Because I have a love of books and a desire for my children to learn, I’ve made a habit of purchasing the best reference books I can find and placing them around our home. As a result, I’ve stumbled upon how to study science without really trying. At least one or two of these great books are opened by my littles daily without any prompting by me. The books are beautiful and hold an abundance of information. Because they are beautifully done, my littles want to open them. And since they contain intriguing and captivating information, my littles keep returning to them. While having littles who peruse them regularly is enough (Really! They learn so much!), we’ve also done more with our favorite reference books.
Here are 5 simple ways we’ve used them:
1. As points of reference to draw animals in our creation journals. I have one child who truly loves to draw, one or two who like to try, and a couple who beg me to draw animal pictures for them to color. I generally encourage each of them to give it a shot, because regardless of how their drawing turns out they took the time to pay close attention to the details of the animal and learned. Plus, as we say in our home, practice makes progress.
2. To play games, like “What’s your favorite animal?” or “Can you guess which animal I’m describing?” Perhaps you can think of shorter names for these :), but games are what ensue when my littles call out these questions. Everyone joins in, everyone learns, and I usually lose.
3. For animal identification. My littles have spotted a bird, wondered about animal relations, or looked up animals they’ve heard me read about in Burgess Animal Book. Through identification, they can now say, “Look, a downy woodpecker!” or “Hey, that’s a female cardinal!” instead of just “Look, a bird.” They can tell you the difference between a white-tailed deer and a mule deer, so that when they come face to face with them they can easily identify them. Coincidentally, we’ve seen both in the wild.
4. To imagine scenes in stories. “The roadside was crowded with mid-summer flowers…big white daisies and small fringed daisies, brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace. A brindle cow was sleeping under a scrub oak tree.” and Later, “A squirrel whisked down the tree to look at them. A phoebe sang, ‘Phoebe! Phoebe!’ over and over again. A hornet buzzed in the noonday heat, but did not come too near.” excerpt from Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. How much more can we immerse ourselves in a story if we can accurately place ourselves with the characters among the flowers and hear the bird’s song?
5. Read them. Read them, and read them some more. Repetition is good for a plethora of things, including reading. They have such a storage of science information simply from pulling out books, looking at them, and reading them again and again. I love that my littles reach for these non-fiction titles during their free time.
You could probably get these at the library, but I doubt you’d regret having them on your bookshelves for always. Right now, all of these can be found, not in our designated school room, but in our family room. They are beautiful on the inside and outside, so I don’t mind having them out for display and easy use. This is my short list of best of the best natural science reference books:
1. Smithsonian Natural History Full of high-quality photographs, this is hands down our favorite reference book. My parents gave it to my children a little more than 2 years ago. Rarely a day has gone by when someone in the family isn’t looking in it. After this much use, including dragging it from room to room through our house, the binding is finally starting to show some wear. If necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a second copy, because there’s no doubt it will be well used.
2. Golden Guides These small guides are perfectly sized for children’s hands. Each page focuses on one type, so as not to overwhelm the reader. I’ve linked to the Trees volume, but there are so many others including Mammals, Wildflowers, Geology, and Stars. We’ve found some secondhand, but at an affordable $6.95 a volume, I think we might have to add the Weather volume to our collection before we begin cycle 1 with Classical Conversations in the fall.
3. Backyard Birdsong Guide We have an older edition of this guide that’s no longer in print. Two new options would be Bird Songs From Around the World and Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. And of course, checking used bookstores or sales.
4. Animalium This book is more art, less guide. It’s meant to give you the perspective of viewing walls of a museum on the pages of the book. The illustrations are beautiful and it could work to engage a child and draw them in to explore more information on these animals.
5. Nature Anatomy: Opening this book made me feel like I just happened upon the field journal of a friend filled with beautiful sketches and helpful observances. You’ll find the phases of the moon, the anatomy of a flower, some parts of the atmosphere, and types of clouds (all studied in cycle 1), as well as much, much more. This is a new addition for us and I can see it’s going to get lots of mileage.
Do share! What are your favorite science reference books? We’d love to add some more to our very useful collection.