Raising Outdoor Readers: Picture Books in the Wild

While mindlessly scrolling social media I came across an Instagram post by @puddleparenting: 

I love how the trees in the book and the trees in the park match!

I love this idea and concept! Why haven’t we been taking picture books on more outdoor adventures with us in the past? They are a great addition to any outdoor learning.

Our town also recently acquired a little free library in the park thanks to a high school senior’s ambition to help a well-deserving community! This made it even easier for us to have a book to read while we were out and about at the park last week. 

The idea of reading a book outside at the park was so novel to my kids that they were more enthralled with reading than they were with playing. 

I can see many outdoor adventures that include picture books in our future. 

Do you take picture books outside with you on your outdoor adventures?

Learning in the Wild: The Herrett Center for Science and Arts

Our favorite learning days always happen to be the impromptu ones. One day when we were out running errands in Twin Falls, Idaho, we decided we needed a break. We were driving past the College of Southern Idaho and chose to stop in at the Herrett Center for Science and Arts. It’s a fantastic museum full of Idaho history as well as a planetarium with showings each day. 

We explored a few of the live animals. They had, a tarantula and a very large snake… I wish I could remember what type of snake it was, but I didn’t get a picture. Mostly because I didn’t want to go too close, snakes are not my thing! We took a minute to learn more about those specific animals and the environments they need in order to survive.

We walked through the exhibit of Native Americans in Idaho showcasing how they lived, what they ate, etc. We didn’t have a single worksheet or checklist on a clipboard to tell us what to look for or how to learn, yet we (yes, even myself), walked away with new knowledge. 

Learning doesn’t have to be uniform or done in a specific way. It can be a day out running errands and deciding to stop in at the local museum. It can be exploring all of the different rooms with rocks and plants and art pieces. It’s practicing new reading skills while reading a sign about fish in Idaho because it’s interesting and fun.

Learning in the wild is still learning. 

How Educational Is The Zoo- Really?

My daughter’s school is on a 4-day week schedule, making Fridays a stay-home day. The first few weeks of this new change proved itself somewhat challenging, she would be home during the day on Friday and struggle with being in a slower-paced routine of staying home. As a very extroverted soul, she needed human interaction, fast-paced, and as much learning as she could cram in. An in-person school situation really is where she thrives. 

On a random Friday nothing, in particular, was happening, so I made a very last-minute decision that we needed something to do for the day, so right then and there, our Friday Field Trips started. We packed sandwiches in a lunch box and took off to the capital city of Idaho for an afternoon at the zoo. 

I had the goal of making it educational for my daughter since that’s typically what she lacked on her day off from school. And educational, it was! Both through direct and indirect instruction. 

On the drive to the zoo, about 1.5 hrs from our home, we turned on the GPS and used the car mount to place it where everyone could see it. We had a very natural discussion about GPS, what it does for us, and how they’ve changed and evolved over the years (didn’t you have a huge, separate system in your car back in the early 2000s?!) 

We talked about Boise, Idaho. The capital city of Idaho and what it means to be a capital city. This led us to a light discussion on government and politics. Yes, I was talking government and politics with my 5-&-3-year-olds.

The GPS led us straight to the zoo. We packed up the stroller and headed to the gates. Once inside we looked at the pricing board and found what age range each of us landed under and how many dollars each of us would have to pay. It was especially fun when we realized that our baby was FREE! After some quick math and money exchange at the front gate, we were on our way! 

We used the park’s map to navigate to each animal enclosure we wanted to see. We read, read, read all about every animal to learn more about what they ate and where they slept, and what they liked. 

After seeing all of the animals we played on the zoo’s playground. Playgrounds are always a great, indirect learning experience, giving children hands-on experiences in physics, science, cause and effect, social-emotional skills, learning empathy, and more. 

After an afternoon at the zoo, we made a stop at the grocery store before we went home. Which came with so, so much learning as well! When kids are involved with grocery shopping trips it teaches them many, many valuable skills such as vocabulary, math, and so much more. 

I knew I wanted our day to remain educational, but what I didn’t realize was how much natural and indirect learning came from our outing. The vast majority of our conversations were natural and simple curiosities my children had. 

“Why is the GPS telling us to turn left?” 

“What is this star thing on the bottom of the zoo map?” 

“Why are the giraffes and zebras in the same enclosure?”

“Why are the penguins all standing together right now?” 

“What happens inside of the capitol building?” 

“Why are some things on a cold shelf in the grocery store, but others aren’t?” 

“How does your credit card pay for our stuff when you put it into the machine?”

Sloth bear, nostrils open.

Just taking time to answer these questions and have discussions, leading to more questions, made the entire day incredibly educational for all of us. Thank you, Google, for helping me figure out that red pandas mostly eat bamboo, but also like to snack on fruits, insects, and lizards. Also, did you know the sloth bear can completely close its nostrils in order to keep out dirt and bugs when they are invading others’ nests searching for food? Neat, huh!

I think more often than not I am caught up in getting through our daily errands and checklists, but dedicating one day a week to answering all of the questions and having the discussions is what our whole family needs. We didn’t have a clipboard of worksheets or checklists on animals to find. There wasn’t anything we were set on learning, we just took the day minute by minute and I went with where their curiosity took them. So you’ll be hearing a lot more about our Field Trip Friday adventures and what we’ve learned that day! The natural learning of our day is always worth it.

Cover Photo by Kevin Bidwell