‘Outdoor School’ children’s book series teaches kids to appreciate nature

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Outdoor School' (Part 1)

The weather is getting warmer and summer vacation is almost here.

A new book series “Outdoor School” helps your kids appreciate nature.

“Kids need to spend more time outside,” Author Mary Kay Carson told WTOP. “There’s all kinds of studies about how the outdoors is a very stimulating atmosphere. … There’s always new things to see and different things do. Also, it’s important for everyone that the next generation has an appreciation for the natural world.”

Carson joins a writing team of Jennifer Pharr Davis, Jennifer Swanson and Haley Blevins, as well as illustrators Aliki Karkoulia, John Dawson and Emily Dahl.

Together, they’ve created books that are meant for so much more than just reading.

“The books are meant to be used,” Carson said. “The books not only have information, but there’s all kinds of places to write in your observations, dates and locations for where you see different things. There’s places to practice drawing animals. The books are meant to be a nature journal in progress that’s a resource you can refer back to.”

The first book is called “Animal Watching.”

“I just want kids to know they can look at birds while they’re walking to the bus or out the window in the car, and find things to watch, and look for animal tracks, and really appreciate all the different animals that we have,” Carson said. “Even in the city, there’s actually more wildlife in the city sometimes than in the country.”

The second book is called “Hiking & Camping.”

“People are more interested in hiking and camping than ever with the pandemic,” Carson said. “You can feel completely comfortable, get out there, know what the right gear is. [It’s] written by two women who spend most of their time on the Appalachian Trail. Jennifer Pharr actually holds the record for doing the trail the fastest.”

The third and final book is called “Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting.”

“This one is about what every kid does, which is go around and collect rocks because of the way they look, their color or the way they found them,” Carson said. “This helps them take it to the next level and figure out what kind of rock that is. Did it come from a volcano? Was it part of an ancient sea? What kind of world did these fossils live in?”

There are also two pocket-sized guides: “Survival Skills” and “Animal Tracks.”

“It’s just a small Tyvek, take-with-you book that’s meant to go in your backpack to help you out of any jams with purifying water or finding your way home,” Carson said. “When you find animal tracks in the mud or in the sand or in some snow, you have it right there with you to be able to try to match them up and see if that was a rabbit.”

Younger kids will enjoy the “Spot & Sticker” books for interactive fun.

“It’s a different way to keep track of what you’ve seen without knowing how to read yet,” Carson said. “The pages flip out. On the outside pages, there are greyed-out images of animals, then when you see that bird or plant … you put the sticker from the inside right onto the spot on the flap.”

The books are published by Odd Dot of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Outdoor School' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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