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Teaching with Books: Thinking Outside the Box with Steve Frisbee [Ep. 3]

Teaching with Books: Thinking Outside the Box with Steve Frisbee [Episode 3]

Teaching with books

I am so excited to have the first guest episode be all about teaching with books. This is a passion of mine shared by my friend Steve Frisbee, the Camp Director at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan. In this episode we talk about Steve’s experiences teaching with books and how he uses them to enhance his science lessons in unique and out-of-the-box ways.

We dive into our favorite picture books for teaching, how to select quality picture books, and how to use narrative and non-fiction picture books to provide balance in student understanding. Steve provides insightful examples from his extensive experience, including teaching with books to enhance children’s curiosity about science and create engaging, hands-on learning experiences.

Steve’s passion is evident in this conversation and will hopefully inspire you to find creative ways for teaching with books. He also gives a shout out to your local nature center, local state park, and nearby naturalists as great resources for ideas for quality picture books to use in your classroom.

Giveaway Alert: To celebrate the launch of this podcast, I’m giving away three physical copies of some of my favorite picture books along with electronic copies of coordinating picture book companions filled with science and ELA activities. Listen to the episode for details on how to enter!

Episode Highlights:

  • [3:54] Steve’s background experience 
  • [6:19] Benefits to teaching with books
  • [8:11] Unique ideas for teaching with books
  • [13:24] Book genres for teaching
  • [17:06] Selecting quality picture books
  • [18:50] Steve’s 2 favorite picture books
  • [22:14] An outdoor extension for teaching with books 

Books mentioned in the episode:

Teaching with books is a great way to introduce science concepts to elementary students.
Teaching with books is a great way to introduce science concepts to elementary students.

Meet Steve

Steve Frisbee is the camp director at Chippewa Nature Center. He is a passionate advocate for nature-based education and for empowering families to support happy, healthy childhoods. During the school year, Steve prepares for the upcoming summer camp season and also serves as an educator, delivering science lessons to local schools, taking the learning outside no matter the season.

Before obtaining the camp director role, Steve taught at the Center’s Nature Preschool for 10 years. He arrived in Midland, Michigan in 2007 after earning a bachelor’s degree in science from Pennsylvania State University. Steve is married to his wife, Amy, and is the proud father to his daughter, Maddie (15), and two sons, Tyler (12) and Declan (8).

He loves to volunteer as a youth sports coach and aims to support neighborhood schools in any way that he can. In his free time, you can find him reading, hiking, or playing in the backyard with his children.

Connect with Steve:

Related Episodes/Blog Posts:

Connect with Victoria:


All right. Hey, Steve, welcome to the Naturally Teaching Elementary Science Podcast. I'm so excited to have you!


Steve  3:25

Hello. It's great to be here, Victoria. I’m really excited to talk about children's books with you.


Victoria  3:31

Excellent. Well, you and I both have this obsession with children’s books. And that's why I had to bring you on. So, I wanted to give you a quick couple seconds to explain your experiences and your roles and the different ways you've had the opportunity to use teaching with picture books before we get into questions. So if you could take a couple seconds to share with everybody what you've done in the past and what you're doing now that’d be great.


Steve  3:54

Yeah, that's great. So, my name is Steve Frisbee. I'm the camp director with Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan. And my whole role is to connect youth with the outdoors. And through that Nature Day Camp brought me to the to the organization. I've always worked at camps my entire life since high school. But I really fell in love with the Nature Center's mission of improving children's health and well-being by getting outside and learning about nature and science. So, I came as a camp counselor, but I was offered a Nature Preschool teacher position my first year here, and it really changed my life. So, I got to work with children three to five years old for 10 years and really fell in love. Not just with teaching outside in that age, but also getting children or young children to fall in love with books, it was part of my daily responsibilities in that role. Since then, I've taken over the Camp Director position and moved out of nature preschool. So I help run camps for children ages three to 17. But I think what I do during the school year is even more applicable to our conversation is I'm an educator that I go into local elementary schools. Mainly kindergarten through third grade and I get to lead our science lessons outside the classroom walls. And I incorporate literacy and books and writing into all my lessons, but we just we do it out in nature. So, I’m really passionate about just making books come alive, and creating that spark from reading, to dig deeper, and to look closer at what's happening out in nature. And that usually fuels a child's interest into learning how to read and write and all that good stuff. So that's kind of where I'm at and what I'm working on right now in life. So yeah.


Victoria  5:56

That's a fantastic way to put that, Steve, I love all of the intricacies that you included. That's fantastic. I feel the same way about picture books and how it can bring alive the interest and the inquisitiveness of children. So, with that, you've had lots of experiences in all these roles using books. What are some ways you've noticed students have benefited from you teaching with books?


Steve  6:19

Yeah, I have to go to like that 10,000 foot view of just treasuring books and having them around, I really feel that children need to see adults value it and use it often. So, in my teaching bag, I always have a couple books, especially the technical books, field guides, things like that, because you never know what you’re going to find. And, and to learn alongside the child by opening a book and reading about, I don't think there's a more powerful experience. So, developing that love of reading is just to have that around and value it yourself so you can pass that love onto children is really important. And then from there, we can get into planning. So, once you know your children, if you're fortunate enough to work with them over time, you can see their interests, and then pick books that really get them to the next level with a certain topic or like I said before, it sparks an interest where they can really go deep, and they just crave that knowledge. And you can share that experience with the child. So not only do I like to read the imaginative and the narrative books, I also like to read those nonfiction and those books that just really geek out and teach children to love those books just as much. Like I grew up reading like the Golden Guide Pond Life books, like from front to back. And I want to make sure teachers bring those books into those spaces so kids can become nature geeks like me.


Victoria  7:52

Love it. I'm the same way. I grew up nonfiction books were my jam. And I know that's not necessarily what most kids are drawn to. But giving them opportunities to find the love for nonfiction books is fantastic. What are some unique ways that you have used picture books to extend your students’ learning?


Steve  8:11

Yeah, I've been actually working on this for the past couple years. We've been having a science methods teacher course come out from Saginaw Valley State University. And it's sharing that these picture books actually are a part of the process of meeting their Next Generation Science Standards. But you don't read the book first, like, allowing children or students to get a chance to explore with a certain topic first, and then use the book after that exploration. So let me bring that to life. If you're studying spring, you know, wildflowers, ephemerals, it's important to get this children's outside writing down their observations, kind of sketching what they see. But then, especially with like, if you're talking third graders, after they have some context, after they made some notes, bringing in a book that would talk about, you know how flowers communicate. And make this claim that, you know, flowers talk and they're trying to tell, you know, the insects in their ecosystem that they have something for them. So, I just read a book called Flowers Talk and they communicate by their color. And then I would introduce this picture book to them with amazing artistic pictures of flowers, and how they're built differently, how they're colored differently, and how this all that scientific knowledge of how they're attracting these insects in fostering this relationship to help them grow and meet their needs, and it's helping the insects grow and meet their needs, but it's all brought to life in a nice flowing way. And then of course the artwork in the picture books bring that to life as well and usually there's some humor written in there, which always allows, you know, the class to connect. So, taking a concept, and then inviting them to learn more about it and going really deep through a creative way. And that's what children's books allow, and I'm seeing more and more of these books being made available, especially on these natural history topics about nature. So it's great to see.


Victoria  10:25

For sure, I've noticed a trend in that too, that we're hitting on more scientific concepts in accurate ways, but also in childly appropriate fashions. And then also sometimes through the narrative, and then having insets and diagrams to help accompany that, or even just having a lovely storyline, and then you can pick it up later with your exploration and experiences. I know at preschool too, you guys did some other things, too, like you purchased books and then you would break them up and hang them out on the trails so that you would have some pages along the way, so that it's immersed in the ecosystem as well. Could you speak on that for a second?


Steve  11:05

Yeah, so we wanted to make our read-alouds more active, especially for younger children who like to move. We wanted to place these pages of the story book in certain areas to highlight exactly what the author was talking about. But then they get to see it, you know, right in front of their noses. So, we would set these story trails out and the class would run to the page, and we would take turns reading the page, or the teacher would read the page and ask questions of what they see around the page. So, if we're talking about nocturnal animals, and where they go during the day, we can have the page with, you know, the bats in the tree cavities or the bat boxes, we can have that piece of the story right there. And it makes it real, more authentic. So, with that, I mean, I know in communities just exploring with my family, they're having the storybook pathways, same concept, it's to get that love of reading, but then you get to skip and gallop and run from page to page. And over a course of a half mile, you get this tremendous story. And you're making reading engaging and fun and meeting the needs of the child. So, it's great. The other thing we'd like to do is if we have like a really active narrative, think like, you know, the Three Little Pigs or something like that, you can actually read it as you're walking and you can do the movements as you're going. So, you don't have to necessarily all sit down and be in one spot. You can take a book and make it a really physical, kinetic experience. And the kids just absolutely love it.


Victoria  12:49

I love that. I agree. Adding that physical component is really beneficial. And I know that you guys in particular did it with preschool, but the story walk that's out at the Nature Center right now, even my fourth grader loves it. And it's a wonderful way to take literature and like you said, put it in context, which is great. So, the next thing that I wanted to ask, because I'm a book nerd just like you, do you have a favorite genre of picture book that you lean towards for teaching in particular? It doesn't necessarily have to be your personal favorite, but for teaching in particular and why?


Steve  13:24

Yeah, it kind of depends on my audience and what grade I'm working with. But I will say if I'm working with a whole group, it has to kind of flow and you have to be able to read parts of it. So, if you think, I'm gonna use a book here, like a Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long. These books do a really nice job of flow with short language, but then for a child to point to a picture and want to know more about something, they have this scientific knowledge or natural history knowledge below it that you can go there if the child's into it. So, I absolutely love those books where it's like opportunities to go deeper, but you don't have to, it still carries the storyline. With that anything call and response. I believe it's, you're gonna have to help me with the titles of these, they're escaping my mind right now.


Victoria  14:20

Yeah, you mean the Noisy Bird Sing-Along, the Noisy Bug Sing-Along, and the Noisy Frog Sing-Along along by John Himmelman.


Steve  14:29

Not only are we talking about you know what? Frogs don't just say ribbit. There's actually a bunch of different frogs and they make different noises. And they're different sizes and shapes. And why are they calling? These books absolutely engage children and they get to practice these calls and kind of that's that, oh my goodness. There's so much more to learn about this. So that's a book that I would read actually before going out, like, okay, there's so many frogs and they live in different places. And what are we hearing today? especially if you're in the springtime here in the North Woods, like, you're gonna hear these frogs out there. So great way to, you know, engage and to open up a whole new world for a child. But then it depends on the objectives I'm going at, like, if we're talking engineering. I know Marley Coote has Robyn Boid, it's about a bird architect, and how birds, you know, build different nests, and how, basically, the main character this book is, you know, flying around seeing all these amazing structures out in the human world and making those in the bird world. But then we get to talk about the engineering process and how, you know, you can be an architect and design these structures and how does the natural world do it? How can that affect, you know, how we build for strength, or for camouflage, or where we're putting nests, and then we can, you know, go into nature and see how birds in our backyards are building. And that book is kind of part of that process of what a bird nest does, but how they're different from each other. Each species has their own strategies and techniques. So really awesome book that just not only extends, you know, half hour lesson, but it could become a week-long lesson off a huge study.


Victoria  16:19

You hit on some of my favorites. I love An Egg is Quiet, and A Rock is Lively, I love those books. For the same reasons, you can follow the lovely storyline for simplicity and then you can also go into the natural history and the details for the nonfiction lovers. It's fantastic. While we're talking, because I can tell, you know, I know this about you, but I can tell the passion behind the picture book love. And so, I was wondering, as you pick books for teaching, do you have certain criterias that you use to select the books because you and I, we tend to lean towards the same thing. So, it'd be kind of nice to break down the logistics of picking quality picture books to help some teachers out if they're feeling lost.


Steve  17:06

I know in preschool, we spent a lot of time saying what makes a great picture book for read-alouds? We actually went from reading in groups of 18 to down to, you know what the ideal size is three to four, and where they're sitting real nice and close, and it's intimate. So ,we've kind of been on our journey here at the Nature Center of what makes a good book, because the longer the book, the older the child is more appropriate. But with this, we're looking for books that you know, rhyming is great for early literacy skills, you know, three, three to four sentences a page no more than that. Adding humor, open-ended questions that the class can answer is great. Call and response keeps the children super engaged. Yeah, so like I said, it kind of depends on the situation a little bit, I know where I'm at now. I bring a group of books, even when I lead story hours here at the Nature Center, I bring eight books and I'm watching the children in the space. And I don't actually decide on the exact book until five minutes into my lesson. But I mean, I'm 17 years in now. So, I have that luxury of being able to make those gametime teaching decisions to really pick the best book for those children in my space.


Victoria  18:33

That's great, the call and response, and the ability to have the nonfiction and fiction together. All those things are fantastic. So, I know it's probably a really hard thing to do, but can you break down your top three picture books and why you love them so much?


Steve  18:50

I absolutely can. Maybe, maybe two. I think the Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is my all-time absolute favorite. And I think it's because that's my life's work captured in a story. I was first introduced to the book when I first got out here in Michigan, and it's about a little boy who goes outside and captures a wild creature, a salamander, and has an experience with it. And his mom challenges him to take care of the salamander and meet its needs. And over the course of the story, spoiler alert, but he transforms his bedroom into a healthy wild ecosystem with his ceiling coming off and talking about how the birds and the insects interact. And if you're talking about what we're trying to do here at the Chippewa Nature Center, we're moving a child from viewing themselves as away from nature, nature's outside, to you know, I'm a part of nature, I'm a part of this ecosystem, I'm gonna protect it because I care so much about it. And there's so much to see and experience beauty. And so and that that children's book, I mean, just what an amazing treasure and I think always treasure that one. So that's my number one. Man. Number two, I'm going, I have three children, I just love it so much but it's Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak about a little guy who has a little bit of a challenge, a conflict at home, he gets a little upset. And throughout the book, the illustrations grow. And he gets to go to this imaginative, I don't know, is it an island? From a boat with these wild creatures. And they let this wild rumpus start. I just, every time I read that to my own children, I just, I'm so in love. And it's exactly what I want for my boys at home, like yeah, when things are hard, you can dive into a book or you can go outside. And that book captures that moment, and then he gets to come home and his family takes care of him. and they have dinner ready. Just, oh, what an amazing book. So yep. And then I don't know if I could pick a third. There's so many amazing children's books out there. I think it comes down to you know, the people you're with, and the way you feel when you read them. I think that's it.


Victoria  21:26

But that's a tall order, to try to get it down to three. I'm, I'm amazed that you got it down to two. That's fantastic. I agree with those as well, the Salamander Room is fantastic. I have a little boy at home that just, it's perfect for him now. And probably for the next like five years, maybe even longer, who knows. And then the imagination and the problem solving in Where the Wild Things Are…it's more than just an imaginative story. It's about how children can work through their issues and their problems and their frustrations when they're not being heard. So, I agree with you they’re fantastic. Is there anything that we didn't touch on that you feel like you want to talk about in regards to teaching with books or anything around literacy? You did mention how you integrate writing as well? Do you want to hit on that for a second? Or if there's anything else you feel like we missed?


Steve  22:14

Yeah, so the books that when you're finished, your students say, again, again, those are the gems and read them over and over and over. I know some teachers I work with, they want a new experience every time. But I think it's so healthy for children to have a book experience that they can experience multiple times. And they take something new out of it each time. So, for example, The Salamander Room, it doesn't end when you get to the end of the book. Like I love taking that and then taking children out into the woods and just giving them a box or an empty aquarium and a little doll and calling them Brian the main character's name, and put them on a bed and then say, “okay, Brian, transformed his room into a book, how do we build a forest around Brian?” So, they're reliving and retelling which is a really important literacy skill. But then they get to kind of create the story from there. So maybe Brian doesn't catch a salamander out in the woods where we're at. Maybe they catch a spider, or a millipede, or a slug. That makes that book so much more on it. And it's about ecology and ecosystems, you can tie in the objectives. But the children are absolutely going to be heavily invested and want to learn more. And yeah, so with that, I will say my favorite teaching book, my third one, I just thought of it, Some Smug Slug and, yeah, we're going to have to come up with the author. But it is so language rich, and it is such a great story. I'm not gonna spoil this one. So, you’re just gonna have to go out there and purchase this book. It’s just a phenomenal story and your kids will absolutely learn amazing vocabulary. So go get that book. So extend it, build projects off it, real authentic learning that the kids can get their hands on and use books to get them to that next level as academic support.


Victoria  24:25

Awesome. I love that. I was kind of wondering if you were gonna mention that book because I know you love that one. And I know it was a big hit at story hour one day, so you know, it's got the rhyming, it's got all the S’s, the alliteration and yep, there’s a great story. Yes. It floored my four year old son. He loved it.


Steve  24:44

Oh, they won't necessarily love it when they're young, but they will love it later in life.


Victoria  24:50

Yeah, he processed it. He sat on it and thought on it for a while and it took him a while but then he thought it was hilarious once he… yeah, we won't spoil it. But, yeah, I'll put links to all the books that we mentioned in the show notes so that that way people can find that one because I know it's a little bit older. But it's, it's a goodie. But yeah, so you know, we talked a lot about how you personally have anecdotally used teaching with books in the classroom, in summer camp, in preschool, and all over the place, and just the tremendous benefits that it provides to students. And I know that you're encouraging people, and I'm encouraging people as well to take picture books at home, in the classroom, use those things, like you said, to create some authentic projects around either standards or even just your kids’ interests. Right. We can do it with our own kids, we can do it in the classroom. It's fantastic. So I want to thank you, again, for being on the podcast today and for your time. And I appreciate you chatting with us.


Steve  25:50

Yeah, um, real quick one, one other thing. So, for the teachers, reach out to your local nature center, or your local state park, naturalist or interpreters. They're busy people, but they're passionate people that will give you book lists and ideas, and they will share it with you. So, I know, our nature center, we have a nature preschool library with just hundreds of these books. So, you don't have to be all on your own. There's people that are very passionate about this work. So reach out to them. I guarantee they'll help you, just bring up a children and children's books or picture books. Like, oh, I have 100 ideas for you.


Victoria  26:32

That's a good point. Is there a way if people wanted to contact you in particular, maybe they don't have a local resource, or something…is there a way that they could contact you or someone at the Chippewa Nature Center even though it's based in Midland, Michigan? We can still be helpful right between you, me, we've got lots of people at the Chippewa Nature Center that are just so passionate, like you said, is there a way that they could connect with you?


Steve  26:52

Yes, absolutely. Our website is, Simple email, you'll get me and my team, is camp. So CAMP at And write us an email. And again, this is our like life's work and passion. So, you make us better by asking the questions, and we'd love to share.


Victoria  27:16

Awesome. Well, thank you again for your time.


Steve  27:18

Yeah, thanks for the opportunity.



Wasn't that interview amazing. Steve is very talented and has lots of unique ways of teaching with books. I'm so grateful for his time and his expertise as he shared his love and passion with all of us today. Don't forget, as we close out that we're celebrating the launch of this podcast by doing that picture book giveaway. If you enter, you could win a physical copy of either Worm Weather by Jean Taft, Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler, or Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. I'll also send you the electronic copy of my coordinating picture book companion that has science and ELA activities already ready to go. Remember to enter this giveaway, write a review about Naturally Teaching Elementary Science on whichever podcast player you're listening on, screenshot your review, and then send it to me on Instagram at naturally.teaching or to my email at Victoria at naturally And then remember, for a bonus entry, take a screenshot of your favorite episode and share it on Instagram and tag me. Entries will be accepted until June 23rd, 2024 and winners will be notified shortly thereafter. Thanks for listening and I can't wait to see you next week.

Episode 3 Teaching with Books: Thinking Outside the Box with Steve Frisbee
Teaching with Books: Thinking Outside the Box with Steve Frisbee [Ep. 3]
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