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Stuff and new stuff
Resources for teachers, parents, and children


Nature Sparks: Connecting Children’s Learning to the Natural World
Written by Ariel Cross. Redleaf Press, 2012. ($29.95 paperback)


Ariel Cross joins a growing number of author/educators (such as Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods) who advocate children’s reconnection to the natural world.

Children who regularly play outdoors develop stronger gross-motor skills and show signs of better overall health than children who do not, she says. Nature heightens their creativity, encourages social interaction, and relieves symptoms of behavioral and emotional disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

No classroom can match the firsthand observation and learning possibilities in nature, she says. “In nature, ‘school’ is literally everywhere.”

The book presents more than a hundred pages of activities in science, dramatic play, music, sand and water play, art, and language as well as suggestions for hikes, games, field trips, and gardens. Every page contains a “Nature Spark,” a sidebar with a related suggestion, mini lesson, recipe, craft, storybook title, or even rhymes like this one:


Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places,
That was how, in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.
­—Robert Louis Stevenson


Many of the activities are familiar to early childhood educators. They include collecting leaves, building bird feeders, and making mud pies as well as activities with innovative twists like burying the bottom of an old canoe or rowboat in the ground and adding fishing props. She echoes educators who encourage bringing indoor activities, such as block building, reading, and scrapbooking, for example, to the outdoors.

Recognizing that some children don’t want to get dirty or look at bugs, however, Cross offers ways to adapt the classroom to nature-oriented play practices. Dramatic play centers can become vegetable stands or campgrounds, for example, and the art center can be set up for making jewelry or mobiles from nature items such as shells and twigs.

Cross ends the book with nine pages of nature resources, including books, articles, websites, videos, CDs, nature kits, and organizations—a terrific list for any early childhood teacher.



Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth
Written by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. Tricycle Press, 2010. ($15.99 hardback)


Author Mary McKenna Siddals ticks off an A-to-Z list of compost ingredients, from apple cores to zinnia heads, in recipe fashion, pausing at times to recite the refrain:


Just add to the pot
And let it all rot
Into Compost Stew.


Preschoolers will delight in chanting the refrain and indeed the entire rhyming text. “And when the cooking is complete, Mother Earth will have a treat,” the rhyme goes.

Illustrator Ashley Wolff carries out the compost-as-mixture theme by mixing fabric remnants, newspaper strips, and magazine clips in her color drawings of children, a Dalmatian, and a goose, all working together on the stew.

Use this book to teach the alphabet, expand vocabulary, explore the sounds of language, introduce recycling, provide information about composting, and suggest ideas for art projects.



Compost! Growing Gardens From Your Garbage
Written by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Anca Hariton. The Millbrook Press, 1996.


Here’s another book that can help children learn about composting, gardening, and recycling. It gives examples of compost ingredients, mentions watering and turning as part of the process, and describes the heat given off by decaying wastes.

But perhaps the strongest recommendation for this book are the luscious watercolor illustrations. We see scenes of curly-haired children adding materials to the compost bin interspersed with gossamer paintings of leaves, flowers, a pumpkin, and other nature items. Framing each page are watercolor borders of designs from nature—cracked tree bark, billowy clouds, a stem of wheat, a winding vine, among others. Fitted snugly in the four corners of each page is a detail from nature, such as an acorn, a snowflake, a bean sprouting, a snail, a raindrop, and a butterfly .

It’s no wonder that the art is so beautiful. Illustrator Anca Hariton, trained in fine art and architecture in her native Romania, has been published in several books and won many national awards. See, for example, her prize-winning “E Pluribus Unum” at

Look for this out-of-print book in your library or buy it online from a used book seller.



Becoming a Bilingual Family: Help Your Kids Learn Spanish (and Learn Spanish Yourself in the Process)
Written by Stephen Marks and Jeffrey Marks. University of Texas Press, 2013. ($24.95 paperback)


This book is for English-speaking parents who want to raise their children to speak English and Spanish. It was written by two fathers who over 19 years have raised their children to be bilingual and who have encountered many other parents who wanted to do the same.

The introductory section describes how to create a bilingual home, using books, music, television, and, most important, conversation. Rule: Speak to your kids in Spanish, even if incorrectly.

You’re not fluent in Spanish? No matter, the second section is a phrase book consisting of a hundred pages of typical questions and commands to use when getting dressed, eating, expressing emotions, bathing, and other common home situations. “Are you hungry?” is “Tienes hambre?” for example. “Turn off the light, please” is “Apaga la luz, por favor.”

A third section provides a quick course in pronunciation and grammar for those needing a refresher as well as those new to the language. The book ends with a list of Spanish-language resources and a handy English-Spanish glossary.

Why Spanish? One author, Jeffrey, is on the languages faculty at Ohio University and has long advocated for bilingual-bicultural education. He and his wife are bilingual; they raised their children to speak French as well as English and Spanish. Stephen, by contrast, is a law professor at Boston University. He and his wife chose Spanish because, among other things, they love Spanish and Latin-American culture.

Despite their different professions, both authors, who happen to be brothers, understand that being bilingual has many advantages. Learning a second language early makes language acquisition that much easier in high school and college. Bilingual speakers are in greater demand for jobs in a world that is becoming more international every day. Other benefits may include enhanced cognitive skills, a greater tolerance of other cultures, and increased opportunities for travel.

Being bilingual makes sense when one remembers that more than half the world’s population is bilingual or even multilingual. As the authors point out, children in other countries are educated in a second language for at least part of their formal education.

Although aimed at parents, the book can be an excellent resource for early childhood educators who want to brush up on language skills to create or enhance a bilingual classroom.



Family Child Care: Guide to Visits, Inspections, and Interviews
Written by Donna C. Hurley and Sharon Woodward. Redleaf Press, 2013. (17.95 paperback)


Visits by safety inspectors, program monitors, and regulators can be challenging. “They come at the worst times,” is a frequent complaint, or “This is my home, and they are trying to run my business.”

A negative report after a visit can strain relationships, lessen support, and diminish income. You want to avoid outcomes like these because they may not only harm your business but also reduce services to children and their families.

This guide, written by two family care trainers, discusses skills needed to handle regulatory visits. Each of the seven chapters begins with a case study that presents a typical visit along with challenges that can occur when providers are not adequately prepared. Challenges include ensuring cooperation from your own family, dealing with different communication styles, handling confrontations, and responding to citations.

Each chapter also provides a second case study that describes the successful use of suggested solutions. One solution, for example, is to create a visit-ready checklist that helps you review sanitation and safety issues every day as well as prepare children in advance. Another solution is to write your own objectives for a visit and then document what happens. This allows you to interact with the visitor and take notes so that you can stay focused and won’t be left feeling confused or resentful.

Each chapter ends with “Checkpoints for Success,” a list of statements that summarize what you have done to examine and improve your business operation. One is “I identify ways to professionally communicate my philosophy, policies, and goals to clients.” Another is “I have kept an ongoing and accessible list of questions or requests for information and resources for use during unexpected visits.”

Because each chapter is designed to stand alone, you can dive in at the particular point where you feel the most stress. By practicing the skills described, you can not only alleviate stress but also get the support and guidance you need to enhance your business.