4 Books for Outdoor Families

Books are one of my few obsessions. Re-reading a great book feels like returning home as I revisit that author’s ideas, insights, experiences, encouragement, or advice. These books inspire me in my resolve to better help my outdoor family be the best version of us—determined adventurers; curious explorers; fun-loving recreationists; caring, informed, and compassionate conservationists.

Winter is a great season to take guilt-free indoor time for reading, and it’s not too soon to start planning camping trips and making site reservations. To kick off 2018, here are my top four parenting-related books that I recommend to families who want to do more and dare more in the great outdoors. These non-fiction books inspire and propel me towards new goals as a fellow adventurer with my children. They enable me to guide, teach, and nurture them while enjoying both simple and epic-level outdoor moments, whether in a national forest or our own backyard.


“Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv

I first read this book a few years before I became a mom, and I regularly re-visit favorite chapters and excerpts to refresh my resolve to be an advocate for children’s rights to play outside in a healthy environment. Louv presents research-based arguments about what led to the decline in American children’s experiential knowledge of the natural world, including societal and parental restrictions and poor urban design. His pragmatic and bold solutions helped inspire the national No Child Left Inside movement.


Cover of Last Child in the Woods.


“Balanced and Barefoot,” by Angela J. Hanscom

Hanscom is an occupational therapist who runs a thriving therapeutic outdoor program called Timbernook. Her book’s subtitle provides a clear synopsis: “How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children,” and it’s notable that Louv wrote the book’s foreword. If you know a child who has been labeled as ADD or ADHD, who fidgets in class, or who feels frustrated by limited outdoor recess time, then you need to read this book. Hanscom provides in-depth explanations about the physiological, emotional, social, and cognitive health benefits when children are provided ample, high-quality outdoor play and learning experiences, and she covers all developmental stages, from babies to teens.


Cover by Balanced and Barefoot.


“Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors,” by Peter Brown Hoffmeister

As a father and co-founder/director of the Integrated Outdoor Program at Eugene High School in Oregon, Hoffmeister shares pragmatic ideas and encouraging advice, using humor, personal anecdotes, and examples from his teaching and guiding experiences. His prose is helpful for all readers, whether experienced outdoorspeople or novices.


Cover of Let them Be Eaten by Bears.


“I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You & Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature,” by Jennifer Ward.

This seasonally-organized guide shares easy-to-implement, hands-on activities that help adults engage with children from ages 4-8. Each activity, such as #44 (Fluffy Flakes), includes a brief description, answers to key questions to help kids understand the scientific or ecological concept (e.g., “How are snowflakes made?”), and indicates which goal the activity fulfills (e.g., “stimulates observation skills, curiosity, and appreciation of art and science”). Ward’s other book for parents and children ages 8-12 is called “Let’s Go Outside! Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get You and Your Kids Closer to Nature.”


Cover of I Love Dirt.



Amy S. McCaffree compiled last issue’s Local Holiday Gift Guide. During winter, she alpine skis, snowshoes, goes sledding, and plays street snow hockey with her children, ages 7 and 6.


Share this Post

Scroll to Top