This post is by regular contributor Debi Huang of Go Explore Nature.
My 5 ½-year-old is just beginning to discover the joy of reading. But it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, just a few months ago he was anything but interested. It seemed the books that had engaged his older brother – both the classics and some personal favorites – didn’t excite my youngest in the least.
Being an outdoorsy mom, I decided to try combining reading with something he loves about our outside time – animals. What I discovered is that it wasn’t the fictional stories he connected with; it was the animal encyclopedias and nature field guides that he most enjoyed.
Field guides combine color pictures or drawings with descriptions and details about some living thing, such as trees, wildflowers, birds, amphibians, fish, mammals and insects. They are used to help identify a species you aren’t familiar with. Field guides can be very detailed or more general. There are even field guides made just for kids.
How can field guides be used to help make reading fun for kids?
Start with a good book. Look for field guides with quality photos or drawings and simple facts about your geographical area. Smaller, pocket-sized books are easier for little hands than bigger, heavier ones.
Focus on your child’s interests. Pick a guide that covers a topic of interest to your child. Since my son loves animals, we explored bird and mammal books first. After that, we moved on to field guides for local tide pools and trees.
Put their observation skills to work. Even pre-readers can use simple field guides to identify common critters and plants. Observation skills come in handy when comparing features such as shape, color and size to make identifications. These are the same tools future readers will need for recognizing letters and eventually words.
Match items in nature to pictures or words on a page. Can your child match what you’ve discovered in your backyard (or beyond) with what’s in your field guide? This was my son’s favorite way to discover new words (animal names, that is). He now uses this same skill – looking at pictures and illustrations to determine words and context – as he begins learning to read on his own.
Uncover more details. Putting a name to an animal or plant is just the beginning. Next comes learning more about an item of interest. A field guide can provide details about what animals eat, where they live, where plants grow, bird calls and more. Some of this information can be gleaned from photos or illustrations; other details you’ll discover by reading together.
Create your own field guide. Not only does it foster a child’s natural creativity and curiosity, it encourages reading and writing skills, too. Pre-readers can practice drawing, letter writing and more as they create their own backyard field guide. You can add details together or you can leave it completely up to your child. The finished product becomes something that you can read together as your child grows.
Using field guides to help reluctant readers is just one way to connect literacy and the great outdoors. Don’t forget how much is waiting to be discovered right outside your back door!
Have you ever used a field guide or other reference book to encourage a child to read?
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