Rachel Carson’s classic 1956 essay “Help Your Child to Wonder” urged adults to help children experience the “sense of wonder” that comes only from a relationship with nature. It’s clear we haven’t succeeded in following her advice: eight-year-olds surveyed in the United Kingdom could identify more Pokémon characters than common wildlife species; and Richard Louv’s recent best-selling book Last Child in the Woods identifies a “nature deficit disorder” in children around the world. But today a growing number of environmentally minded parents, teachers, and other adults are seeking to restore nature to its rightful place in children’s lives. This anthology gathers personal essays recounting adventures great and small with children in the natural world.
The authors--writing as parents, teachers, mentors, and former children--describe experiences that range from bird watching to an encounter with an apple butter-loving grizzly bear. Rick Bass captures fireflies with his children and reflects on fatherhood; Michael Branch observes wryly that both gardening and parenting are “disciplines of sustainability”; Lauret Savoy wonders how African American children can connect to the the land after generations of estrangement; and Sandra Steingraber has “the big talk” with her children, not about sex but about global warming.
By turns lyrical, comic, and earnest, these writings guide us to closer connections with nature and with the children in our lives, for the good of the planet and our own spiritual and physical well-being.
About the Editors
Julie Dunlap is the author or coauthor of many children’s books about nature and the environment, including Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute and Parks for the People: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Stephen R. Kellert is Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the author of a number of books, including Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection, and the coeditor of Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Foundations (MIT Press).
“Editors Dunlap and Kellert have assembled a stellar collection of essays by exceptional nature writers about adults and children enjoying the outdoors together [T]his is a striking celebration of nature’s role in sustaining family bonds.”—Booklist Online
“The writers’ voices are strong, and the experiences they describe are deep and visceral. As a body of work, the essays stitch together a leafy, rich canopy of answers to the question ‘Why do we need to share and explore the natural world with children?’” , Kirsten Rowell, Science
"This is a superb and timely collection, filled with excellent contemporary writing on childhood and nature. I found all of the essays of great interest, covering a range of perspectives, unified by a common theme: how the milieu of place-based, outdoor learning is crucial to developmental well-being. I am particularly impressed with the multicultural, intergenerational depth of the book."
Mitchell Thomashow, author of Bringing the Biosphere Home and Ecological Identity
"I would recommend Companions in Wonder to any parent, friend, teacher, or other adult seeking to nurture more confident and joyful children, children who are not freaked out to be outside, children who can draw on nature as a source of physical, emotional, cognitive, moral, and social development. In an increasingly digital world, this book proves there is still magic in fireflies, solace in a winter lake."
Chris Myers, Professor of Zoology and Director, Project Dragonfly, Miami University