and sections. Sprinkled through the text are cultural and historical facts and references of interest to readers of any age.
The appendix contains information for teachers and parents on mentoring, outdoor safety and tips on using this book both for formal and non-formal education (among other things). Finally, there’s a bibliography and resource section covering many of the topics in the book, along with age-related books aimed at kids.
One of the things I like most about this book is its basic structure as both a learning text and a workbook for recording nature observations. It is the right shape, size and structure to encourage outdoor use, and for carrying around when not in use. Clare focuses on learning not through her text necessarily, but through personal observation – the best way to learn about the natural world, in my opinion. She gives the reader enough information to start off with, then offers gentle encouragement to go out and learn on their own and record what they found and/or learned.
As a naturalist, I have read and used a wide assortment of resources aimed at teachers and non-formal educators for teaching children about the natural world. Despite the plethora of options out there I urge parents and teachers to pick up a copy of this book and try using it for a period of time. While I believe sections of this book could be pulled out to supplement other programs, I believe that its ultimate value is when used throughout the cycle of the natural year. Learning will come by doing, and doing repetitively. The essential lesson in this book is ultimately how to go out and play and observe independently, and learn from those observations. The comfort and confidence in going (and staying) outside will only grow as the learner progresses through this wonderful book.
Part journal, part field guide and filled with Clare’s beautiful illustrations, I look forward to using this guide with children outdoors for years to come. And hope to get another copy soon to share with my own children at home in our diverse backyard.