Representation in Nature with Ashley Jefferson
As a child, I always loved being outside. For much of my teenage years, I would head over to the river, climb a tree and write in my journal. I’d sit there for hours. Growing up in the city of Boston could be difficult for finding natural spaces, but whenever and wherever I could, I found what worked for me.
My fondest memories of being outdoors, though, would have to be fishing with my Papa. I didn’t do much of the actual fishing, but I would sit with him and watch. Come to think of it, I don’t even know that we went very often, but as I no longer have him with me since his passing years ago, I hold these select fishing trips dearest to my heart.
You see, nature has always been part of my life. It’s helped me release my thoughts when I needed to write in my journal. Long walks helped me get fresh air. But most importantly, it created memories for me I’ll never forget.
I grew up knowing how important it was for children to be exposed to nature. As a teacher and nanny for over 20 years, I felt it was important for children to grow a similar appreciation for it through play and learning to care for it. So when I opened my own micro-school in 2019, I knew I wanted outdoor education to be integrated into my work. Outdoor education was heavily incorporated into our play experiences.
But then I realized something.
There weren’t many educational spaces with faces like mine outside in nature. At this time, I had been living in Georgia so I just knew there were enough green spaces. Where were the forest schools with groups of children that looked like me when I was a child? I checked online and virtually there weren’t any there, either.
This is when I tapped into my love of photography. I would take this group of children in my program out into the forest and just capture the moments. Playing in the stream, stomping in the mud, observing bugs and rolling in the grass. I took hundreds of photos and uploaded them to social media so that others could share in the magic of an underrepresented group outside in nature. This went on for years and while my message has spread, there came a time when I knew I could do something better.
The reality is that Black children aren’t as likely to visit national parks and other protected areas as white children. While Black people account for about 13% of the U.S. population, only 7% of visitors to national parks are Black, reported by the Outdoor Foundation. This was problematic to me.
So, I wrote a book. A children’s book to reach the masses that showcases the ways in which children of all backgrounds can engage in nature no matter where they are in the world. If children and their caregivers can see more children that look like them outside, then perhaps it will encourage them to actually spend time in nature because of its benefits for health, connections and memory making.
Below is a list of books that showcase more children outside. It is my hope that in exploring these books, you’ll take interest in exploring nature, too.
All of Me is Nature: Exploring My Five Senses Outside by Ashley Jefferson Illustrated by Kristiana Vellucci
There is no better way to learn about our five main senses than stepping outside! Follow kids of all colors, genders, and ability levels, as they explore nature with their fingers, toes, noses, ears, and taste buds. Written as a sweet poem that will become an anthem for all nature explorations, these beautiful full-color photographs show how we can sense and experience nature everywhere. Great for 2-6 year olds.
In celebration of this beautiful new book, we invite you to take your kids on a nature scavenger hunt! The littlest explorers can do a nature walk where they hunt for certain colors, or they can look for specific items. Check out these free resources from Ashley!
My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan and Illustrated by Francesca Sanna and David Diaz
This beautifully illustrated story gives life to the world around us by personifying Mother Earth. On every page, we delve deep into the ways in which Earth cares for us and appreciate how the natural world interacts through every season. A gem for toddlers all the way up to elementary!
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner and Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
A beautiful story about a mother and son taking a boat ride on the pond, we observe the life of organisms both over the pond and, of course, under the pond. Observe tadpoles, fish and so much more in this carefully crafted book.
How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder
This story is so much fun as we learn about a little photographer that has her eyes on a cunning fox. We follow her through the forest as she aims to capture the perfect shot. Full of sillies and a bit of mystery, this book is great for 4-8 year olds.
I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
This book tells the inspiring story of Tantoh Nforba, a young farmer that battles sickness, family struggles and doubt in order to empower his community. With his innate genius, we learn how Tantoh creates a way for his village to have access to clean water and healthy living.
About the Author:
Ms. Ashley (she/her) is an early childhood expert and play advocate. She brings her 20+ years of experience as an early childhood teacher, museum curator, and performer as the Founder of Play Plan Afrikan (playpanafrikan.org), an early learning collective, and Nguzo Babies (nguzobabies.com), a children's puppet show.
Ms. Ashley is also a prolific curriculum author, the popular being her Kwanzaa 365 curriculum to help classrooms integrate cultural diversity. Her passion is offering support and quality resources to families with young children to restore the beauty of childhood and family pastimes.