Getting Dirty -- It's Healthier for Kids!
When my son's preschool wrote, answering parent complaints and apologizing that the children had been coming home messy from playing outside, I wrote back: "My son has not been coming home nearly dirty enough."
I am not kidding. We're talking about three and four year olds and I fully believe they have not only a right but a duty to get as mud-caked and dripping wet as their own particular interests, imaginations, and desires allow.
And there are studies to back me up. The benefits of dirt include:
- fewer allergies, asthma, and auto-immune diseases
- higher levels of serotonin (the happy hormone)
- lower incidences of illness later in life
- less stress
Rooting around in the mud--it isn't just for piglets anymore!
My friend and I were talking about letting go and encouraging our kids to explore, even if it means a mess. She brought up the "Free-Range Kids" philosophy that encourages a more laissez-faire style of parenting (allowing children to play by themselves in the park, for example). While I am not sure I am quite ready for that level of parenting zen, I am trying to step back more and stop saying, "Don't do that! You'll get dirty!"
If you are looking for a few ways to dig a dirtier style of play, try out these activities:
- Bake Mud Pies: Remember this classic? How could we forget how much fun we used to have "cooking" with mud? If you need inspiration for setting up your mud kitchen, check out Let the Children Play, Tinker Lab, and Rhythm of the Home
- Build with Mud Bricks: Mud + an ice cube tray + imagination = bricks to build houses for fairies, gnomes, or other sprites.Check it out on So Wabi Sabi or Imagine Childhood.
- Draw or Write in the Mud: Grab a stick and practice drawing or writing in the mud (Naturally Educational). Learn and create without wasting paper! Or, make the mud the medium and paint with mud (Camp Slop).
- Garden or Create a Mini-Terrarium: Gardening with kids is a wonderful way to dig in the dirt with a purpose. If you do not have a lot of outdoor space, you can still create a mini garden jar terrarium (Red Ted Art).
- Don't Fear the Creepy Crawlies: Despite our learned reaction, most bugs are our friends--they play an important role in our ecosystem. Catch and observe some insects with a simple plastic cup bug catcher (Naturally Educational) or fancier bug hotel (The Mama Dramalogues) or create a worm farm (Let the Children Play).
- Learn with Dirty Science Experiments: Older kids will be very interested in experimenting with dirt. Try this soil separation experiment from Kids Activities Blog.
- I found 30 more Dirty Kids Activities from Hands On: As We Grow!
Just remember, play at the beach or have a hose handy and don't worry about the kids getting messy--they're washable!
Are neat and clean kids a sign of good parenting in your book or do you believe childhood means dirt?