The Dirtier, the Better
I’m a firm believer that whenever possible, a kid needs to play outside and get dirty. That’s not always possible for some families, but for those of us who live in rural areas, there are places outside children can play. For those who live in areas with small yards or no yards at all, there are parks they can play if you are willing to take the time. The dirtier the better (unless his clothes are his Sunday-best, school clothes, or brand new) – that’s what I think. If you don’t have clothes for your kids that merit getting dirty, then head to Goodwill or a yard sale and find something that welcomes dirt and action.
I’ve heard all the reasons moms don’t want their kids to play outside too much or certainly why they should not get dirty. Doing laundry, getting grass stains out of jeans, and bleaching whites to get red mud stains out are a lot of work – and take extra time. Sorry, moms, you’ve got time – so that’s no excuse. You also don’t need to be so picky – so that’s another reason your excuses doesn’t work. If you’re like me and have play clothes for kids, you don’t have to worry about grass stains. Just let them be. No one will suffer for it, unless it’s your ego.
Kids need to be encouraged to spend time outside. All the world is a playground, and the out of doors is the stage – and the place they should be.
Dirty is healthy
Kids who play outside are healthier and happier. It makes them creative and ingenious. That’s because they are exercising all of their being – mind, body, and emotions – in play. Kids who play outside – in the heat and the cold – tend to be healthier than those who don’t. It’s not just a hunch on my part. It’s true. You can read about that here and here. Or, you can google reliable sources and research it for yourself.
A child who is not allowed to get dirty loses many opportunities for emotional and physical development, in addition to stifling his immune system. One of the best things for a child’s development is to be creative in play. Coming up with a plan, mapping out the course, and then creating his activity can take hours of time, using up muscles and energy, and energizing his brain.
For his birthday one year, our youngest’s siblings gave him a white ball suit. This kid played ball by himself in the front yard, playing both offense and defense. He donned that white suit the following day, went out into the yard, poured water across home plate, and slid into home base! Then he came to the house to show me! His father was not impressed, but I was. Who cared if the suit got dirty? It was part of his play, and part of his game. Does it matter now that the suit got so dirty it was impossible to bleach it clean? Whose ego should I have been trying to protect, anyhow?
Dirty Unleashes the Mind
Kids who play outside are not stifled. Most moms don’t want their boys to tumble on sofas, wrestle on the floor with breakables within kick-reach, or toss a Frisbee inside. Boys are made to do that. Certainly they can be taught to respect property and boundaries – yet the fact remains that they are wired for action – for competition, and for physical prowess.
One day when I was triaging phone calls in the pediatrics department, a grandmother called; she wanted her seven-year-old grandson put on ADHD medication. We discussed the protocol for placing a child on this type of medication, which included paperwork to be filled out by the guardians and the child’s teachers, plus a visit to the Pediatrician. Grandma was disturbed that this would be a process and that this one phone call or even one visit to the pediatrician was not giving the prescribed medication she so desperately wanted.
In the course of the conversation, I asked Grandma what her grandson did that made her feel he had ADHD.
“Oh, he runs through the house, jumps off the sofa, and pretends to be a policemen, running after bad guys and “shooting” them with his pretend gun,” Grandma said.
“Ma’am,” I said, “I have four sons. All of them do that. They tussle and wrestle and throw cushions. They’re boys. Boys are wired for that.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes, really,” I assured her. “He’s just being a boy.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“What do you want him to do when he gets home from school?” I asked.
“Why, I want him to come inside, have a snack, and then sit in the living room on the sofa and watch TV or do something quiet,” she said.
This time I was the one who asked, “Really?!?!”
I grant you there are children who struggle with attention deficit. They are kids who have an exorbitant amount of energy that needs to be channeled.
True Play = Getting Dirty
I also grant you that if the adults in the lives of these kids are willing to send them outside to play, allow them to get dirty, and encourage creativity, they will find that the kids lose a lot of their steam – and settle down from exhaustion at bedtime instead of fighting the bed-time-rule.
If your kids are allowed to go outside to play but are afraid to get dirty, there’s a problem. They are being stifled, and that’s unfair. You are stifling their creativity, their exuberance, and their exercise. In addition, you are stifling their minds.
You want your kids to be creative and charter new courses in the world? Then, for the sake of your kids, send them outside to play. Don’t let them come in until they’ve played hard enough and long enough to get dirty.
This I believe firmly: if a child comes in from play and is not dirty, he hasn’t really experienced true play.