One of Wyokiddo’s favorite spots to play is the gravel pile outside our back yard. It’s big, it’s messy, it’s fun. Some days, she just likes to climb to the top and sit there. Other days, she arranges the rocks in pretty patterns, then watch as she tumbles them down the hill. Occasionally, she’ll reenact a wilderness rescue or pretend to be on a bear hunt.
I don’t tell her how to play on the dirt pile. Or to not get her clothes dirty. I’ll help her ascend the mountain and then stand back and watch her be a kid.
Today, she was having fun on the dirt pile pretending the rocks were confetti and she was throwing a surprise party. She gather a handful of rocks, shriek “SURPRISE!” and throw them up in the air, all the while giggling her tinkly little 3-year old giggle.
Music to my ears and salve to my soul.
I let my little preschooler romp and get dirty outdoors for a lot of different reasons. Getting dirty helps with allergies and asthma and a host of skin disorders. Getting dirty stimulates her senses. Climbing and digging and playing helps build her little muscles and coordination. It burns off her endless energy. And it’s just plain fun.
One of my favorite books from my days in the professional world was Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. Louv’s book deals with the growing disconnect between society and the environment, especially as it pertains to children. Louv builds a case for some of society’s problems being caused by a lack of time outside, unstructured, in nature. He advocates for immersing our children in nature for the social, physical and physiologically benefits.
“In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness.” –Richard Louv
I’m not a social scientist or psychologist. But it doesn’t take an expert to realize playing outside, in then fresh air with room to let your imagination run wild is a pretty darn healthy and happy way to grow up.
So let them eat dirt. Or at least roll around in it.
P.S. If you’ve never read Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, I highly recommend it. He’s admittedly short on empirical proof to back up some of his claims, but the basic idea that we are losing something when we remove ourselves and our kids from nature has merit. It will inspire you to turn off the electronics and get your kids outside, and it gives you ideas and suggestions on how to do it.