Eco-Wild Child

Is your child happiest in the great outdoors? These earth-friendly presents will connect your nature lover to all things wild and wonderful.

By GreatSchools Staff

No matter if you

live in the city, suburb, or countryside, your child has always been in tune with the natural world. Your nature lover is intuitive, thoughtful, and unafraid of flora, fauna, beasts, or bugs. Dirt, leaves, and rain cast their spell over your child and encourage intense observation and focus. The question is how do you bring your ego-kid's powers of observation to new realms and realities? Our gifts list allows your child to tap into this innate understanding and learn new ways to connect her sense of natural wonder to new ideas, skills, and projects.

idBids Waverly starter kit

Ages 0-7

Waverly, the water drop, is a huggable stuffie made of eco-friendly recycled materials. The starter kit includes a storybook, a sustainability guide, and an organic canvas bag for storage. The idBids, so named because of their "itty-bitty" size, include  Waverly, Scout the cloud, and Lola the flower, and can be ordered using Amazon's "frustration-free" packaging (i.e., no wire ties or plastic casings or bindings), cutting down on waste even further.

Bottom line: A stuffed toy that deserves accolades for encouraging environmental awareness and sustainability.

Butterfly Garden box

Live Butterfly Garden

Ages 4 and up

How many toys come with a mail-in voucher for larvae? Not enough, in our opinion. The award-winning Live Butterfly Garden kit includes an easily assembled mesh habitat and feeding supplies (bring your own sugar and water). Once the larvae arrive in the mail, your child will have a front-row seat over the next three weeks as they grow, form chrysalides, and finally become beautiful painted lady butterflies — which should then be released. An excellent and memorable intro to biology.

Bottom line: Raising butterflies encourages curiosity and wonder.

On Earth

by G. Brian Karas, Putnam (2008)
ages 5-8

With minimal text and colorful pictures, On Earth offers children "a giant ride in space/spinning like a merry-go-round" as it explains the earth's daily and yearly cycles. Kids get a rudimentary explanation of the planet's orbit, rotation, and tilt; gravity; why we have seasons; and what happens as day turns into night. Vocabulary is simple for early readers, but some adult explanation of complex scientific concepts may be necessary.

Bottom line: Kids will get a first glimpse of how their everyday observations are connected to the larger life of the planet.

Geomate Jr.

Ages: 5-8

Catch the geocaching wave with Geomate Jr! This global phenomenon is a terrific way to bring out the explorer in young kids. Whether you live in the city or suburbs, you can take your kids on an adventure, while getting them outside and on the move. Not too shabby.

Turning the entire country into a giant Cracker Jack box, the device comes preloaded with 250,000 "treasure" locations nationwide. When you turn it on, Geomate finds your location and instantly locates the closest "geocache," sending you on your way to find a small treasure — coins, toy jewelry, plastic jewels, a note — that are hidden in, say, the crook of a tree, under a rock, or behind a brick in a wall. Worth noting: This easy-to-use handheld is better for younger than older kids who (as with one of our 10-year-old, tech-savvy testers) don't find it high-tech or sophisticated enough. (For older kids and adults, you can use a smartphone and an app to Geocache.)

Bottom line: These cool devices not only get the whole family out-of-doors; kids about navigation and using a compass, while taking a  modern treasure hunt in search pirate booty. Argh.

Everything Kids' Environment Book

Everything Kids' Environment Book
by Sheri Amsel
Adams Media (2007)

The books in Adams Media's Everything Kids' series provide encyclopedic yet entertaining introductions to their topics, and this volume on the environment is no exception. Perfect for curious children, this guide — filled with eco-friendly activities and puzzles — shows them how to reduce waste, recycle materials, and protect plants and animals.

The Nature Treasury: A First Look at the Natural World

by Lizann Flatt, Maple Tree Press (2005)
ages 6 and up

Answering your youngster's questions about plants, animals, water, and just about anything else having to do with nature is easy with this reference book in hand. Broken up into 22 sections, The Nature Treasury covers topics like "How animals grow", "Soil up close," and "What animals eat." With double-page spreads depicting ecosystems ranging from savannas to tundras, this book will have kids searching the panoramas for the animals that live there. Large labeled ovals with the animals superimposed on them act as guides, so children can scan the scenes to find where the sea stars are hiding in the coral reef or the sidewinder in the desert. Children will be enchanted by the lush illustrations.

Bottom line: A great go-to book for curious kids — and parents who don't know all the answers!

Compost by Gosh!

Compost by Gosh! An Adventure With Vermicomposting
by Michelle Eva Portman
Flower Press (2002)

Never heard of vermicomposting? It's a system for turning food waste into planting soil with the help of worms. Michelle Eva Portman provides an entertaining primer on the process by introducing readers to a young girl and her mom as they convert a storage box into a house for their new "pets," a bunch of wriggly red worms. Accompanied by adorable illustrations, Compost by Gosh! includes a how-to section for children to try vermicomposting at home.


Ages: 6-8

A science toy that requires kids to design and build an ecosystem for an ant colony, then trap several dozen live ants and their pupa, isn’t for faint-of-heart, hands-off parents. But if you are willing to invest the time, this is no ordinary toy.

Designed by former entomologist Peter Smith, Ant-o-Sphere from Wild Science offers a flexible kit of multiple pods in transparent red and clear plastic, connected by tubes that mimic ant colonies in nature. This toy encourages real scientific learning. Kids can test, observe, and draw conclusions —  important skills typically absent in project-oriented science toys, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. For instance, the kit encourages kids to create their own pod design and see how it changes ant behavior. By the same token, children can learn about the eating habits of ants by offering them different kinds of food.

Bottom line: Bring science to life with this interactive and engaging kit.

Totem Tree

Kids On Roof Totem Tree

Ages: 6 and up

Unleash your child's inner tree-hugger with this highly inventive puzzle. The durable yet biodegradable cardboard kit provides a base for kids to design their own tree, using the leaves provided or attaching their own creations — pictures, drawings, names from a family tree, etc. Essentially, Kids On Roof Totem Tree offers a blank canvas in the shape of a maple. In theory, there's a nature lesson in this half puzzle, half art project, but what impresses us most is its open-endedness. Given the level of prescription that comes with so many toys these days, an invitation to explore freely is particularly welcome — and provides an important lesson in creative problem solving.

Bottom line: A high-quality art project that's also eco-friendly.

National Geographic Challenge

Ages: Elementary through middle school

Gather the kids, make some popcorn, and throw a game night! National Geographic Challenge's puzzle and quiz party game will take your family around the world — using stunning images from National Geographic — as you race against each other for world domination. The quizzes are delivered in an inspired multiple-choice format that instructs as it takes you from the desert to the Antarctic and through all the continents through the ages. Even when it’s not party night, kids can play solo for a visual tour of the world.

Bottom line: Family fun that takes parents and kids on a visually breathtaking and educationally rich worldwide tour.

Wild Science Future Farm

Ages: 9 and up

Future Farm provides everything your future farmer needs to build her own mini garden: tweezers and pipettes, mask and gloves, sand and water purification supplies — all you need to buy are the seeds. The kit teaches the science of hydroponics – the plants are cultivated without soil — as well as lessons on growing, feeding, watering, and propagating plants.

We have a single caveat: The kit, which smartly conveys lessons about caring for the earth, is made almost entirely of plastic, which sends a confusing message about environmental stewardship.

Bottom line: Your child can grow a cornucopia of miniature crops, right in her bedroom!


The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth

The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth
by the EarthWorks Group
Andrews McMeel Publishing (2009)

A practical guide to conserving resources and protecting the environment, 50 Simple Things provides quick facts and tips designed to inspire action. Statistics and measurements are translated into age-appropriate terms, such as comparing children's body weight to the amount of garbage thrown away in a year. The book also explains how everyday items — like a light switch or a toilet — have a huge impact on the rest of the world. Fun ideas for the whole family to discuss and implement!

Sustainable Earth Lab

Ages: 8-13

Having trouble explaining to your child why the world is getting warm and sea levels are rising? Do you know how CO2 affects the atmosphere? It may be daunting, but our children need to know the fundamentals of climate science so that they can be smart stewards of a rapidly changing planet.

Conversations about the dangers of global warming may not really end up teaching kids that much if they don’t understand the science behind the news. Sustainable Earth Lab, a multifaceted science kit, will go a long way toward making your child more knowledgeable about climate science than your average well-educated adult.

Bottom line: A great way for kids to learn climate science principles, laboratory practices, and earth science fundamentals

Zoomy Digital Microscope

Ages: 5-15

Microscopes are an awesome tool for scientific discovery – no matter your age – but cheaper versions made for kids can be arduous to use. Little kids often have trouble coordinating the focusing of the lenses and seeing through a tiny aperture. But the Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope projects its images onto a computer screen, thereby allowing kids to explore micro realities via a large image that’s easy to see, share, and discuss. Want a close-up-and-personal look at fingerprints? Cool. Dust bunnies? Yeah. Housefly wings? The flies the limit.

Bottom line: A tool that offers kids a way to explore an otherwise inaccessible world that’s right under their fingertips.