An Inquiry of the Outdoors: Contemporary Children’s Picture Books that Feature the Outdoors
BY KATHRYN CAPRINO
How are humans and the outdoors connected? This inquiry question has been answered more acutely for some during COVID. Whereas I am grateful that I could spend time outside daily during quarantine, taking walks with my little boy and rekindling my passion for running, I know many others - for a myriad reasons - were trapped indoors.
In this post, I share three contemporary children’s picture books that will help young readers answer the inquiry question: How are humans and the outdoors connected?
After sharing brief summaries of each text, I provide a few lesson ideas.
Whereas COVID is not mentioned explicitly, the narrator reveals that there was a time when most people went inside. Sharing that humans made the best of their challenging months inside, the text leaves readers with hope of reconnecting with others outside - but not before emphasizing that even though we are all different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside. Echoes of the idea that humans need to be outside seen in Outside In are also seen in Outside, Inside, and this idea that we are all united by something much greater than ourselves links with Swashby and the Sea.
Sharing the Books with Students
Before sharing these three texts with students, pose the inquiry question How are humans and the outdoors connected? Invite them to share the ways in which they feel connected to the outdoors via discussions, written responses, or pictures.
Next, read the texts to students, providing opportunities for during-text discussions and post-text answering of the inquiry question. Ask students to reveal how each text confirms or alters their previous responses.
After reading all three texts, ask students to draw, write, or discuss their response to the inquiry question, using their personal experiences and what they thought about as a result of the three picture books.
Finally, have students engage in an activity that helps them engage with the inquiry question How are humans and the outdoors connected? in personal ways. They may want to create a project that helps keep the outdoors a hospitable place for humans. They might write to the town mayor to share some ideas on roadside trash collection, for example. Other students may pursue a more personal project, such as a drawn or written memoir or children’s picture book about their experiences with being inside and outside throughout the past year.
Perhaps the best lesson idea I have, however, is to let these texts inspire you and your students to go outside. Take an awe walk to find inspiring objects and return to the classroom to discuss or write about them. Set up an observation log in your classroom so students can track what they noticed about the outdoors. Let students draw or paint the outdoors. Or even better yet, truly be outside with them - not outside but really inside as Outside In warns - and play with them.
It is my hope that these three contemporary books that provide the opportunity for us to engage in an inquiry of the outdoors inspire us all to move and think and be outside just a bit more.
Kathryn Caprino is a CLA member, on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Children’s Literature, a blogger at katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com, and an Assistant Professor of PK-12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Twitter @KCapLiteracy.
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