senseofplacecoverTeaching Children about the Environment with Picture Books
Daniel A. Kriesberg
Illustrated by
Dorothy Frederick

Reviewed by
Dr. Suzanne Spradling

A Sense of Place is a valuable classroom resource and curricular supplement. This book is designed to help integrate children’s literature and hand-on activities to increase students’ awareness of their connections to the earth. The activities and literature suggestions fit readily into existing curricula in the core content areas. The author describes how place-based environmental education can be used to meet state and national education standards. The topics addressed in the book develop students’ geographical and scientific observation skills and provide opportunities for them to learn about their area’s ecology and history. The chapters also include a variety of environmental education activities, language arts projects, and activities that integrate math and art.

The titles of the chapters describe the book’s emphasis and logical sequence, Chapter One – The Wonder of Place, Chapter Two – Sensing Our Place, Chapter Three – Adapting to the Place, Chapter Four – How Does the Place Work?, Chapter Five – Animals of the Place, Chapter Six – Plants of the Place, Chapter Seven – A Place in History, Chapter Eight – Protecting the Place.

Each chapter begins with an introduction, followed by an annotated bibliography of picture books selected to reinforce the concepts covered in the chapter. The final section of each chapter includes a wide variety of experiential activities designed to investigate the concepts presented in the introduction. The book is intended to be used, primarily, by classroom teachers but has much to offer non-formal educators in the field, such as foresters, naturalists and interpreters, who also may be asked to lead groups of students.

The author notes “there is a restlessness and a feeling of disconnectedness running through our society. Children want to belong…Children need, want and can have a sense of place.Without a sense of place, we can not only lose ourselves; we can destroy the place.” Kriesberg asks, “How do we help children find their sense of place when many of us do not feel connected to where we live? Learning together and rediscovering a sense of wonder is the first and most important step in the process.”

In the introduction to the book as a whole, the author provides background information to help the reader understand what is meant by a sense of place and a sense of wonder. He explains the powerful impact of contact with nature on learning and cites supporting literature. Methodologies for teaching about environmental issues are described. The importance of integrating environmental education throughout the curriculum is discussed. Kriesberg even speaks to how to address diverse learning styles and needs. Topics also covered include, how to use childrenís books, environmental education research, safety equipment and supervision, and finally, how to use this book itself.

It is obvious, by the number of references, that Kriesberg has done his homework. The references themselves are valuable as resources. The book is reader friendly. It provides just enough theory and supporting research to provide justification for the teacher to use of the book in his/her classroom. The bulk of the book is made up of activities that are classroom ready. Many require little preparation and materials that are readily available. The author describes the activity and the time frame needed. Extensions are included with many of the projects and activities.

The activities are varied. Some are very active and others ask the learner to reflect on a topic or observations made outdoors. Many activities are designed to be used with learners of varying abilities. In the first chapter one of the activities asks students to draw and write a map that gives directions to their house from school. Another allows children to design a walk and draw a map that guides someone past the more interesting natural features and points of interest near the school. Both of these activities foster a student’s connection with place. Other activities delve into basic principles of ecology. In the fourth chapter students measure insect diversity and play a food cycle game. They may go on an Interrelationships Scavenger Hunt. Or students may be allowed to Just Explore or free write about anything related to their experience outdoors. The books recommended for this chapter deal with topics such as food chains, decomposition, and the water cycle.

The annotations for the suggested books are most helpful in determining which would be most grade and content appropriate. Suggestions are given as to how to use the books with the activities. The books can be used to introduce, reinforce, or close an activity. Each chapter has a wealth of books from which to choose. The author has saved the teacher a great deal of time by thoroughly researching the most appropriate and useful books.
A few of the activities need more specific directions. But over all this is an excellent resource for the classroom teacher in any of the core content areas. Many of the activities are integrated and interdisciplinary. Others are content specific. Literature is used as an integrating context for the activities. A teacher could pull out a single activity to integrate into her/his curriculum or lesson plan or use a chapter as a mini unit. The book as a whole could be used as a thematic unit. The format allows for flexibility.

This book is recommended for elementary level learners. It provides the teacher with content background and a wide variety of activities and books that are easily incorporated into an existing curriculum. It is a must for any classroom. The activities and literature provide an integrated environmental context for learning and connecting to place.

Suzanne Shaw Spradling, Ph.D, is the Director of the Center for Environmental Education at Oklahoma State University.