Great Field Guides for Young and Old

By and — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

There are many great field guides available that will make a walk or hike with your child both fun and educational. What follows is a list of our personal favorites sorted by target audience. In addition there are several online identification guides for computer whiz-kids. Get out there with your child and see what both of you can find and identify. For tips on how to incorporate field guides in your hikes, see our other article in, Using Field Guides with Your Kids.

PreK – 6 Year Olds (PreK - 2nd Grade)

Young children learn from sensory experiences and are interested in facts if they see concrete examples. They like and need to do their own exploring and are interested in information but it should be immediate and easy to get to - hence, field guides on the go! Golden Guides from St. Martins Press are the leading nature guides with simple color drawings and clear easily read narratives. Designed for portability and easy access, these compact, lightweight books can be used by all ages. There are over 50 pocket-sized books with titles ranging from birds, to insects, to mammals, spiders and their kin, flowering plants, and trees.

7-11 Year Olds (3rd – 5th Grade)

Information should be presented in terms that hold value for the child and keep his or her interest. Relationships that occur between people and nature are a good example. Children in this age group are developing their own sense of place as well as likes and dislikes. We suggest the Golden Guides series in addition to Petersons First Guides series: Field guides for young naturalists, Roger Tory Peterson, series editor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publishers.  Books in the series include birds, flowers, reptiles, amphibians, and many more.

12- 15 Year Olds (Middle - Early High School)

For young teens, talking is a key way to communicate. Using field guides and exploring the out-of-doors allows you to make good use of this skill by asking questions, taking time to talk things over, and helping them make connections from concrete to abstract ideas. We recommend Golden Guides and Peterson First Guides, which have excellent drawings, and National Audubon Society Field Guides, Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, a series of durable field guides, each with a plastic cover, organized with photos grouped by color and shape.

Keep in mind that teenagers can use any adult field guide that you are comfortable using. Share the experience of using the guide with them. Teens crave empowerment, so put the guide in their hands and let them steer. Any teen would likely be pleased to know that his or her observation might actually be used by a scientist. They can even report their findings on the following online guides:

Here you will find bird sighting information by location, species, and time of year. View others’ observations and enter your own.

Journey North
Kids in grades K-12 can use this site to enter their field observations and track the migration of monarch butterflies, birds, and mammals; the budding of plants; and other natural events, like changing sunlight.

Project Budburst
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research allows you to be a citizen scientist! Enter information about the budburst, leafing, and flowering of native tree and flower species in your neighborhood and you will see current climatic characteristics of your region.  This information can then be compared to historical records to determine climate change.

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