Mud pie making, puddle jumping, creek exploring, and frog catching. Yes, it's germy, messy, and generates laundry. But did you know that allowing kids to get dirty is important to their health and proper development?
Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, America was raising the most scheduled generation of kids ever. Many families juggled packed calendars, putting in a full workday before shuttling kids to dance class, gymnastics, and martial arts after school, with rarely a weekend free of baseball and soccer.
Then suddenly, everything stopped. Day planners lay undisturbed with clean pages. We huddled in our homes for a few weeks, baking excessively and watching TV, until stir-craziness set in. We crept outdoors. Artistic folks created sidewalk stained glass and messages to cheer essential workers. Music students went porch-to-porch with instruments in hand, serenading housebound elderly friends. Introverted longtime neighbors finally introduced themselves from six feet away. Yard improvements sprouted right and left.
And kids, suddenly unscheduled, found time to get dirty again. That's a VERY good thing.
1. Playing outside means more time in the sun, soaking up the Vitamin D that's necessary for bone strength and immune health. Sun safety is, of course, very important, but too little sun is unhealthy too!
2. Free time outdoors encourages physical activity and mental creativity. Left to their own devices, kids will invent their own games, climb trees, practice cartwheels, pretend, and build lean-to's. This inventiveness pays off later with better problem-solving skills and outside-the-box thinking.
3. Unstructured outdoor time helps to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and balance mood. A study from University of Queensland revealed that people who visited parks for at least 30 minutes weekly were much less likely to have poor mental health than those who stayed indoors. Right now, children are outside their normal routines and sense the stress in their parents. Distance learning will require more screen time than we'd prefer and, for some kids, introduce additional anxiety. We can all use some outdoor time!
4. The messy play kids love so much - driving trucks through the dirt, squishing mud between their fingers and toes, handling earthworms - exposes them to everyday germs so their immune systems can "learn" an appropriate response. Healthy adult immune systems benefit from exposures as well, so feel free to get dirty too! Your kids will be delighted.
Now, we're looking at a new school year. It's going to be different from any other we've experienced, with far fewer after-school activities to fill the family calendar.
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Be well, Sweet friends!