Encourage Outdoor Play With These Picture Books

Spring is now in full swing, although anyone from Cincinnati knows that’s not necessarily a guarantee for springlike weather. BUT, in between colder days and rain that sometimes lasts for weeks, we do have those beautiful, bright, not-too-warm-not-too-cold days where you just want to be outside.


Hopefully your kids feel the same way. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors is beneficial to a child’s development. But between toys, games, television, and devices (cell phones, video games, tablets, etc.), sometimes playing outside doesn’t sound all that appealing. What do you do for your kids when the outdoors just can’t compete with the indoors?

Everyone approaches these things differently, but no matter what tactics you use to coax reluctant kids into leaving the house, the goal is the same: we want kids to be excited about the outdoors!

Books can help ignite some of this excitement, instilling in children a curiosity and desire to explore the natural world, no matter if it’s sunny, rainy, or snowy. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite picture books that celebrate spending time outside. These books can help encourage kids (and maybe even a few adults) to rediscover the simple joy of exploring and playing outside—even if it’s just in your own backyard.

Bear HuntWe’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury

Jump into a joyful, rollicking story about a family who sets out one day determined to see a bear. The book takes readers along through a variety of landscapes, from a field of wavy grass (“Swishy swashy!”) to a cold river (“Splash splosh!”) to a muddy swamp (“Squelch squerch!”). This plucky family won’t let anything stop them—unless they really do see a bear…

Rain!Rain! by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson

Linda Ashman teams up with the incomparable Christian Robinson for a simple story with a lovely message. It’s a rainy day; a grumpy old man greets the rain irritably, while a little frog-hatted boy could not be happier. What will happen when the two opposing viewpoints meet? Young readers will find a kindred spirit in the boy, who delights in putting on his rain boots, splashing through puddles, and drinking cocoa while he watches the rain fall outside. Rain! shows readers that it doesn’t have to be bright and sunny to be a good day!

Outside InBringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals & Patrice Barton

In this picture book-poem, four children can’t find enough to do outside—so much so that when they return home, they bring bits of the outside with them! While parents can surely relate to the familiar routine of wiping up mud, sweeping out leaves, and drying out snow that follows their kids into the house, you’ll also find that the fun and memories these little messes represent will never be forgotten. The bouncing read-aloud and lively illustrations add to the fun!

Henry Hikes to FitchburgHenry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson

This unique book inspired by a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is a reminder of what can be gained by spending a little extra time outdoors. One day, Henry the bear and his friend decide to visit Fitchburg. “I’ll walk,” Henry says. “I’ll work,” says his friend, until he has the money to buy a train ticket. “We’ll see who gets there first!” As Henry sets off—pausing now and again to climb trees, pick flowers, and splash across rivers—his friend spends all day doing odd jobs around the town in order to earn his money. When Henry arrives in Fitchburg, his friend is waiting for him. But was the faster way necessarily the better way? A poignant interpretation of Thoreau’s work perfect for little ones just discovering all the wonders of the outdoors.

The CloudspotterThe Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin

“The Cloudspotter” is what everyone calls Franklin. His favorite thing to do is chase clouds—big, small, puffy, or stormy, it doesn’t matter. The Cloudspotter likes to work alone, which proves problematic upon the arrival of The Scruffy Dog. No matter what he does, The Cloudspotter can’t shake her. Is it possible that two Cloudspotters are better than one? If you’ve lost sight of blissful days spent lying on the grass making shapes out of the clouds, let The Cloudspotter guide you back.

Secrets of the GardenSecrets of the Garden by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld & Priscilla Lamont

If you have readers who prefer nonfiction, this book is an excellent pick. A young girl chronicles her family’s experience of planting a garden in the spring, with lots of helpful facts about plants, animals, and how they all work together to help the little garden ecosystem function. Who knew there was so much to see and do in a simple backyard garden? After reading this book, you and your family might want to try planting your own garden this spring!

Dig In!Dig In! by Cindy Jenson-Elliot & Mary Peterson

What’s the simplest, most plentiful source of outdoor entertainment? Dirt! When you dig in the dirt, you find all kinds of things: worms, rocks, sprouts, insects… It’s like a whole other world below our feet! If the thought of soiling yourself (get it?) makes you cringe, you should probably try one of the other books on the list. But if you don’t mind a little mud on your knees and earth under your fingernails, grab a spade and Dig In!

If you want to check out any of these books for yourself, they are all available at blue manatee. Take advantage of these lovely spring days while they last!

2 responses to “Encourage Outdoor Play With These Picture Books

  1. What a wonderful round-up of picture books for celebrating the joys of outdoor play! I’m delighted to discover my BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN on this lovely list, and thank you so much for including it with such an enthusiastic review.

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