Indoor Reading that Inspires Outdoor Exploration

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I love books – specifically picture books.  I love when beautiful illustrations are paired with luscious prose or an engaging story.  My boys do to…  When we find one of these gems it never fails to ignite the imagination!

We recently read The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.  The boys were entranced.  They had never thought of snorkeling before, or discovering undersea wonders.   When I hear ‘just one more chapter’ or children begging me to read the book AGAIN, I know we’ve hit found a good one.  When boys immediately take the story into their play, I realize we’ve hit the jackpot.

That afternoon, the boys yanked up swim trunks and excitedly braved the heat to swim in our inflatable kiddie pool.  I came out to find them doing this…

Indoor reading that inspires outdoor exploration.  A perfect match for summer!

Indoor reading that inspires outdoor exploration.  A perfect match for summer!

As they neared the edge, smiling faces – dripping wet – popped up and they filled me in on their Jacques Cousteau-esque adventures.  A good book harnessed together with a wild imagination is beautiful to behold.   And the timing couldn’t be more perfect as we dive into learning about many sea creatures during our study of plant and animal classification this next month!

Here are several books on undersea adventures or animals that have captivated our imagination!

7 engaging and captivating books about ocean exploration and learning

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau ~ This delightful tale captivated us and birthed a desire to explore the ocean.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle ~ We loved how Sylvia’s childhood love of nature transferred to her love for the ocean.  It is fun to see how childhood interests blend into adult vocations!
Somewhere in the Ocean ~ While this rhyming, counting book is geared for the preschool-kinder crowd, my older boys still love it.  The illustrations are amazing!  We love all of her books.

Hello Ocean ~ This captivating tale about a trip to the beach is a family favorite.

A Swim Through the Sea ~ This 16 year old girl wrote and illustrated a beautiful book that inspires a love for the creatures of the sea!
Seashells, Crabs & Sea Stars ~ Love the illustrations – nature-notebooking/field guide style.
 Ocean: An Eyewitness Book ~ We love Eyewitness books.  The photographs are beautiful and give us a ‘real-life’ glimpse of what Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle saw during their underwater explorations!

Nature making it’s way indoors and learning mapping

Nature making it's way indoors!Nature making it's way indoors...

Nature making its way indoors...

It’s been a hot week, so I guess I should be thankful when nature exploration opportunities follow us indoors, right?  I was craving flowers to grace our breakfast table earlier this week and went out front to collect some bougainvillea blooms that were spilling over onto the sidewalk.  As I placed them in a vase, Keegan notices movement.  I had looked for spiders and other ‘blackish’ bugs, but failed to notice the slender camouflaged praying mantis.

Enraptured, we watch it slowly crawl around.  Boys eagerly put their hands out to capture it.  This is when we discover how smoothly and quickly this graceful creature could move.  He fairly danced over the petals.

“How many legs does he have, Trey-Trey?” I ask the 5 year old.  Older boys bit their lip to avoid shouting out the answer. Inwardly, I exult.  “Eeeee! A small sign of self-control.”  The 5 year old counts, but then comments on the funny looking front legs.  I ask the boys why they thought to call it a ‘praying’ mantis…   Boys study intently, as our little friend stops his dance and looks around.

“He rubs his front lets together and it looks like he’s kneeling to pray!!!” One boy exclaims.

Their attempts at catching him begin again in earnest.  But that little leaper jumps up arms and tickles the neck.  Boy squeals commence – whether from delight or fright, I cannot tell.  I step in and cup my hands around the little guy as we quickly make for the back door.  Nature study is officially over – at least the indoor portion.  On the back porch, I repeat a reminder to not kill our little friend.  Unlike cockroaches, we WANT praying mantis’ around.  They eat other bugs.  We google them and boys sit watching gory pictures of their insect meals pop-up.  We wonder aloud whether or not ‘preying’ mantis might be a more appropriate name.  hmmm, maybe there is a double meaning to its name.

While I’m typically not a fan of having bugs in the house, this was a nice break from hunting for bugs outdoors.  At least it was one of the ‘good bugs.’


On a different note, we finally began work on nature mapping our yard.  We took another tour of the yard, reviewing plant names and headed indoors to start drawing maps at the kitchen table.  I explained birds-eye view maps similar to some we found in the book, Me on the Map.  I had no idea how challenging perspective would be.  My perfectionist son insisted on copying my map down to the last curve and my independent one mirror-imaged half of the yard, but not the other.  We’re going to slow down and work on some more map-making skills – starting with mapping their bedroom.  Tomorrow we’ll head across the street and do our map work outside where it will be easier to get the correct perspective.  Oh the joys of learning…  The boys have the opportunity to not get frustrated and view this as a failure {although my perfectionist was starting to panic a bit}.  Instead they get to learn to view {perceived} failure as simply part of the process!

{I love seeing what stood out to the 5 year old from our backyard…  The spotty grass – due to recent problems with our sprinklers and birds in the tree outside our window.}

Nature Mapping our yard - learning mapping skills

nature mapping our yard - an opportunity to learn mapping skills.

The Daily Outdoor Challenge!

This post is part of my Friday summer series: The Daily Outdoors Challenge where we commit to spend time outdoors – in play or nature study!

Crepuscular < Our word for the summer

Open-ended nature explorations: an important ingredient to your day! Open-ended nature explorations: an important ingredient to your day!   Open-ended nature explorations: an important ingredient to your day!Open-ended nature explorations: an important ingredient to your day!Open-ended nature explorations: an important ingredient to your day!

The shadows lengthen and a light breeze is blowing.  The temperature still hovers above 100 degrees, but with no sun beating down from overhead the dry heat is bearable.  Dusk approaches and just as most desert animals come out of hiding now, so do we.

The boys race ahead, thrilled to be free of the confines of the indoors.  We stop and inspect our shadows, in awe at how tall we’ve become.  The boys notice that the Mesquite trees are once again dropping seed pods.  They reminisce about gathering them last year, grinding them into flour and making our own mesquite tortillas.

We are mesmerized as we spy a lizard doing push-ups.  Boys soon find feathers and brainstorm how colonialists must have made their own ink for quill pens…  They collect feathers and plot a course of action.

I smile and sigh as Treyton runs up to me with his fresh wound over one eye from an encounter with our wicker cabinet and the DIY haircut that he began.  Yes, we need this time outdoors.

As we run free, I remind them of all of our desert animal friends and I re-introduce them to a favorite word of mine this time of year:

CREPUSCULAR: (of certain insects, birds, and other animals) active at twilight or just before dawn.

That is what we resort to each summer – venturing out in the early morning or after dinner.

It’s been a busy week and I’ve been a bit under the weather.  But spending these moments outdoors at dusk tonight help me release the guilt of nature-mapping goals not yet accomplished and remember that even in open-ended nature walks their observation skills are honed and we are ever learning.

I not only recognize the benefits of making a plan, but am also thankful for the fresh reminder to appreciate the beauty of keeping it open-ended too!   The bottom line is that we NEED that daily time outdoors!

The Daily Outdoor Challenge! A Weekly link-up to share outdoor adventures and nature study ideas!

Not a Stick…

This little book inspires countless outdoor adventures.  All you need is a stick!

Sticks + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures Sticks + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures Sticks (or in this case PVC pipes) + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures

We love finding a fun book that inspires outdoor explorations.  This last week we read, Not a Stick.  The boys were laughing and enthralled with guessing what this cute character was making his stick into next using the magic of the imagination.  When we were done, the boys were sad to see that it was a library book and promptly declared that we needed to add this book to our permanent collection.  Because we loved it so much, we are eager to check out his other book, Not a Box next!

A stick, the great outdoors and a child’s imagination are all the ingredients you need for a beautiful adventure!  In our case pvc pipes work well too!

How do your kids play with sticks?

The boys are busy having outdoor and indoor adventures with the grandparents this weekend while Rich and I are at the Arizona Homeschool Convention!  I’m excited to share more of our Nature Mapping adventures next week!

Have you had any fun, creative or even beautifully ordinary adventures outdoors lately.  Link up so the rest of us can gather fresh inspiration to spend time each and every day OUTSIDE!

Nature Mapping and the Nursery

Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study' for a 'nature mapping the neighborhood' challenge!

Last week, I mentioned that we are starting our Daily Outdoors challenge up again and that our family goal for this summer was to ‘nature map our neighborhood.’  We’ve been crazy busy this week with VBS and convention prep, so we haven’t started drawing our maps yet, but we did take stock of our yard and than pack up for a “field trip” to our local nursery.

There is something about being surrounded by beautiful living plants, even if they are still in plastic pots with labels on them.  The boys loved exploring.  As we identified plants and trees that we have in our yard, they started to write down the names.  We are collecting our information to begin the actual mapping process!

Have any of you ever taken a ‘field trip’ to a local nursery?  The staff are always ready and willing to answer questions and you can actually learn the names of the plants that you see in your neighborhood.  As a biology major in college, I’m sort of ashamed now to admit that I made it through without taking a single plant biology class.  At the time I simply wasn’t interested.  Now I’m trying to make up for lost time.  And where does one go when they don’t know a whole lot about plants?

A local nursery, botanical garden or an arboretum.

The local nursery is a win-win because it is FREE and CLOSE!  As the weather heats up and gas prices continue to rise, I’m loving this combination.

How to plan for a Nursery Fieldtrip?

To transform this from merely a shopping trip into a ‘field trip’ you’ll want to plan.  Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Make a Plan – Decide on your goals. Identify plants in your area, learn how to care for plants, learn to identify perennials vs. annuals, etc?  The options are endless!
  2. Formal Tour or ‘Self-Guided’ – Determine if you want to do it on your own or make it a little more formal.  Many nurseries would love to give you an official tour or answer questions you and your children may have. We did an impromptu ‘mom-guided’ tour this time.  I would love have the kids write down questions on how to properly care for the plants in or yard and go back again.  I would also love to plant some fruit trees, so we might do a research trip on this as well.
  3. Pack supplies: We took a clipboard and pencil to take notes. Because it is already pretty hot, we packed water.
  4. Review etiquette: I’ve found it always prudent to review proper behavior etiquette before going anywhere.  This was no exception.  We discussed that this was a business and not a park.  They were to be respectful, not pull any leaves and/or flowers off the trees, or run around like crazy ‘normal’ boys, etc.
  5. Just do it!

Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study!' Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study!' Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study!' Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study' for a 'Neighborhood Nature Map' challenge.

Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study' for a 'nature mapping the neighborhood' challenge! Taking a field trip to a local nursery for 'nature study' for a 'nature mapping the neighborhood' challenge!

I gave them a little bit of free reign here…  They found a mammoth sized lizard and ducked around and between different plants to track it before it quickly outsmarted them!

Nature Mapping Your Neighborhood: How Will It Work?

The plan is that we’ll start with our yard.  We want to identify each plant.  They will draw a picture of it, write the name down and for my oldest a few pertinent details about that plant.  Next they will each draw a map of our yard – front and back yard and the general shape of our home.  Finally they will color it and label the plants!  From there we plan to move out and map our neighborhood, identifying interesting plants and trees along the way!

I’ve mentioned my love of maps before when we did out year of geography that I wrote for my son’s kindergarten-ish year.  As the daughter of a cartographer (map maker) and a geography major it is in the blood, I suppose.  We recently re-read one of our favorite books on maps, Me on the Map {and reminisced about our own Me on the Map books that we made}.  We can’t wait to get started.

How did you spend your time outdoors this week?

Daily Outdoors Challenge

Related Posts:

7 Ways to Take a Walk

Active Play Boosts Brain Power

Nature Painting

10 Reasons Why You Should Go Outside EVERY Day!

10 Reasons to Inspire you to spend more time outside with your family!

A little bit of sunshine…

…a breath of fresh air

Rejuvenates the soul…

…and awakens the mind!

Summer is here!  Today marks our last official day of the ‘school schedule’ as we know it.  We plan to take June off from the basics and focus on two very important things – a better routine with chores and lots of time spent in the outdoors!

Why so much time spent outdoors?


  1. It’s dangerous! {That’s right, you heard me…}
  2. It’s educational!
  3. It wires the brain to learn!
  4. You’ll think clearer.
  5. You’ll focus better.
  6. You’ll enjoy life more.
  7. You’ll feel more relaxed.
  8. You’ll feel more connected with your family.
  9. You’ll feel more productive with the rest of your day.
  10. You’ll feel more connected with the Lord {nothing like enjoying creation to draw you close to the Creator!}

In light of that, we are taking up the Daily Outdoor Challenge again this summer.  Despite our soaring desert temperatures, our goal is to spend some time playing, exploring and learning together outside every day!  I’ll give you a peak into our explorations and activities here each Friday.  We are always looking for fresh inspiration and see others enjoying the outdoors too.  Starting next week, feel free to link up a blog post, leave a comment telling us about some of your adventures or even post a picture to my facebook wall!  What I love about this challenge is how it is open-ended.  The options are endless… Puddle jumping is a favorite over here and one way to look favorably on our approaching monsoon season! 🙂

Our big {fun} project for the summer is Nature Mapping our Neighborhood!  We’ve just begun and the boys are super excited!  I’ll be sharing more about it next week!

My Neighborhood Nature Map! ~An opportunity to learn the flora and fauna in our own neighborhood.

Map6The Daily Outdoor Challenge - good for the kids, good for us!

Active Play Boosts Brain Power

Rolling down hills actually wires the brain to learn.  Active play gives the brain a boost!

The sounds of giddy laughter ring out on this beautiful spring day!  We applied ourselves to getting the house straightened up and finishing ‘seat-work’ so that we could head out to the park.  Talk about sweet motivation!  And I get to return to a peaceful home to boot!

As I watch my children race around and play (and make sure Greta doesn’t hurl herself over the edge of the climbing structure), I’m struck afresh with the power of good ol’ fashion outdoor rough and tumble play.  You can see them unwind and just come alive.  And yet, schools across the country are cutting recess and oftentimes neighborhood parks sit empty as kids are busy indoors with homework or playing video games…

Active play promotes brain development!  It's not just fun, it is FUNdamental! {Day 5 of Boosting Brain Power}

Children need time for active play.  It is not only fun, it is FUNdamental for their physical, emotional and yes – their MENTAL wellbeing. 

As I wrote about yesterday, MOVEMENT is so key to turning the brain ON to learning.  It activates so many parts of their brains.

When my little guy is hanging upside down from a tree branch, he is activating his vestibular system.  The vestibular system {housed in the inner ear} not only helps our body maintain balance, but it is considered the entryway to the brain for all of the senses.  This is an important entry point and having it working in peak capacity is beneficial in so many ways as millions of messages are relayed through this system into our brains throughout the day.   So yes, next time you see your child turning summersaults, rolling down hills or hanging upside down from the monkey bars know that their little brains are getting a kick-start in wiring to learn!

When our children brachiate on the monkey bars, skip, hop, jump or do that funny walking along the curb thing {one foot up, one foot in the gutter}, their brains are busy growing.  Bilateral integration occurs as they learn to coordinate both sides of their body.  What looks like simple, ordinary outdoor play is preparing their brains to read, write, reason and so much more.

When I was preparing to speak last year on the topic of movement and brain development, I checked out the book, The Art of Rough Housing.  It gives a great defense for this disappearing past-time.  My husband was incredulous that I could possibly need a book on the topic. While I claimed it was purely research, I was secretly also looking for ideas and inspiration myself.   It gave me fresh appreciation for my husband because this whole ‘rough housing’ thing tends to be an area where dads excel!  When they rough house with the kids, you know those times when you frantically run around the house to secure ‘breakables’, it is not only a fun bonding time between dad and the kids, but it also is a fabulous way to stimulate the vestibular system.  So maybe we can encourage our hubby’s to move that wrestle time to the morning before he heads to work so that our kids will be all primed and ready for school work that day! 🙂

So as we head into the weekend, get OUTSIDE.  Embrace rough and tumble play, knowing that it helps promote a healthy childhood!

For those of you with kids under 5, the book, Active Baby, Healthy Brain provides some fun, easy ideas to promote more of this active play. These ideas are especially nice for those home-bound times. It also gives fresh appreciation for all of the physical developmental stages that our young children go through. There is a reason for them!

10 day series on boosting brain power at

Day 1: Boosting Brain Power Starts with Food and Water

Day 2: How Sleep Makes Us Smarter

Day 3: Exercise Boosts Brain Power

Day 4: Why Movement Matters

*affiliate links may be used


Wildlife Count and the Slow Demise of a Tomboy

Mountain getaways are a time to explore, discover and delight in the myriad of wildlife encounters!
A trip to the Tonto Fish Hatchery proved fascinating as we inspected the various species of trout that inhabit Arizona waters.  Are we the only weird one’s left that enjoy reading all of the signs?  Our zoo did away with most of their posted information because they said that no one reads them anymore…
Of course, this trip to the hatchery only spurred on the boys obsession with learning how to fish!  In true city-slicker fashion, this was the FIRST time {gasp} that the boys went fishing.
They were thrilled with their catch and I have to tell you that this former tomboy still has some crazy good fish cleaning skills! 🙂  As a girl, I would walk up and down the creek each time we would go camping asking people if I could clean their fish.  Then I would gather the younger kids around and give them all a fish anatomy lesson!
Like old times, I gathered MY boys around for that super cool lesson!
Bugs were EVERYWHERE.  Our favorites were the walking sticks and praying mantiss’.
As Trey-man and I returned from the creek one morning, I spotted this little guy scurrying across the path.  Isn’t he just too cute?!?!?!?  The inner-tomboy emerged once again and I was able to catch this little fellow and take him back up to the cabin.  The boys were quick to create a little habitat for him and he was the recipient of copious amounts of love and attention.  We found it fascinating that he could change colors!  He patiently endured all of this love and attention and was rewarded with help in making an escape that afternoon much to the boys disappointment.
That was not the end of the wildlife adventures.  You see, we were in bear territory and found tracks that seemed to indicate that one had even been near the cabin in recent days…  We love the “Who Pooped in the Park” series on animal tracks and scat.  I’ve written about the Sonoran Desert version and found the information helpful when inspecting the abundance of tracks and scat up north. Next year, I think I’ll try and find the Grand Canyon version to broaden our understanding of animals in the northern part of our state.
I felt pretty smug while managing to stay calm, knowing bears were around and then eagerly inspecting the daddy-longlegs that Xander brought INSIDE the cabin to show me.
But I was undone by this little fuzzy creature…
Keegan wanted to bring one home as a pet.  We convinced him to leave this guy in the wild.  But somehow one of its relatives managed to stow away in the van.
After feeling a tickling sensation on my arm, I let out a high pitch girly squeal while frantically brushing it off. This woman who can clean fish, capture horny toads, inspect tracks and scat screams like a grade-school girl at the up close encounter with of one of these harmless caterpillars…
My status as former tomboy is looking to lean heavily on the “former” end of the spectrum.

Isn’t It Dangerous?

With a great whoop, the boys race up the hill in search of adventure.  They run, dodge, duck, and hide.  They thrive on the undertaking of brave exploits and flirt with any activity including an element of potential danger.
As my little caped crusaders traipse about our bit of neighborhood ‘desert’ one suddenly goes sliding down.  Shrieks of laughter and joy soon give way to howls of pain.
It isn’t a ‘dying’ kind of cry, so I merely meander over to take a peek.  There is a nice bit of gravel and dirt embedded into torn skin.  Crocodile tears pour down his cheeks as we talk about the ‘war wound’ and assess the situation.  For all of my brave talk, I’m a softie inside and agree to carry him home. Our adventure for the evening is over for now…

{photo credit – oldest son who was charged with carrying the camera home.}

With increased time outdoors, comes the occasional injury.  Parent’s often worry about the dangers associated with playing out in nature.

But merely staying indoors placidly seated in front of a television doesn’t guarantee safety…  Electronically drugged, yes.  Assuredly ‘safe’, not necessarily.

Did you you know that over 8,000 American kids are injured (or even die) each year when flat-screen TV’s fall on them?

A few weeks ago, I posted an interesting article on my facebook page about the benefits and risks of outdoor play.

It mentioned our children’s need for risk.  Risks are a permanent aspect of our lives.  Try as we might there is no way to insulate our children 100% from danger.  Instead as parents we should seek to manage them in order to limit – but not eliminate – their dangers. {for instance, we wear bike helmets, use car seats, discuss ‘tricky-people’, etc}

Why? According to this article, “Children need risk. It is a powerful catalyst for growth that helps them develop good judgment, persistence, courage, resiliency, and self-confidence.”

As a mother of boys, one of my goals in parenting is to raise them to be calculated risk takers – balancing initiative with wisdom. It is interesting to think of their outdoor explorations in terms of honing this balance.

I would encourage you to read the article.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  What does embracing the benefits of ‘risk’ look like in your family? Of course it will look differently for our kids depending on their age, personality, family dynamics, and where you live.  But it has caused me to stop and ponder the benefits of risk and helping my boys to navigate embracing the challenges in order to develop the discernment necessary to wade into this ‘dangerous’ world we live in.

The Daily Outdoor Challenge!

Our Daily Dose of Science!

Monsoon season has a way of luring us outdoors…  The smell of the creosote, the dip in temperature and puddles, puddles everywhere!

I think the boys couldn’t be more pleased with the ‘daily outdoors challenge’.  They know that if I’m feeling iffy on going outside that they can just bring this up and hold me accountable! 🙂

We had fun walking the neighborhood, inspecting the retention basins which had a couple of feet of water and we collectively mourned the loss of one of our trees out front in the aftermath of recent storms.

Monsoon season is also when some of our desert wildlife that has been safely hiding underground comes out to play.  A fascinating croaking sound met our ears as we embarked to explore our flooded neighborhood.  While building dams with river rock, we discovered these little toads out and about.  I believe they are Colorado River Toads, sometimes also called Sonoran Desert Toads.  But after listening to the call of the American Bullfrog, I’m not sure.  They were quite busy that night and within two days when we were outside again, exploring the water that was left, the boys discovered TADPOLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh this is one of the beauties of childhood. Memories came flooding back from my childhood and the many instances of wading in the lake behind my home capturing tadpoles and then taking them home for the remainder of their metamorphosis.

There is something so special, so powerful about tangible, impromptu science lessons like this.  We studied frogs last year, but even reading about it in books or doing some fun activity doesn’t even begin to compare with the real thing.  Watching the transformation take place before our very eyes is simply amazing.  This morning our little tadpoles merely had two tiny legs. By dinner time, they are sporting tiny arms too.

It is a timely reminder to seize the ‘real-life’ learning opportunities that come our way because context and experience are potent allies in the learning process.

So we continue our daily outdoor challenge.  I haven’t been doing it perfectly, but life is settling back into routine and with it the daily habit of time spent outdoors WITH my children.

The Daily Outdoor Challenge!