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America Gone Wild: Children Interacting with Nature

by Miriam Downey 13. November 2012 17:36

When I was a kid growing up in Duluth Minnesota, we lived across the street from the woods where my brother and his buddies used to hang out. One day he came across the street with a bear cub in his arms. My mother could see some rustling in the woods behind him as he reached our yard. She screamed at him, "Put that cub down! Here comes his mother!" My brother dropped the cub and sprinted to the house, just in the nick of time. Out of the woods rushed a very mad mother bear. She scooped up her baby and went charging back into the woods. Wildlife lesson learned.

We are seeing more and more wildlife around us all the time. At my house, we see it every day. We live in the middle of a mid-size city. We have a small woodlot behind the houses across the street from us and a nature preserve about four blocks the other direction. For rather unknown reasons, we are on a wildlife path between woods, and we are visited almost daily by a variety of wild animals, from deer to woodchucks and raccoons. We have seen some amazing things. One afternoon there was a parade of seven deer walking down the alley like they were out for a hike. Another time I asked my husband, "Wonder why we haven't seen any bucks?" That very evening there was a buck with a huge rack nibbling away at the bird feeder. But the day I saw a coyote walking down the middle of the street in broad daylight, I realized that the environment for wild animals was changing dramatically.

You are probably having similar experiences. An article in the Wall Street Journal last week discusses the problems most cities are having with wildlife. The article says that our urban and suburban habitat is better for wildlife than the habitat of the forest. "We offer plenty of food, water, shelter and protection. We plant grass, trees, shrubs and gardens; put out birdseed, mulch and garbage."

Parent educators can use these experiences with neighborhood wild animals to their advantage. I have included several books that I think illustrate the interaction between humans and wild animals. These will all be available at your local library or bookstore. I have also included some websites that tell about the animals that are becoming part of the ecosystem that most of us live in. This is in no way an exhaustive list--just some of my favorites.

Jean Craighead George was one of the premier nature writers for children. Some of her best books include: My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves. Both of these books would be great to read aloud for your entire family. Here is her website and a list of all her books.

Picture Books

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry. This is a magnificent book about the Nashua River.

Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett. Annie makes friends with some wild animals as she searches for her cat.

Bird Talk by Ann Jonas. In an ingenious way, the calls of birds are identified.

Can I Keep Him? by Steven Kellogg. A little boy tries to become friends with a series of wild animals.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. A bear cub and a little girl have parallel adventures picking blueberries.

Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City by Barbara Bssh. Beautifully illustrated.

Tree Trunk Traffic by Bianca Lavies. Photographs of squirrels and other inhabitants of a tree.

Crickleroot's Guide to Knowing Animal Habitats by Jim Arnosky. Beautiful book about animal habitats.

Come Back, Salmon by Molly Cone. A group of children bring a stream back to life.

Chapter Books

Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant. Stories about people whose lives are affected by animals.

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey. A bear and a boy in Alaska; a story of friendship and adventure.

Incident at Hawk's Hill  by Allan Eckert. A young boy gets lost and survives the wilderness for six months.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. A story of the wild ponies that live on an island off the coast of Virginia.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, A young boy tries to save a deer that he has grown to love.

Novels and Non-Fiction

Dogsong, Woodsong, and Cookcamp by Gary Paulson. Adventures in a logging camp in Alaska.

Red-tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn. The true story of how Red-tail Hawks came to nest in the most populous city in the United States.

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. This famous Canadian author tells wonderful tales of the wild.

Up Close: Rachel Carson by Ellen Levine. A biography of the environmental pioneer Rachel Carson.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The classic book of essays about man and nature.

Animals and humans websites

Here is the article in the Wall Street Journal: American Gone Wild. This would be an interesting article for older students to read and write an essay about.

Enchanted Learning website about Biomes-Habitats. Activities for younger students.

PBS video about the red-tail hawks in Central Park. It is called Pale Male.


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