Fun With Dirt: Exploring the Outdoors With Your Kids

podcast iconAre your kids’ hands way too clean?

Want them to spend more time outside and less in front of a screen?

Encourage them to play in the dirt! Once they start digging and building, they’ll be hooked on the great outdoors.

To learn more about getting your hands dirty with your kids, I interview Jennifer Ward for this episode of the Parenting Adventures podcast.

More About This Show

parenting adventures podcast michael stelznerThe Parenting Adventures podcast is a show from My Kids’ Adventures.

It’s for parents (and grandparents) who are looking for creative things to do with their kids.

The show format is on-demand talk radio (also known as podcasting).

In this episode, I interview Jennifer Ward, a prolific author of children’s fiction books (such as There Was an Old Pirate Who Swallowed a Fish). Her parenting books include I Love Dirt: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature and It’s a Jungle Out There! 52 Nature Adventures for City Kids.

Jennifer shares why it’s important to get your kids out in nature.

You’ll discover ways to have fun outside in the dirt with your kids.

Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below!

Want kids to spend more time outdoors? Time to have fun with dirt! In Parenting Adventures Podcast 10, Jennifer Ward shares how to get your kids out in nature.

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Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:

Fun With Dirt

How Jennifer went from writing children’s books to parenting books focused on the outdoors

Jennifer’s first children’s book, published about 16 years ago, was called Way Out in the Desert. It’s a counting book that takes place in the Sonoran Desert, so it had a nature theme. All of her picture books, fiction or non-fiction, had an element of science or nature integrated into them.

two book covers

Jennifer’s first children’s book was Way Out in the Desert. Her first parenting book was I Love Dirt.

About eight or nine books into Jennifer’s career, her agent suggested she tackle writing a book for adults. As she got into it, Jennifer discovered the book would serve children better than it would solely adults. It evolved into a parenting book with open-ended, hands-on sensory activities for children, called I Love Dirt: 52 Activities to Connect You and Your Kids to the Wonders of Nature.

Listen to the show to discover where Jennifer got the ideas for the activities in the book.

Why outdoor exploration is important

Everyone knows kids need to unplug and get outdoors, Jennifer says. Nature provides mental and physical benefits—you get fresh air and exercise, and it de-stresses you.

The average child spends more than 7 hours a day plugged into technology, whether it’s a cell phone, computer or mobile device. When children become too plugged in, they’re sedentary and they’re not engaging all of their senses.

kids outside with electronic device

Find a balance between technology and outdoor activities. Image source: iStockPhoto.

It’s a challenge to get kids outside sometimes, but it’s important to find a balance between technology and nature.

Listen to the show to learn how to make a bike ride even more fun.

Why dirt is exciting and what can be done with it

Scientific studies have proven that dirt makes us happy. Jennifer explains that a bacteria found in dirt activates neurons in our brains and those neurons produce serotonin, which is a natural antidepressant. Exposing kids to dirt helps their immune system.

Jennifer shares a few of the simple activities families can do to play in dirt. Dig in the dirt with spoons and forks, build a fort, use water to make a pond, set up imaginary villages with plastic toys, paint with mud and more.

boy playing in dirt

Get dirty with your kids. Image source: iStockPhoto.

These are all activities where your child gets fresh air and that engage the senses.

More intricate adventures include going on a scavenger hunt, researching dirt, gardening and looking for wildlife.

Listen to the show to find out why it’s okay to let your kids get dirty.

How parents can turn a visit to the park into an adventure

One activity in It’s a Jungle Out There talks about exploring parks. Jennifer recommends that you go on a treasure hunt and compare the wildlife you would find in a city park versus what you’d find in your backyard or on your porch. For example, the animals would be different and sounds will vary.

girl outside

Compare wildlife in a local park to wildlife you find near your home. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Jennifer calls this adventure a pack and track. It’s a playdate where you specifically scout for evidence of wildlife. Gather binoculars and/or a magnifying glass, as well as a camera, notepad or clipboard. Look for things like animal tracks or leaves that have been nibbled. Then document what you see.

Listen to the show to find out about the adventures Jennifer had with her daughter in the desert.

Night Light Sights

The premise of Night Light Sights from It’s a Jungle Out There is attracting bugs.

When Jennifer grew up near downtown Tucson, she had a neighbor (10 or 11 years old) who would go outside at night with a flashlight and a big white sheet, spread out the sheet and then put lights behind it to attract bugs. He’d collect them for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

This is what you need to do: take a flashlight and a pillowcase outside at night. Prop the sheet up on a bush or a chair and put a flashlight behind it. Then sit back and see what comes.

boy outside with lantern

Go out and look for bugs at night. Image source: iStockPhoto.

The neat thing about exploring nature, Jennifer says, is it doesn’t require money or materials. You can go out and do endless activities that are simple, sensory and fun. They don’t have to last even an hour. Just take 5 minutes before bedtime, go outside and see what you discover.

Listen to the show to find out what kinds of bugs you may attract when doing Night Light Sights.

Parenting Adventures Tip

Scavenger Hunt Activities

My Kids’ Adventures’ Jennifer Ballard and I talk about the interesting things you can do with a scavenger hunt.

Do a traditional door-to-door scavenger hunt, support a theme for a birthday party or make one up to help kids learn how to do something new. You can also come up with one on the fly, if your kids are bored while you’re waiting in line.

scavenger hunt ideas

Come up with a few cool scavenger hunt ideas so you have them on hand at any time.

The main thing you need is a list: make one on paper or put it in your mobile phone. Once you have your list, you have your scavenger hunt.

You may also want to set some boundaries (if you do it outside the home) and a time limit. If you put kids in teams, mix younger kids with older ones.

A few other fun ideas are a road trip scavenger hunt, a shopping scavenger hunt or a people-watching scavenger hunt. Take anything you can think of and make it into a scavenger hunt for endless adventures with your kids.

Listen to the show to learn more tips and tricks for having a successful scavenger hunt.

Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:

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What do you think? How do you play in dirt with your kids? Please leave your comments below.

Images from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Michael Stelzner

I am a dad of three kids, the founder of My Kids' Adventures and the founder of Social Media Examiner. I also host the Parenting Adventures podcast. Other posts by »


  1. The whole idea of this is just great. Thanks for interviewing Jennifer Ward.

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