Reviews: 15 Minutes Outside & The Joy of Birding

Spring has sprung and two new books help you make the most of the outdoors, especially with the children in your life.

The first is 15 Minutes Outside: 365 ways to get out of the house and connect with your kids by Rebecca P. Cohen. The book is a month-by-month collection of low- to no-cost ways to explore the outdoors, most requiring minimal to no prep.

The author isn't a child expert of any sort, she's simply a mother and a gardening and outdoor lifestyle expert who had made it her mission to get people off the couch and out the door. In the book's introduction, Cohen notes the benefits of fifteen minutes outside:

• Offers great health benefits through fun physical exercise and sunshine

• Redirects children's energies, motivating them to play and explore constructively

• Creates a family stress-relief valve and a way to spend meaningful time together

• Makes life easier for busy parents: play dates outside are hassle-free

• Provides an effortless education in natural science and an appreciation for nature's life cycles

Cohen stresses in the intro that you don't have to be a crunchy, over-the-top environmentalist to appreciate and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, "You just have to be open to the idea that you and your kids, or nieces, nephews, or grandkids, can have a richer, healthier, more stimulating life with more fresh air and a closer relationship with the natural world."

Divided into chapters by months, the book provides readers more outdoor activities than they can shake a stick at, whether the goal is to go through the book day-by-day or to simply find something fun to do with visiting grandchildren.

A few of my favorite suggestions:

• Improvise a hockey game using an ice puck made in a cup indoors, a tennis ball or a piece of loose ice.

• Create or count with pine cones collected from the yard or on a walk.

• Dance outside. "Why not rock out in the yard?" Cohen asks.

• Sail juice-box boats in puddles.

• Enjoy a picnic for breakfast.

• Write your ABCs with sticks.

The book includes activities for youngsters up to the age of 12, but I bet even older children will find fun ideas within the pages.

What I love about the book: With no need to start at the beginning or follow from front to back, 15 Minutes Outside is an excellent resource when looking to fill little slots of time with visiting children — perfect for grandparents. Plus, the majority of the activities are free — even more perfect in these budget-crunched times.

What I don't love so much: Nothing to note here, as I love the entire thing.

Bottom line: Whether you have kids full time or just now and then, whether you want a guide for every single day or just suggestions for once-in-a-while visits, 15 Minutes Outside is a sure bet for entertaining, impressing, and forging a stronger relationship with kids of all ages.

The second book perfect for spring is The Joy of Birding: A Beginner's Guide by Kate Rowinski. I love watching the birds in my yard and neighborhood, so the offer to review this book was met with delight.

In exchange, I was delighted by the book. I'm quite the novice when it comes to birding, so Rowinski's book promises to up my game by several notches. Even just during the review reading, I found several nuggets of info to read aloud to Jim, who was equally impressed with the information.

The book is less of a guide to birds and more of a manual for becoming a true birder: learning to understand the world from a bird's point of view; learning the basics of identification; and getting to know the species in your own neighborhood.

Specifically, The Joy of Birding shows budding birders how to, as noted in the press materials:

• Find and use markings, wing shape, beak shape, and size to identify birds

• Understand bird behaviors

• Recognize specific songs and calls

• Photograph birds in flight and repose

• Share the pleasure of bird-watching with others

• Vacation where birds are bound to be

What I love about this book: Awesome photography of birds and their habitats, plus photography tips for getting great shots of your own. Also awesome is the "Birds and Children" chapter, with ideas for instilling a love for birding in babies and toddlers on up through school age. On a personal level, I appreciate the attention and information Cohen gave about squirrels, hummingbirds and owls — all regular sources of concern in my own backyard.

What I don't love so much: Range maps for the birds highlighted would have been helpful and appreciated, especially in the chapter titled "25 Backyard Birds You Should Know."

Bottom line: Because Rowinski — a hobbyist, not an ornithologist — is passionate about her hobby and clearly knows what she's talking about without sounding stuffy or nerdy, The Joy of Birding is accessible and enjoyable for anyone with even the slightest interest in attracting, appreciating and understanding bird life.

Clicking on the book covers will provide more information on each book. These are NOT affiliate links; I earn nothing by you clicking on them.