Author Jennifer Ward has been sharing her love of animals and nature in her darling children’s books (some of which I own and love) for nearly ten years. She’s now come out with a new book for grown ups, helping us get outdoors and explore nature with kids. I recently interviewed Jennifer about her love of nature and her new book, I Love Dirt.

Interview with Jennifer Ward, Author of I LOVE DIRT

M&T: Where did you get your love for the outdoors?
JW:  My love for the outdoors was instilled at an early age, via my parents and the lifestyle they facilitated for my sisters and me.  We spent our days outdoors swimming, biking, horseback riding, camping, panning for gold, making adventure at every turn.  It was truly what kids in my generation did for fun – back then we were unplugged, and as such, outdoors from sunup to sundown.

M&T: What types of outdoor activities do and your daughter enjoy?
JW: When my daughter was younger, outdoor activities included collecting smooth rocks and painting them into animals and such, catching lizards, journaling the different types of hummingbird species that frequented our yard, sitting among hundreds of large nectar bats that fed from our yard by night and feeling their wings flap breezes through our hair, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, camping, planting specific gardens… My daughter is older now (16), so it’s a bit more of a challenge to spend time with her outdoors because she’d rather spend her free time with her girlfriends than her mom.  However, as a teenager, I can vouch that she has a wonderful intrinsic appreciation for nature, animals and the outdoors due to her early childhood experiences.

M&T: Do you have a particular activity from the book that’s your favorite?
JW:  I am biased regarding any of the bird activities, because I’m a bird nut.  For example, the “Build That Nest” activity is one I like, because it really generates a higher level of thinking and instills appreciation for birds and their architectural abilities! I used to try to fashion bird nests when I was little using dried grass and water, lol.  (They didn’t hold together too well.) I like ” A “Thinking Place” activity, too, because everyone needs a special space they feel is a place they can just do “what ever”, be it read a book, daydream, get lost in thought…

M&T: How can the weather affect playing in the dirt?
JW: In a nutshell, rain invites mud play, sunshine cheers, wind creates excitement and adventure, fog evokes mystery and imagination, cloud watching soothes and relaxes the soul…but these examples are just “my” opinion.  I believe reaction to weather can be personal.  My daughter and I relish rainfall, for example.  If it rains, we run out to stand in it and feel it on our skin.  That’s what living in a dry desert does to you!  Someone living in a rainy clime may react to rain differently.

M&T: Which season is your favorite to play in?
JW: I love the transition between seasons.  I get an intrinsic thrill when shadows grow longer as fall sets in, when leaf buds peek in the spring – the little nuances of each transition to an approaching season really beckon me to get outdoors.  If I had to pick ONE season, though…Hmmm.  It would be fall.

M&T: How can someone with no backyard or easy access to the “outdoors” best use your book?
JW: LOTS of ways. I am living proof. I presently live without a true backyard, and my front yard faces a large commercial parking lot. Never the less, I have a small garden that is FILLED with lots of wings!  From birds to bugs, it’s always buzzing with action! I walk to places and spaces that are more open.  I bike and jog to nature trails.  I look for nature where ever I may be, because nature is everywhere.  Even if you live in the heart of a big city with a balcony for your immediate outdoor space, you can still experience weather, catch snowflakes, seek out animal life (spiders, birds…), and nurture a potted garden in your outdoor space.  I LOVE DIRT encourages experiencing the outdoors in a myriad of ways, regardless of your geographical living space.

M&T: This is your first book for “big people”. Do you plan to come out with more?
JW: I do.  A companion book to I LOVE DIRT will be released in 2009.  It’s geared for older children, ages 8 – 12+.  It is being published by Shambhala Publications, just as I LOVE DIRT is, and I am very excited about it. It contains a wide range of activities, from traditional games like “Ten Types of Tag” and “Five Types of Forts”, to more organic and scientific experiences kids can have with nature.  I believe parents will find it to be a fun resource to use.

M&T: Some of my readers may not be aware that you’ve written several children’s books. Which is your favorite?
JW:  Thank you for mentioning my children’s books :)  Yes, I’ve been writing books for children for about ten years now.  It’s a great job. My favorite children’s book that I’ve written?  Ouch! Answering that would be like asking a parent which child is their favorite!  I can say, however, that presently I am having A LOT of fun promoting my book, There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea.

M&T: What advice can you share encouraging families to play in the dirt?
JW: Based on my own experience as a parent and an aunt, the one piece of advice I would offer is to let your kids be kids outside; let them play with wild abandon and without too much structured play.  Let them explore.  Let them use their imaginations!  Don’t fret about dirt in the fingernails, messy clothes or minor scrapes and bruises… As a parent of an only child, I was a bit overprotective with my daughter when she played outside.  I hate to admit it, but it’s true!  I wish I could rewind the clock and let her replay her childhood time outdoors with a bit more wild abandon.  I watch my sister let her young children play in mud and dirt and she barely bats an eyelash if they inadvertently step in dog doo or happen to taste a bug. I applaud her parenting!

My second bit of advice is that the more unstructured playtime you provide your child outdoors, the greater the service you provide for your child’s mental and physical health. That said, get your child outside, and allow him or her to enjoy all that nature has to offer. The experiences attained outdoors as a child will be a benefit they utilize for their lifetime.

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I Love Dirt Book Giveaway

Thanks Jennifer, for letting us get to know you better and encouraging us to get outdoors, helping to remind us that it’s okay for the kids to get a little dirty!

Now one lucky Make and Takes reader will win a free copy of this adventurous book, I Love Dirt. There’s three ways to be entered in the giveaway: 1) Leave a comment on this post. 2) Subscribe to my RSS blog feed and send me an email confirmation. 3) Blog about this giveaway linking back to this post (send me an email with the details). marie{at}makeandtakes{dot}com

The giveaway ends Thursday, September 18th at midnight. I’ll announce the winner on Friday morning. Good luck and have fun getting in the dirt!

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering.