SmallWondersReviewed by Elizabeth Rinaldo

Study after study recommends integrating children into nature at a very young age. Little ones view with innocent and open eyes – they are curious and inquisitive and don’t yet know that it isn’t proper to get their hands dirty. Facilitating outdoor opportunities for children at a very young age can lead to a lifelong connection with nature.

Yet there are few pre-school or early elementary programs that offer any outdoor opportunities for children – beyond the daily excursion on the playground. Part of the problem is a lack of knowledge about such outdoor activities, lack of funding, or a lack of resources.

Small Wonders; Nature Education for Young children is a wonderful resource that could help solve this pressing problem. This paperback book offers more than 300 pages of lessons designed for the youngest learners. The activities are simple and can be facilitated by the educator with even the most basic knowledge. Supplies are also simple and readily available. Some activities can be done outside or inside. Some involve very little clean up while others are more involved. But all are practical and perfect for teaching young children about the world around them.

The book is divided into three sections: Growth and Change, Animal Homes, and Connections to Nature. Within each section, activities are divided into themes, and a one page guide provides all the basic information an educator will need to conduct the activity. Often a specific children’s book is suggested as a supplement to the lesson, as well as resource books for educators and parents. All the sections present a variety of activities, including songs, snacks and even puppet shows.

The Growth and Change section capitalizes on children’ interest and fascination with the changing world. Themes include insects, rocks and soil, trees, flower and fruit, frogs and toads, and growing up a bird. One particular activity involves having children select from an assortment of “people food” what food a grasshopper might eat. Another encourages children to “adopt” a tree and revisit it throughout the year to see what might be changing.

The Animal Homes section provides children the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about living things, as well as to use their imagination as they compare an animal’s home to their own. Themes include bats, chipmunks, life underground, the snow’s my home, owls, turtles, bee hives, and worms. In one activity, children explore just how many nuts a chipmunk can fit into its mouth, while another imitates animals burrowing by using sheets, cardboard tubes and ping pong balls.

The third section, Connections to Nature, provides opportunities for the children to explore how they are intertwined with nature, and nature with them. Themes include apples, food for all, wild about water, animal tracks, mighty mice, the sun, get growing, and nature and us. For nature chains, children collect items they have found in nature and thread them together on a chain that can hang as a reminder of the outdoors inside the classroom. Another activity allows children to explore the concept of the sun and shadows by using their own toys.

Small Wonders also includes a useful appendix that correlates the activities presented in the book with early childhood learning standards. There are also supply lists, teaching resources, and a glossary.

This book is a wonderful aide for anyone interested in immersing young children into the outdoors. It can be used by the advanced science teacher or by a parent at home. The lessons presented in this book will foster and encourage children to look at the outdoor with a favorable eye.

Elizabeth Rinaldo is an outdoor educators at the Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca, New York and a graduate student in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at SUNY Cortland.

Small Wonders (ISBN: 1-58465-574-7) is available from the Vermont Institute on Natural Science c2006; paperback; 320 pages; $24.95.