David FitzSimmons: Connecting Kids With Nature

April 18, 2016

David FitzSimmons is an award winning nature photographer and the author of 12 children’s books. He is on a mission to connect children with nature and his books are a captivating tool to help bridge that gap.

David has become an expert in immersing kids into the natural world.  Today he is sharing his tips with us about how to get kids out and interacting with nature.

  1. Take a walk. Look for exciting habitats, geology, and wildlife such as ponds, creeks, caves, herds of deer or wild turkeys.
  2. Birdwatching. Put up a bird feeder and invest in a book like The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America to help identify.
  3. Visit a nature center. Also try zoos, aquariums, aviaries, botanical gardens and arboretums.
  4. Explore a wetland. Try catching little critters with dip nets and study them with a magnifying glass.
  5. Plant something. Let kids choose some of what to plant and where to plant them – including veggies! Observe their growth.
  6. Visit a park. Parks encourage free play and let children experience nature without an emphasis on structure or rules.
  7. Go creek stompin‘. Wear old clothes and get wet – turn over rocks, look for crayfish and salamanders. Skip stones.
  8. Go geocaching. If you haven’t heard of this you have to Google it – super fun treasure hunt which requires compass/GPS skills.
  9. Take pictures of nature and share them.
  10. Read a book about nature. And this is where David takes it to the next level.

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Curious Critters has won six national book awards and has sold over 100,000 copies to date. Not only is David an award winning author, he is also one of seven Sigma Pro photographers in North America. The photos in Curious Critters are his own. David sent me Curious Critters and Salamander Dance to share with my family. My boys are four and two so I am writing from my perspective and theirs.

Curious Critters shows a snippet into the life of 21 critters. His pictures are stunningly detailed. Both of my boys were super engaged and asked about the animals or proudly called out the ones they knew. Curious Critters is written in a playful first person narrative from the perspective of each critter.  The kids love hearing what each critter had to say and asking why they said it.

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“Now I know what you are thinking: predators can catch me quite easily. True, but they don’t. Do you know why? Because they think I am poisonous. Let me tell you a secret: I’m not, but my colors are similar to a butterfly that IS poisonous.” – Black Swallowtail

Curious Critters is very relatable and it gets kids talking about wildlife. These conversations broaden perspective and build a frame of reference for future discoveries. For more info check out: Curious-critters.com

David’s newest release is Salamander Dance, written by David and illustrated by Michael DiGiorgio, a nationally recognized nature artist.  It is a fun and factual account of the salamander life cycle.

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The illustrations are colorful and descriptive. Some are full page like the one below and some are half page. My kids loved asking ‘what is that” or “why” on pretty much every page. They also loved searching for the salamanders to see who could find them first.

This book has an accessible balance of challenge vocabulary and concepts.  The illustrations are 100% accessible to any age.  My two year old was able to point out animals and follow along with some prompting and ad-lib. Vocab was accurate with lexical items such as: vernal pool, ancestors, woodland hideaways, shallow depressions, larvae, plankton, and metamorphosis. These are big time challenge words for a four-year-old but overall the book is not word heavy and David leads kids along with playful onomatopoeia and uses clear concise descriptions around challenge words. For example:

“The larvae change dramatically now. Their gills start to disappear, and they grow lungs. Their tails grow stouter, and their legs get longer and stronger. This is called metamorphosis.”

Also, intentional repetition of challenge vocab though out the story make these reach words more accessible.

The illustrations are vibrant and engaging. It was easy to describe to my kids what was happening with visuals like this.

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Books like these make the difficult questions in life a lot easier to navigate. Now I just wish David would write a book about “Where were all the people when dinosaurs lived?” or “How old are you when you die?” – that would be super helpful. Thanks David. For more about The Salamander Dance: Salamanderdance.com

I love exposing my kids to all kinds of books. Fiction, factual, environmental – it gives them an opportunity to grow and connect with a bigger world. I love David’s passion for engaging kids with the outdoors and wanted to share his work as a resource for other families who are looking for some inspiration and practical tips.

Check out your local library for a copy to click here to purchase:  Curious Critters  and Salamander Dance

And as David signed our copies, “Stay curious!” and “Enjoy the dance!”

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(I am so trying the Geocaching!) Enjoy!

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