Where Nature Meets Story: Get Reading Outside

About the Author

John Thielbahr is the retired Director of Professional Education at Washington State University’s Center for Distance and Professional Education in Pullman, Washington. John's experience includes 25 years in a private sector career in finance and business development and volunteer work as President of the Board of Directors of the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute of Moscow, Idaho. John serves as a member of the Children and Nature Network Grassroots Leadership Team. He is married and the father of four.

On the Children & Nature Network home page, there is an icon (right hand column toward the bottom) called Family Activities, Family Stories: Where Nature Meets Story.  It will take you to a diverse list of activities in nature for children of all ages (and adults), but more importantly, it also offers a list of books that children can read or have others read to them, books that relate to the nature activity described.  Like so many wonderful things in nature, this icon just sits there quietly waiting to be discovered.  It is about to be, thanks in large part to a recent blog by Richard Louv on Naturebraries.

The Children & Nature Network invested in the Where Nature Meets Story segment of our web site as our window on the important issue of children’s literacy, an especially challenging issue for children living in poverty. This window will be opened widely to the fresh breezes of creative ideas to reconnect children with the natural world through reading age-appropriate, nature-based books, inside and outside, in partnership with librarians and writers, followed by nature walks and other nature-based activities, perhaps even including mapping projects of nearby nature and pathways that are safe to explore.  In addition to the benefits to children, the ultimate beneficiary may be the communities themselves as they discover how important the natural world really is for the people who live there.

In our short history, the movement to reconnect children with the natural world continues to reach ever more deeply into neighborhoods and communities, supported by Natural Teachers, Family Nature Clubs, our youth leadership group Natural Leaders, health professionals, afterschool professionals, and a vast array of grassroots organizations from 4H and American Camp Association. to the Sierra Club and the Arbor Day Foundation.  As our recent Let’s G.O. (Get Outside!) initiative in April demonstrated, where we mobilized over 500 nature-based events in 44 states in a three- month period of organization, The Children & Nature Network can now effectively reach even deeper into the heart and soul of many communities: their libraries.

We welcome your ideas and suggestions for connecting kids to nature and literacy.  Some libraries are already embracing nature-based literacy programs and even creating butterfly gardens that are filled with stories of magic and wonder.  If your library is one of those, send the information our way.  Stay tuned for more details.  Let’s G.R.O.

More C&NN information on children, nature and literacy:

How Libraries can Connect Children and Adults to Nature, and Build Support for Libraries, by Richard Louv.


  1. this is a fabulous idea. Thanks for sharing John. I am talking up the idea in Tucson of youth planting native trees and wildflowers along community pathways that connect neighborhood kids to local libraries. I look forward to speaking with you about G.R.O.!

  2. This is a fantastic initiative and for children there is nothing better than being outdoors and being in a state of wonderment, exitement and learning which comes naturally.

    (Sorry this isn’t a plug) but Id like to say that as I whole heartedly love this way forward I will be looking to align this into my grants initiative which is “funding for schools for the future …to develop green roofing and greener play /educational areas.”

    The whole idea of getting children back to reality/the real world. nature, and into the great outdooors should be a target for all of education. It should also be extended into adult education too.
    Our libraries have a great role to play and of course it will also mean that “love of books” development for everybody.

  3. Stories about nature are one of the best ways to engage kids in the outdoors. I’ve started a discussion group on C&NN Connect.
    Thanks, John.

  4. I am involved with an outdoor adventure and literacy program for teens. Our teens develop and improve their literacy skills by writing about and reading in the outdoors. There is an English language component as well as an environmental science component. At the end of the 40 day immersion program, the youth teach younger children about nature, based on what they have learned by reading and observing/studying nature during the immmersion experience. i would love to share more about this program with you.

  5. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center has a new exhibit in place – Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature 1890 to Today – including a discussion blog Dr. Linda Tate will begin moderation from June 6-25 to highlight discussions around McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, Rachel Carson’s, The Sense of Wonder, and Chief Seattle’s Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. We are interested how early children’s lietrature experiences inspire conservation career choices and nurture stewardship of the land. For more information email

  6. I visited Mount Agamenticus Conservation Program in Maine this weekend. While there one of the guides told me about a Story Walk Trail program they have developed. A book is taken apart and each page is mounted in a way that protects it from the elements. The pages are the mounted alone a trail. Children and adults walk the trail and read the book in installments as they progress down the trail. I love this idea and plan to speak with our local land trust about designating a property for the development of our own Story Walk Trail. Here is a link for specific information about their program and an event on June 11, 2011:

  7. What is the status on this? How did the pilot go? I am writing a proposal to start a nature learning space at my library, and need all the sources I can get.
    The Story Trail is a great addition to the project.

  8. Hello John

    I’m sorry I missed this blog post! However better late than never to respond. Last November I was running one of my outdoor literacy courses and one of the participants was a librarian from an international school.

    In her school, the K-G2 classes were outside daily and she was part of that outdoor programme providing literacy activities. I thought this was a really valuable idea – to have the school librarian working outdoors too.

    Best wishes


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