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From Page to Playtime: 22 Books That Will Spark Creativity and Independent Play

These interactive nonfiction guidebooks plot volumes of summer fun

Published on: June 29, 2022

Kids reading a book together

Ahh, summer break... has a chorus of “I’m bored!” filled your home yet? When the boredom blues strike, reach for a trusty nonfiction activity book for your little (and not so little) ones that will help them nurture a new hobby, practice a new skill or learn more about the world around them.

With easy-to-follow instructions, fascinating photographs, detailed illustrations and inspiring activities on every page, these nonfiction titles are open-book invitations to create and explore, investigate and engage, play and discover. Some of these activities might get a little messy, but they will also buy you some time to drink your coffee in peace!

For the Outdoor Enthusiast

The Backyard Bug Book for KidsThe Backyard Bug Book for Kidsby Lauren Davidson

Ages: 3–5

Crawling with bugs that one might see lurking in the backyard, this book is a triple threat: part story, part activity and part photo journal. It’s a perfect companion for your curious toddler’s backyard adventures.

Backpack Explorer: On the Nature Trail: What Will You Find?” by the editors of Storey Publishing

Ages: 4–8

This field guide is perfect for pint-size outdoor enthusiasts who love to explore nature. From helping to find shapes in the clouds to worms in the ground, this interactive guide is sure to keep your kids engaged with art projects, games, realistic drawings and photographs. It even includes a working magnifying glass!

Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwestby Fiona Cohen, illustrated by Marni Fylling

Ages: 5–9

Encourage your little one to appreciate the beauty in their own backyard with this unique guidebook, which is organized by habitat (forest, freshwater, beach, backyards and parks) and helps kids make connections to their own neighborhoods and beyond. Featuring fun facts, full-color illustrations and a Pacific Northwest focus, “Curious Kids” is a perfect pick for even the youngest of Puget Sound–region explorers.

The Curious Nature GuideThe Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around Youby Clare Walker Leslie

Ages: 8 and older

With its balanced mix of illustrations and photographs, this guide is an inspiring springboard for creation. Take it with you on a hike, open it up while in your backyard or maybe even take it out on the water. (Paddleboard painting, anyone?) Wherever you take this book, it’s sure to enrich your outdoor activities all summer long.

For the Creator

Paper Crafts for Kids: 25 Cut-Out Activities for Kids Ages 4–8” and Preschool Paper Crafts: 25 Creative Crafts to Practice Hand-Eye Coordination & Scissor Skillsby Stefania Luca

Ages: 4–8 / 3–5

Looking for a craft that is easy to set up and clean up? Think paper! These fun guides present 25 different paper crafts with easy-to-use templates for puzzles, hats, puppets and more. With a few additional household items, your little one will be busy crafting their paper creations all summer long.

Sewing for KidsSewing for Kids: 30 Fun Projects to Hand and Machine Sew by Alexa Ward

Ages: 6 and older

Some of my sweetest summertime memories are of sewing with my grandmother. We made doll dresses, fixed holes in our clothes and created other little items, such as coasters and kitchen towels. With this guide, you’ll introduce the kids in your life to sewing by hand and, later, sewing with a machine. Easy techniques and beginner stitches will help build confidence while working on projects such as a shark-tail blanket, sloth backpack charm and a beanbag chair.

Clay Lab for Kids: 52 Projects to Make, Model, and Mold with Air-Dry, Polymer, and Homemade Clay by Cassie Stephens

Ages: 4–10

The 52 projects in this book will inspire your kids to create using one of the most adaptable materials in the art world: clay! Written for all skill levels by an expert art teacher, each tutorial is presented with complete and easy-to-understand instructions to support the development of each child’s creativity, imagination and fine motor skills.

How to Make Jewelry Out of AnythingHow to Make Jewelry Out of Anything : A Complete Out-of-the-Box Jewelry Making Guide for Teens and Teens-at-Heart!by Menucha Citron Ceder

Ages: 10 and older

For tweens and teens looking for a new hobby or who want to hone their jewelry-making skills, this guide is a perfect fit. Follow along with 42 tutorials that explore specific jewelry techniques using items from around the house, natural materials you can find in your backyard and upcycled materials.

Hand Lettering & Modern Calligraphy for Kids by Modern Kid Press

Ages: 8–12

If your crafty kiddo is interested in calligraphy, look no farther than this guide. Following the beginning steps, warm-ups, technique tutorials, practice and an array of projects, they’ll be occupied for hours perfecting their penmanship. Even better? A party-planning section gives them the opportunity to show off their fancy new lettering skills to their friends!

For the Scientist

The Curious Kid's Science BookThe Curious Kid’s Science Book: 100+ Creative Hands-on Activities for Ages 4–8 by Asia Citro

Ages: 4–8

Perfect for younger budding scientists, this guide holds more than 100 science investigations to answer your child’s most burning questions, such as “What happens if you water plants with juice?” and “Is slug slime as strong as a glue stick?” Parents will appreciate the clear directions and simple materials, and kids will love the playful experiments that help them understand what it’s really like to be a scientist.

Awesome Science Experiments for Kids: 100+ Fun STEAM Projects & Why They Work! by Crystal Chatterton

Ages: 5–10

For kids who are just starting to exercise their independence and wondering about the world around them, this book is going to be a hit. With the basics of the scientific method outlined for each hands-on experiment, kids actively learn while becoming better scientists. Awesome experiments include a pencil sundial, balloon in a bottle, naked egg, magnet-powered car and fizzy rocket.

The Science Spell BookThe Science Spell Book: Magical Experiments for Kids by Cara Florance

Ages: 7–10

Witches and wizards agree: If you really think about it, science is true magic. With easy-to-follow instructions, clear diagrams and photographs, and complete explanations about the science specifics, this bewitching book perfectly blends science and whimsy. Home experiments with biology, physics and chemistry will convince your child just how magical science can be.

Steve Spangler’s Super Cool Science Experiments for Kids! by Steve Spangler

Ages: 8–12

This epic nonfiction collection of experiments, tricks and science-fair projects is sure to impress even the toughest of critics. Featuring 50 STEM-tastic experiments ranging from beginner to advanced and that use materials found around the house, this collection is sure to provide your mad scientist hours of fun. Projects include an air-pressure can crusher, the world’s simplest motor, eggshell geodes and even a homemade lung!

For the Builder

The Awesome Paper Airplane Book for Kids by Stefania Luca

Ages: 6–9

Airplane enthusiasts will love the opportunity to create their very own flying machines! With 15 different styles of paper airplanes, removable pages ready to fold and plenty of tips, this guide will help your aeronautics engineer build confidence as they create.

The Big Book of Amazing LEGO CreationsThe Big Book of Amazing LEGO Creations with Bricks You Already Have by Sarah Dees

Ages: 6–12

What’s not to love about Lego? Besides stepping on a rogue 2x4 in the early morning, these little bricks are the perfect play companion. This jumbo guide presents cool objects you can assemble using bricks you most likely already have on hand, such as a pirate ship, troll, Humvee and more. With the book’s story and scene suggestions, hours of Lego fun are in your future. 

Sticks and Stones: A Kid’s Guide to Building and Exploring in the Great Outdoorsby Melissa Lennig

Ages: 7 and older

From art to engineering, this book will inspire your kids to get outside to explore and create. With projects such as designing a stick catapult, creating a bug hotel, building a dam, making jewelry and crafting a fishing pole from a stick, the guide has something to interest even the starchiest couch potato. Each activity supports the development of problem-solving skills while nurturing creativity.

Dude Perfect 101 Tricks, Tips and Cool StuffDude Perfect 101 Tricks, Tips, and Cool Stuffby Dude Perfect

Ages: 8–12

Dude Perfect has captured our attention on social media over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. Their trick shots, extreme sports antics and hilarious high jinks keep everyone in the family coming back for more! With this guide, your kiddo will learn how to perform their own tricks and stunts using everyday objects; go behind the scenes of Dude Perfect’s most viral videos; and learn the science behind the tricks.

Cardboard Box Engineering: Cool, Inventive Projects for Tinkerers, Makers & Future Scientistsby Jonathan Adolph

Ages: 9–14

Perfect for recycling enthusiasts and budding engineers, this guide contains a variety of step-by-step photographic instructions for creating amazing things out of cardboard. Projects include a robotic hand, handmade spin art, a wind-powered tractor, a bouncy Skee-Ball and even a rocket blaster. With background information on the concepts of physics and engineering, this book will inspire your kids to start tinkering — and never stop.

For the Chef

Busy Little Hands: Food Play! by Amy Palanjian

Ages: 2–5

Kids in the kitchen can be a nightmare for parents, but what if we could make it playful? Perfect for your preschool chef, the recipes in this book support kitchen fun and healthy eating habits. Noodle bowls, fruit wands, sandwich spirals and more await your petite chef in this photo-filled cookbook, which is designed to encourage following simple directions and developing fine motor skills in the kitchen.

The Official Harry Potter Baking BookThe Official Harry Potter Baking Book: 40+ Recipes Inspired by the Films by Joanna Farrow

Ages: 8 and older

Potterheads, rejoice! This cookbook is full of savory and sweet treats inspired by the beloved “Harry Potter” film series. With recipes such as Lightning Bolt Breads, Luna’s Spectrespecs Cookies, Whomping Willow Cheese Straws and Sorting Hat Cupcakes, there’s something magically tasty for all of the witches, wizards and muggles in your home. Gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian recipes included!

The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists: Good Science Makes Great Food by America’s Test Kitchen Kids

Ages: 8–12

Help satisfy curiosity and learn a few new tricks with this science-centric cookbook. Chefs and scientists alike will love these delicious recipes, which connect the dots between the what and how of cooking. Photos accompanied by step-by-step instructions make this cookbook a smart and scrumptious choice for cooking up some summer fun!

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