Updated: Mar 4
Key words: Nature connection, World Book Day, Books, Poetry, Words, Literacy
In this blog I share some books and poetry that I believe are inspirational for nature connection education and for inspiring ourselves to help others to develop a connection with nature. There are a plethora of books that you could also include but here are some of my choices.
But what is connection to nature? And why should we encourage children to develop a connection to nature?
Well Rachel Carson, who wrote ‘The Sense of Wonder’ suggests that it is about feeling nature. It’s about emotional arousal; perhaps appreciating beauty, excitement about the new or strange, empathy and admiration. Once we have developed an emotional connection with nature, we can appreciate nature and we are more likely to take action in benefit nature. If you’d like to find out more about this concept refer to the steps and the poster that summarises ‘A natural progression’.
What are the benefits of developing a connection with nature to the individual?
A teenage author (Dara McAnulty) from Ireland demonstrates how important nature is to his mental health in his book ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’. As a boy with autism, Dara finds it hard in school, nature delights him and gives him safe physical and mental spaces. But nature isn’t only for those with autism. Time in nature has positive impacts on everyone’s mental health and cognitive abilities. It’s worth taking time to read his diary to learn about nature but also to remind yourself how important it is to watch nature and truly escape into the natural world, as well as merely spending time in nature. I identify with him when he is in wonder of nature, and it reminds me of how at home I feel in my own little world as I spend time staring at nature. He has the awareness to understand the positive impact nature has on him, which is another element we need to develop so we can help ourselves to keep healthy mentally.
How can we use books and poetry to develop a connection with nature?
One popular book for this is ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. This lovely book blends sensory poetry with beautiful illustrations in a spell book that aims to stop words for plants and animals from disappearing from children’s’ vocabulary. It is not only descriptions of the form of the plants and animals that is found in this book, but their characters and their habitats are brought to life too. The illustrations add to the sensory experience and the hidden letters are a subtle addition that links to the purpose of the book.
If you’d like to use this book, then you’ll be pleased to know that a group of students on an early Years degree course created an Education Pack based on The Lost Words. The pack includes a hoard of ideas linked to the Foundation Phase that could also be adapted for other age groups. The book is in English only but the education pack is available in both Welsh and English.
Blue bells are one of the plans featured in The Lost Words and is also featured in the ‘Wild Child’ by Dara McAnulty. The Wild Child is a brightly coloured beautiful book. This book, aimed at children, blends interesting facts, ideas for activities and introduces language for describing nature e.g. ‘a murmuration of starlings’ and ‘a quarrel of sparrows’.
Poetry about bluebells that has struck a chord with me is a poem in Welsh by R Williams Parry ‘Clychau’r Gog’ . This Welsh name for the bluebell strictly translates into English as the cuckoo bells. In this poem, he correlates the flowering of the bluebells with the sound of the cuckoo that is an example of the inter-connectedness of nature. This poem and the bluebell help us to explore the different factors that influence how a name for something in nature is developed. I talked a bit more about this in an online training session last year. A little while after delivering this session I was pleased to find that one of the teachers had studied this poem with his pupils and they’d visited the poet’s grave as part of a field trip.
Another aspect I was able to identify with in this poem by R Williams Parry was the reference to Llandygai – a village near me. ‘Place’ is one of the powerful concepts that relate to habitats, hiraeth (Welsh word for longing for the homeland) and our relationship with nature ‘on our doorstep’.
A poem about a ‘place’ that I came across years ago that has stayed with me is Cwm Pennant by Eifion Wyn. I could imagine walking with him, seeing all the wildlife, admiring the beauty, and feeling the strength of connection with the valley, the nature, the land and the earth. This last couplet;
"Pam, Argwlydd y gwnaethost Gwm Pennant more dlws
A bywyd hen fugail mor fyr? "
Has been translated into English as:
"Why, Lord, did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful,
And the life of an old shepherd so short?"
It has been used to promote the beauty of the valley to tourists. I know that by studying Welsh poetry in school, I developed the belief that in the past, Welsh people valued nature and that nature was a powerful element of our connection to place and the feelings of ‘hiraeth’ experienced when we are away from home. But by now I realise it’s not just the Welsh that have these feelings of connection to place and nature. Rachel Carson’s homeland in Maine is very dear to her, Dara Mc Anulty has his favourite places in Ireland and I’m sure through the pandemic many of us have found our own little special nature place on our doorstep.
Connecting with nature in our gardens
For some of us, the lockdown was an opportunity to garden, and this is definitely one way we can connect with nature. Every time I sow seeds and return to find they have grown; I feel the ripple of excitement - even though I have probably sown some seeds every year since I was a child. So, it was a pleasure to discover a new Welsh language gardening book aimed at children ‘Dere i Dyfu’ (Go to grow) by Adam Jones. There are many gardening books available, but I hope the cheerful and active animal characters in this book will bring gardening to some new audiences.
Need more ideas?
If you are still in need of some inspiration or perhaps need a different book or poem, why not follow some of the links attached which includes other resources you could use to link literature with nature. But remember, do take your children or pupils out to experience nature and observe it for themselves. This will give them their own experiences and enable them to develop their own feelings that they can share with others. As Rachel Carson reminds us, you don’t need to be able identify species to be able to educate children about nature...
"...it is not half so important to know as to feel "
By Anita Daimond, Antur Natur
 1998 ‘The Sense of Wonder’ by Rachel Carson (Photos Nick Kelsh, Introduction Linda Lear) Harper &Row Publishers, New York (Rachel Carson’s original book was published in 1965)  A Natural Progression https://naturalresources.wales/guidance-and-advice/business-sectors/education-learning-and-skills/whats-your-connection-with-nature-like/?lang=en
 2020 ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ by Dara McAnulty. Penguin, Great Britain.
 2017 ‘The Lost Words’ words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrations by Jackie Morris, Penguin UK  https://www.walescouncilforoutdoorlearning.org/resources Education Pack to support the Early Years curriculum in Wales  2021 ‘Wild Child: a journey through Nature’ by Dara McAnulty, illustrated by Barry Falls. Macmillan. London  Clychau’r Gog by R Williams Parry. I found it in 1998 ‘The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse: Blodeugerdd Rhydychen o Farddoniaeth Gymraeg editor Thomas Parry. Oxford University Press.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IEaetYb7ig A video made for an online teacher training session for the Carneddau Landscape Partnership Scheme.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/cymru/gogleddorllewin/safle/porthmadog/pages/cwm_pennant.shtml?5 Cwm Pennant by Eifion Wyn (1867 - 1926)
 An English translation of the whole poem can be found in; 1997 ‘Cymric Scriptures, Ysgrythurau Cymraeg’ by Charles Lawrie. Wynstones Press. Stourbridge.
 2021 ‘Dere i Dyfu, gyda Dewi Draenog a Beca Broga’ by Adam Jones, pictures by Ali Lodge, design by Tanwen Haf. Y Lolfa. Talybont.