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Themes in young readers: The natural world and the environment

January 30, 2014 by Nora Nagy

The natural world is the first place where we have adventures and become explorers, but it is also a place we need to protect. Think for a second: can you name at least three children’s books from your childhood that were set in nature or featured animals and their adventures?

Every child has beloved animals and animals they identify with; animals they mostly see in films, read about in books, or cuddle up to as soft toys at home. In our largely urban environments teachers and parents depend on books and films to help them introduce children to the natural world, and stories can guarantee a fun and inspiring reading experience. Children’s sensitivity to the world surrounding them makes them excellent defenders of the environment. However, it is our responsibility to introduce them to this world.

Recent studies carried out in the UK draw attention to a worrying statistic: only one in five children is connected to nature. Another survey carried out by a group of research scientists shows that nature is disappearing from children’s books, leaving us in a situation where children do not have the chance to learn about it before they start exploring the outdoors.

  • For more information on the benefits of nature for children, visit the Children & Nature website, where you can find research studies, reports and lots more.

Books about nature are not only inspiring and fun for children, but their educational value is huge. You can start using enchanting stories with young learners in the English classroom, and this way combine language education with raising their environmental awareness. These visual readers, just like other Helbling Readers, are beautifully illustrated and can stand as picture books. With the addition of carefully graded language in open fonts, they offer excellent language class materials. Do focus  on both the verbal and visual sides of the story, as well as the Play Station activities, games and chants that come with the readers. A fun and creative extension to every reader is the Play Station project at the end of each book. You can download them separately for other classes from the Helbling Young Readers website. Many of the projects have a focus on nature.

The Big Fire
by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Giacomo Moresi
(Level a)

The Big Fire is a colourful and exciting adventure in the jungle. Learn about jungle animals and find out how they can survive a terrible fire.

  • Do the Play Station project and play with the Jungle Dominoes for further vocabulary practice.

Sam and the Sunflower Seeds
by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini (Level c)

In this reader you take a trip to the countryside with Sam, who visits his grandfather and learns about the life cycle of sunflowers. He also learns how to grow his own sunflowers in the city!

  • Remember to do the creative art project on sunflowers. 

The Thirsty Tree
by Adrián N. Bravi, illustrated by Valentina Russello
(Level c)

We can see the powerful and magical side of Nature in this story. Valentina Russello's illustrations bring the story an allegorical level with the swirling clouds, mythical bird, and the lonely tree that needs life-giving rain to turn green again.

  • The project at the end of the book is a fun experiment that helps your students understand about the basics of bringing plants to life.

Food for the Winter 
by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Estella Guerrera
(Level e)

Food for the Winter is a moral lesson about the importance of sharing and looking out for your friends, and it is also a story of how life changes in the forest with the changing seasons . You will learn about various animals, and find out how chipmunks prepare for the winter.

  • Make the story more memorable by doing the project at the end of the book. Build a bird feeder!

Lost on the Coast
by Rick & Steve Sampedro, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni (Level e)  

This story will raise several questions about the environment and how we can protect it. A young boy, Rawari help a stranded whale and realises that there are other dangers threatening the coast. The illustrations will take you on a real underwater adventure.

  •    Do the Play Station project to learn how to make a compass.

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