Boy in a hammockAs the editorial director of National Wildlife Federation’s three children’s magazines, I’m interested in how kids like to spend their free time. Recently my staff and I surveyed our subscribers (ages 12 and under) on the topic.

What we found was pleasantly surprising. Over 90 percent of these young people said they enjoyed playing outdoors and reading more than any other recreational activities. Yes, that includes watching television and playing video games! Clearly, children CAN take healthy strides toward physical, emotional, and intellectual development AND have fun.

Enjoying the outdoors and reading: Those may seem like discrete activities, but there’s no reason kids can’t experience them at the same time–and double their pleasure.

Why not encourage your child to set up a chair on the lawn or climb into a backyard clubhouse, and read–several times a week? And what could be more suitable for these “outdoor reads” than an awesome book or magazine about the natural world? Below are a few of my favorites for children.

For Preschoolers (ages 3-6)

  • Wild Animal Baby magazine (National Wildlife Federation)
  • The 1,2,3 Bees by Nicole Wheldon (Acumon Blue Publishing)
  • Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Bob Barner (Chronicle Books)
  • Red Rubber Boot Day by Mary Lyn Ray (Harcourt Children’s Books)
  • The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall (Scholastic Inc.)
  • Waddle, Waddle, Quack, Quack, Quack by Barbara Anne Skalak (Scholastic Inc.)

For Beginning Readers (ages 6-7)

  • Your Big Backyard magazine (National Wildlife Federation)
  • And the Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson (Candlewick Press)
  • Blueberry Shoe by Ann Dixon (Alaska Northwest Books)
  • The Birdwatchers by Simon James (Candlewick Press)
  • My Mother Talks to Trees by Doris Gove (Peachtree Publishers)
  • Sunflower House by Eve Bunting (Harcourt Children’s Books)

For More Experienced Readers (ages 8 and up)

  • Ranger Rick magazine (National Wildlife Federation)
  • ABCs Naturally: A Child’s Guide to the Alphabet Through Nature by Lynne Diebel and Jann Kalscheur (Big Earth Publishing)
  • The Daring Adventures of Penhaligon Brush by Sally Jones Rogan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • Growing Frogs by Vivian French (Candlewick Press)
  • Take a Tree Walk by Jane Kirkland (Stillwater Publishing)
  • Wild Tracks! By Jim Aronsky (Sterling)

Mary Dalheim is the Editorial Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s award-winning publications for children, including Ranger Rick.