Playing outside, and dirty, always educational

11/8/2013

As I write this article on Tuesday, it is wet and rainy outside. The skies are overcast, the animals are hiding and there are puddles everywhere.

As I write this article on Tuesday, it is wet and rainy outside. The skies are overcast, the animals are hiding and there are puddles everywhere.

As I bundled up my children and headed out to the car this morning, the 15-foot journey took longer than usual as the girls wanted to stomp in puddles, play with wet plants or observe the worms that had emerged from their underground hideouts. My practical parent came out, rushing them along and steering them away from puddles that would result in wet socks. With the children safe and dry at their respective destinations, my practical parent was able to take a break, and I started thinking about what is most important for my children: dry feet or rainy-day fun.

I have written in the past about the many benefits of outdoor play for young children and the connections that have been made between a lack of outside time and ADHD, obesity and a variety of other conditions. While preventing these types of problems is reason enough to get your kids outside, nature play is an important component of childhood in and of itself.

What did you learn from playing outside? Maybe you watched butterflies, frogs or birds grow, change and disappear. You may not have realized it, but you were laying the groundwork for a deeper understanding of life cycles, reproduction, migration and even death. Perhaps you were more engaged in tree climbing and adventurous pursuits. Little did you know at the time that these lessons would show up later in your physics class as the Law of Gravity, cause and effect, friction and more. Or were you the puddle-splashing, mud-slinging type? Well, what better way to discover the water cycle than by watching puddles appear when it rains and then slowly disappear again as the skies cleared and the water evaporated? And your chemistry teacher would be thrilled to watch you try to recreate mud once it has dried — is that a physical change or a chemical change?

The excitement that children experience as they explore the world around them is more than enough reason to take them outside and let them get dirty. The foundation for education that they are building along the way is a fantastic bonus. While this morning I felt it was important to send my kids to school with dry feet, we will definitely make up for lost time this evening. Clothes are easy to wash, bodies are easy to dry, but the development of a young mind is a priceless opportunity that should not be ignored.

Whether you make a special trip to the zoo to watch the rhinoceros stomp through the mud before trying it yourself or you simply venture into your back yard, go outside and play dirty. You can let your kids explore on their own, or you can relive those days of wonder and join the excitement. You may be surprised by how much fun it is to splash in a puddle, even as an adult. If along the way someone falls and bumps their head or skins their knee, you never know, maybe you just planted the seed for a future doctor.

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