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Challenge: Reading Together

Play in a Book

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What I love about moms is our intuition. I didn’t know it at the time, but my intuition about the transition from reading with my children to helping them learn to read is a common issue for parents. I hope my experience and learning helps every family.


I loved reading with my children. “Again. Again!” my toddler would say every night with every book. When my son was four, he would even get ready for bed one hour early just so I could read to him for an hour. He adored looking at and listening to books.

Learning through play is how my son learned. In fact, learning through play is how every child learns. My son loved school, and was in a Montessori program that went through kindergarten. My children loved to play outside every day, the ultimate learning through play experience (see my book 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids).

In preparation for first grade in public school, my husband and I were told that our child, who loved to learn and who loved books, was behind in reading. My heart sank. Suddenly, we needed help. The only option at the time was to send him to a reading program with my husband every Saturday for the entire summer. After that experience, my child hated reading on his own.

I wished I had an early reader book series that helped my child learn through play and helped me see what interested my child as a learner. I know that our experience learning to read together would have been different. And, I would have seen with my second child that he was ready for more challenging books (at seven, my younger son started reading the Harry Potter series)!

And I knew I was not alone. I would ask other moms, “Don’t you wish there were different early reader books than just “The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat” to help children become interested in reading? Every parent replied enthusiastically, “Yes!”

Then, when my son was five, an idea sparked. One day after school, he ran into the house and was excited to show me a library book he discovered and to read it to me! The book was about outdoor festivals around the world. The topic—outdoor play—was something my child related to, and the world geography from Montessori also got him excited about exploring different countries in a book.

What if I created an early reader series about outdoor play around the world?

I’m excited that my early reader book series, PJ’s Backyard Adventures, Book 1: Who is PJ? and Book 2: Play at a Paris Playground, is now available for families to play in a book together. There are eight ways to interact with the books, from coloring to finding a Dolch sight word/high frequency word hidden in each illustration, which is a seek and find feature that kids love! Each book is about real places around the world.


Children really relate to the main character, PJ, who loves to wear his fireman’s hat, pajamas, and boots. PJ travels the seven continents through creative play outside, and is the essence of every child: curious and full of wonder. My sister and illustrator, Marni Penning Coleman, has seen the impact of PJ's Backyard Adventures with her son:

"The bonus is that the book series has helped my son recognize letters and words; he loves to turn the pages and tell me the story. He plays with PJ word cards, and loves to take a cut out of PJ on his outdoor adventures (think of PJ as Flat Stanley for outdoor play). He even wanted to dress up as PJ in his pajamas, fireman’s hat, and boots for the open house at our local fire station. The illustrations I did for the second book fueled my little guy’s obsession with the Eiffel Tower and a gleeful zest for recognizing continents and individual countries on the globe." - Marni Penning Coleman

I’ve read the PJ’s Backyard Adventures books to over 1,000 children in the U.S., Europe, and China. PJ not only excites every child about reading, PJ’s Backyard Adventures connects the world through outdoor play.

PJ’s Backyard Adventures sparks something of interest for every child and every type of learner. I am grateful that early literacy and learning specialist Bonnie Lee Nicholls discovered the series and wholeheartedly endorses PJ’s Backyard Adventures as her favorite new early reader series. Bonnie helps parents discover their child’s learning style—I wish I knew her when my children were learning to read. But, I’m so grateful you know about Bonnie Lee Nicholls now too.

Here’s to sharing our intuition and learning as parents to make raising our amazing kids even more wonderful and less stressful for generations to come.

Don’t just take my word for it; see your child’s reaction to PJ with this free printable and take PJ with you on your child’s adventures. Where will YOU take PJ?


About Rebecca P. Cohen

Rebecca P. Cohen believes time outside transforms our lives for the better. Rebecca has worked with over 6,000 children around the world helping them make outdoor connections for a healthier life. Rebecca is author of the new children's book series PJ's Backyard Adventures, as well as author 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids, and creator of Rebecca Plants Curiosity Cards. She is also host of the video series, Get Out of the House, which shows fun ideas for time outside in every season. For Rebecca's inspiring blog and free downloads, visit

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Fifteen Minutes Outside, PJ’s Backyard Adventures

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