Kids’ experiences with movement and nature have never been lower. That being said, a simple place to start can be reading books about kids being in nature! I’m not speaking of technical, how-to books (although I’ve included a couple of those below too), but storybooks.
Humans learn through story and there are many stories to choose that inform children about a way of being in the world that includes a lot of “being outside” well (which includes maximizing their personal ability to move through it). For my own kids I’ve always sought out books that highlight the labor (read: movement) that goes into taking care of one's own needs—that way there’s an established context for when our family opts for more labor-intensive, DIY paths to everyday tasks.
You can find numerous “kids and nature” lists online, this list is just our #kidshelfie—some of our favorites we love to share. I’ve organized books by reader age. You can also ask your local librarian for more ideas regarding great stories about children being in nature.
For younger kids
Walk When the Moon is Full by Frances Hamerstrom
Bigmama's by Donald Crew
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
We are Brothers by Yves Nadon
Where is Rodney? by Carmen Bogan
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Wild! by Emily Hughes
The Other Way to Listen, Everybody Needs a Rock, The Way to Start a Day, and all other books by Byrd Baylor
Play Outside! by Laurent Moreau
The Bear That Wasn't by Frank Tashlin
Wolf Girl by Jo Loring-Fisher
These are middle-grade novels, but many I read aloud to my children when they were younger. (Eventually they picked these up again and read them for themselves.)
The Herb Fairies Series by Kimberly Gallagher
The Hatchet Adventure Series by Gary Paulson. There is more than one Hatchet book; there are FIVE: Hatchet, The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt. As a lover of Hatchet, this fact tickled me to no avail when I went to find the original book to read to my littles. There’s even one that offers an ALTERNATE ENDING to Hatchet: Brian’s Winter.
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Tiktala by Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon
My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (a great book that offsets the Eurocentric perspective of the Little House series)
The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
Older pre-teens and teens
Wolf Girl: Finding Myself in the Wild by Doniga Markegard. There are very few "go into nature to find yourself" stories written for the young adult. Fewer stories still are about a young woman doing so. In addition to writing, I also publish the books of others and when hearing Doniga’s story on a podcast, I wrote to her and offered her a book contract. Due to so much positive feedback on her nature memoir Dawn Again, it was then adapted to a Young Adult novel—a story to speak to teens directly.
The Bear by Andrew Kivak (Adults, this one is for you, too!)
Ok, so I said storybooks, but these below are definitely “how to” books, full of things to do that get kids moving in nature. While they are written to adults, I must say that my own kids regularly go to them to get ideas of what they might do with some free time. These pair well with a camping trip!
Forest School Adventure and Urban Forest School by Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
Forest Craft: A Child's Guide to Whittling in the Woodland by Richard Irvine
If you're interested on WHY kids need movement, especially in nature, check out Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More.