Dressing for Success for Kids Means Getting Dirty

from Wildlife Promise

Dirt can be beneficial for kids; it actually benefits the heart, skin, and immune system, and may even increase happiness (flickr | Mandajuice)

NWF’s new report, The Dirt on Dirt, brings back memories for me about the joy that being dirty provides kids.

When my oldest son was 9 or 10 he went to his first sleep-away camp with the Boy Scouts. He spent weeks beforehand combing through the camp guide highlighting all the outdoor badges he wanted to earn at camp.

Being a diligent first-time mom I made sure he packed all the requisite items included on the “What to Bring” list including sleeping bag, bug spray, flash light, three or four pair of shorts, two pair of long pants, six to eight t-shirts, and of course underwear and socks for every day.

I had the normal trepidation about sending my child to camp for the first time, but I knew when he stepped off the bus a week later that I had no reason to worry. He looked filthy but was beaming from ear to ear and couldn’t wait to regale us with stories about his outdoor adventures.

A Surprise for Mom

Upon bringing our ragamuffin home, I decided I better tackle his laundry so began to unpack his duffle bag.  First item on top was a wet swimsuit, no surprise there. But under the swimsuit I discovered ALL the clothes I had so neatly packed for him, nicely folded as I had left them, clearly never having been removed from the duffle bag. It became evident to me that my son had lived all week in one pair of shorts and the one camp-provided t-shirt he still had on for the bus ride home, switching into his swimsuit for water sports. My guess is he even abandoned underwear altogether half way through the week. When I suggested a shower might be in order I got this “Mom, do I have to?” whine because somehow that week of accumulated dirt represented a world he wasn’t ready to let go of.

My take away from this experience was that when kids are having fun exploring nature, getting dirty, and learning about the natural world around them, clean clothes become irrelevant.  They become so absorbed in their world of green that many of our mom-driven priorities, like staying clean, disappear. It’s part of what makes being a kid so great. And getting dirty is a liberty we as parents should allow our children without remand.

Mom Learned Her Lesson

Needless to say, the next year when my son went to camp, his duffle bag was far lighter, having learned my lesson about what’s important when boys venture off into the great outdoors. I’m happy to say, my son , now 26, still loves being outdoors, hiking, camping, and fishing.  Playing in the dirt still gives him joy, but at least now he also welcomes a hot shower when he returns home.

Get Dirty!

Get  The Dirt on Dirt in NWF’s new report and share with us stories and photos  of your dirty kids, the best ones will win some fun prizes. The report details how getting messy outside actually benefits the heart, skin, and immune system, and how playing outside in the dirt increases happiness, reduces anxiety and enhances learning.

You can also check out NWF’s Activity Finder to sort outdoor activity ideas by your child’s age, time available, cost, and other filters to find what will most interest you and your family; check out other benefits of getting kids back outdoors; or see our quick Parents’ Guide about how to get started on getting kids outside.