My almost five-year-old daughter was teased and snubbed two days in a row at the park this week, and on both occasions, it was because she was muddy. And the snubbing wasn't done by one of those mothers that wears pumps to the playground, but by other kids her age. Kids her age. Were ridiculing her. For playing in the mud. What is wrong with this picture? When a five-year-old boy and his younger brother tell your daughter she's weird for pretending to plant a flower, or for sitting in the mud to do it, as a parent, you have two reactions. The first is to scoop up some of that delicious brown goop and smear it across the front of their pristine pastel pima cotton Polos. The second, is to wonder what's become of our children?
Since when does a kid say things like, "Why are you doing that? But you're getting all muddy!" It can only be the influence of some well-meaning adult who mistakenly believes germs come from dirt. Well, put your mind at ease folks. They don't. Illness comes from staying inside, without circulating air, and from over-washing your kid. So, actually, by depriving your child of mud-play, you may be contributing to illness. And, if you're worried, city dwellers, about what unsavory biohazard material clings to the grass your kids desperately need to sit in and yank out in clumps and make whistles out of, look no further than the subway poles you cling to before you come home and bear hug them. We've got it all wrong, I'm afriad. And I say this without yet mentioning the skyrocketing childhood obesity rates that rule our day. Getting your kids dirty means getting them outside, and away from screens, chips, and motionless, roboticized chewing and sipping.
And there's another reason your kids need dirt. Sensory play is a hugely important component to a child's developing brain. I know some parents who think Play Doh is too messy. Let me say that again: I know some parents. Who think Play Doh. Is too messy. To them I confess, I let my daughter loose in the bathtub with a mixture of cornstarch and water (recipe here), because it creates a really cool effect, and she loves it. Additionally, sensory play is of immesurable value to kids with special needs, as it can relax the overstimulated child, and teach the child who shrinks from certain textures to overcome his fears.
So please, please, please, do not send your child to the park in loafers and khakis and Ralph Lauren shirts. Do not send them in white tights and patent leather shoes and lacy dresses and then instruct them not to pick up rocks and sticks. There is a moment for crinoline and button downs, and playtime is not it.
But Jean, you're asking, what in the name of filth has this to do with books? Well I'm glad you asked, Made-up Voice. USA Today recently published an article lamenting the waning appearance of nature in children's books. This article states that the instance of the use of a natural setting in children's books has gone from 40% to 25% in a relatively short time. I can't help but make the connection: kids aren't allowed to get dirty, there are fewer green spaces, kids spend too much free time flitting from screen to screen, instead of from hill to hill, and an author's choice is merely a product of the culture in which she's steeped.
Before we all get too depressed though, let's turn to the silver lining. A movement toward getting kids outside, predicated on the desire to raise them to be stewards of a very ill planet, has taken hold. There is hope for you too, dirt-phobic parents. Don't you remember rolling in the grass, daisy chains, and digging for worms? And you're still here, aren't you? Well, there you have it. So let yours kids learn about the world from a pigs eye-view, will you? And, while you're at it, teach them to be kind to others too, muddy or not.