Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Choose a Field Guide for a Young Child

A couple of days ago, I went to a nature store to purchase a field guide for my youngest, who is fascinated by butterflies. The store had a terrific selection, so I asked the clerk where I could find field guides for little kids.

"How old is the child?"


"Oh, we don't carry field guides for children that young."

I thought this was a bizarre response. At its most basic level, a field guide is a collection of pictures or drawings of a given set of plants, animals, or other natural features (rocks and clouds are among my favorites). Sure, you can buy guides with lots of text and exposition about various features, but you don't have to.

Here are some basic guidelines for buying a field guide for the very young child:

  • Choose a guide that is small enough for little hands to hold. Make sure the book isn't too heavy or too thick. I like Stokes Beginner's Guides
  •  Pick a guide where the specimens are arranged by color. This type of grouping is easy to explain and understand. Pictures will capture the attention of a little one better than drawings. My daughter, for example, loves the section of her new guide devoted to swallowtails. "We've seen that one, and that one, and that one!" she said.
  • Choose a book with common specimens over rare ones. Let's face it - little kids are noisy and boisterous and will scare away much of the wildlife you are trying to study. Pick a field guide that is heavy on natural things that are common for your area since you are far more likely to see them.
  • Less is more. Pick a guide with just a few features on a page. A large picture of the specimen coupled with a map showing its range is ideal. Symbols for common features are better than words. For example, it's better to show one star out of five to indicate a rare species than the word "rare."

Regardless of which guide you choose, make sure to have your child take ownership of the new book. Write his or her name on the cover - or let your child do it - and find a special place for it on the bookshelf. When you go outside for a nature walk, take your comprehensive guide along with your child's smaller one, and you can have fun discovering nature together.

Princess likes her new field guide.

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