Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dirty Words

Felt Board activities can be fun for young children. So my eye was drawn in by one posted on the HGTV Facebook page. Take a look.

No dirt, no mess. Just hours and hours of fun!

It's a felt board garden, complete with soil, blue sky, flowers, and vegetables. Right now when the weather is teasing us with Spring but it is still too cold to plant, a pretend-play garden looks rather appealing. And for adults who have nostalgic feelings about playing with felt boards (or do you call them flannel boards?) the thought of playing "garden" is amplified through our own lens of childhood  memories.

Just one thing though. "No dirt, no mess."

We have far too much of that these days. We're all about keeping clean and using sanitizing wipes and single use disposable items that help keep life germ-free. And it's good to get clean, I don't dispute that. It's good to step up to the sink with warm water and make bubbles with the soap. But first--

Get dirty.

Go play outside, as long as it isn't frighteningly below freezing or pouring enough to wash you away. Dress for the weather. Collect rocks and sticks, build things, dig in the mud. Splash in puddles. Bury your hands in sand or mulch or pebbles and then wiggle them to break free. Pretend you are exploring Mars. Or building a castle. Or creating a secret hideaway.

Play is the true work of childhood. It provides the optimal environment for learning. Playing outside and interacting with the natural environment is enriching from so many standpoints. It is multi-sensory. It encourages scientific observation and experimentation. It is a natural springboard to symbolic and imaginative play. It provides an opportunity to express and test our bodies. Social play supports language and social-emotional development. Solitary play provides much needed "down time" where children can recharge.

Truth in advertising: I didn't do anywhere near as much of this as many children do, because I had allergies and asthma and was prone to illness. As my mother used to say, I "caught every cold that walked down the street." I think that is why I still remain unsure about most outdoor physical challenges. I had very little opportunity to test myself physically as I grew. I never developed that sense of competence about my body and what it could do. And so I thought that some kids were just born good at those things, and I wasn't.

I excelled at sitting in a comfy chair in the corner and reading a book. And that's a good thing, too. But some of my most vivid memories from childhood are of interactions with nature: a treehouse built by a friend's dad, playing in the hills of dirt and mud created as a neighborhood lot was prepared for building. Visiting a certain stream where you could walk across on slippery stones, teetering...

I have a feeling that most of the people who read my blog already understand the truth of what I am saying. But on the off-chance that you or someone you know feels squeamish about dirt and making a mess, perhaps we need a new slogan. How about:

Go outside.
For dirt, mess, and
Hours and hours of fun!

It's good for grown ups, too.

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