Nature is everywhere, and I mean everywhere. From the national park, to your local park to the dandelion squeaking through the cracks in the sidewalk. Which is exactly what author Jennifer Ward brings to light in It's a Jungle Out There: 52 Nature Activities for City Kids. We are big fans of Jennifer's books I Love Dirt! and Lets Go Outside!, so when we heard she had a new book filled with fun and creative nature activities for kids in Urban areas we had to get the scoop from the author herself!
Here is my conversion with Jennifer along with three fun chances to win her new book!
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
JW: The inspiration for JUNGLE came about due to the fact that most families today live in urban spaces (80% of us), and this is a trend that will continue to grow. The United Nations reported that in 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world's population was living in towns and cities, and by 2030 this number is expected to reach almost 5 billion people. As we know, connecting to nature, even for five minutes a day, is vital to our mental health and physical well being. As such, I wanted to provide urban parents with the simple, sensory ways to help their kids connect to nature among spaces outside their doors; to help them seek out the patches of wild that exist among sidewalks and urban areas.
How did you come up with so many great activities?
JW: Thank you. I am an educator by profession with a minor in earth sciences. I am also a children's book author whose picture books focus predominantly on nature; many of my children's books are award-winning nonfiction, and the ones that are fiction are still nature-based with elements of research and knowledge as a foundation. So, I am a writer. I love nature. I am a keen observer while outdoors, and I truly play creatively with nature when I am outside. I play outside a lot!
So, as I spent time outdoors, year-round, morning and night, the activities in It's a Jungle! developed from seeds of personal experiences. It was my goal to create thoughtful, simple and fun ways children and parents can enjoy what is outside their doors, while also placing a higher level of thinking on each activity; each activity in the book has an open-ended, explore-as-you-go element to it, which is kind of neat.
What does connecting kids to nature mean to you?
JW: Connecting kids to nature means connecting them to something much bigger than themselves, because when we connect with nature, it is both other-worldly (from our immediate, personal world) and humbling. When we contemplate infinite skies, the distance of stars, the intricate pattern found on a leaf, animal behavior, the feel of rain on our skin, the evolution and physiology of living things -all of it dependant on survival- we can't help but wonder, imagine and think. And that's a good thing for developing, young minds and hearts, especially as it encourages our kids to think beyond the latest video game or app that is available.
Connecting kids to nature also means healthier children. Children who spend time in nature are more relaxed and are more physically and mentally fit than children who lack spending time outdoors.
In addition, connecting kids to nature means a healthier planet, because children who experience nature then become stewards of the planet, based on having a deeper understanding and relationship with the world around them.
How do these activities work for you and your child?
JW: Well, I created the activities to be super user-friendly for parents - or for anyone who works with young children, such as educators and youth group leaders. JUNGLE is a resource to inspire parents to practice connecting their kids to nature on a routine basis. Some of the activities are really very basic and simple, but sometimes those are the types of suggestions we need to get motivated and started so we can begin enjoying and appreciating nature, especially if nature is not integral to our daily lives.
The activities in IT'S A JUNGLE require very little time (we're often a time-crunched, over-scheduled society, aren't we?) and they require no materials, other than our senses. That said, they are easy to work. Easy to implement. Easy to experience. And truly rewarding.
What surprises you most when you see these activities in action?
JW: Interesting question. We all know that children are curious by nature, and it's always wonderful to observe our children put this curiosity to work while enjoying and exploring nature. As such, I have seen children become completely absorbed in their nature discoveries. I have seen them go from being passive and bored to active and elated; I've seen their senses come alive.
I have also seen children become bored with exploring nature - but that's okay, too. We have to follow their lead when using the activities in JUNGLE - or anytime we take our children outdoors. Let their personal curiosity be their guide, as long as it is focused on the outdoors and what is around them - to see see where their thoughts take us.
But what has really surprised me most about young children today is how dependant they have become on technology, and at such a young age. Certainly, we want our children to be technologically knowledgeable and advanced, but there must be a balance between experiencing the real world and the virtual one. I was very shocked recently to be outdoors experiencing nature with a young child, who then asked if she could instead play with an app on my phone rather than enjoy the fun we were having outdoors. "Ahem. No, you may not."
What is your favorite activity from the book?
JW: This question is too difficult to answer! I really like activity #30, "Hide & Seek", which encourages our children to note how animals hide in nature, with an emphasis on camouflage. This activity provides opportunity to observe animal behavior, as well. It works well in urban spaces where we might find birds and bugs, or in wild, open spaces, such as near bodies of water or where ever.
I also feel activity #1, "My Wild Space", is an important activity, because it carves out the importance of making it a habit to simply enjoy nature regularly, even if it's just by sitting on a stoop or porch for five minutes a day listening to sounds in nature or observing what is around us; feeling a breeze on our skin, letting the sun kiss us. Experiences like this are not unlike a mini-vacation, only they're much more affordable.
What was your relationship to nature as a child? What is your earliest memory regarding nature?
JW: It seems as if I spent my entire childhood outdoors, save for bedtime. As a matter of fact, I don't recall being indoors much at all. I took my plastic, toy animals outdoors and created environments and habitats for them among dirt and shrubs. I rode my bike anywhere and everywhere. As a child, I didn't have a computer or cable television; playing outside was simply what I did. However, I also had parents who loved nature. My dad grew up in Canada's wilderness, and he instilled a great love of nature in me and my four sisters. We camped, a lot. We had picnics outdoors regularly (even as simple as taking dinner to the town park). We panned for gold in nearby creeks (or so he told us we'd find gold if we kept trying). There wasn't one defining moment where I felt, "Oh, this is nature!" as a first memory, because my parents were toting me across country with tent and trailer-in-tow from the moment I was born. We'd travel across country from our home in the U.S. to visit family in Canada, and would camp, riverside, on some property my dad and his siblings owned for the duration of our visits. I had a very close relationship with nature as a child, and I still have a close relationship with nature as an adult.
I do, however, recall moments as a child where I felt a very deep connection to nature, such as waking up before the sun was up and hearing the first birds make their calls and songs as the day broke into sunlight. That experience is one I treasure as a child.
What is your best piece of advice for parents raising their kids in urban areas?
JW: It is important that we, as parents, serve as role models for our children. If we are passive and indifferent about experiencing nature, how can we expect our children to behave otherwise?
What has your daughter taught you about curiosity and imagination?
JW: My daughter has taught me that, although she may not spend as much time outdoors enjoying nature as we did when she was younger (she's almost 19), I am confident that nature is part of her foundation; part of who she is. She has taught me how to stop mid-stride upon a sidewalk and observe what is at my feet. Certainly, this is something I may have been prone to do regularly when I was younger. But as adults, myself included, our lives get hectic, busy and burdened with more responsibility and stresses. As such, as an adult it is very easy to rush through our days without taking time to stop for a moment and really look at the nature that surrounds us, even between the cracks on a sidewalk.
Thank you so much Jennifer for taking the time to chat with us and for sharing your wonderful books! And now for the giveaway...
For a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book (three, yes three up for grabs!), simply leave a comment on this post by 8pm on Thursday August 4th . The winner will be chosen by random number and announced the next day.
And the lucky winners are...
Beth who wrote:
This book looks just wonderful!
Jen who wrote:
Love her books... This one would be treasured. Thanks for the opportunity!!!
Molly who wrote:
This looks like a GREAT book. Come on random number generator!
Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by to read the interview and enter the giveaway!
P.S. Still want a copy of this delightful book? You can find it in our store.
*Last time in Books and Stories: Word Play