The Virtues of Dirt

by Laura Gordon - July 15th, 2013

It always cracked me up when I looked at clothing labels for my children that read “dry clean only.” Not only did that item get hung back up rather quickly, but I always said the same thing to myself: who buys this stuff?  If I could not throw a particular item in the washer and dryer, it was not going home with me. Please note that I also put back clothes that required ironing.

Much like Maria from The Sound of Music, I believe children should wear play clothes to, well, play!  Not that I am hand sewing said clothes from old drapery, that would be silly. I don’t even know how to sew. My point is, children need to feel comfortable on many levels to play effectively.  Having clothing that is restrictive, ill-fitting, or “too good” to mar, will inhibit a child’s natural inclination toward discovery.  The old notion of “The Sunday Best” had its merit.  Save the dress-up (read: dry clean only and requiring an iron) for when it is most appropriate.  And just in case you aren’t sure when appropriate is, it is not at day care, school, or summer camp. Ever.

Children learn about their environment, and more importantly their place in it, through exploration and play. And guess what comes with exploration and play? Messes and dirt. Lots of messes and lots of dirt!  And paint, and glue, and glitter. Lots of glitter! My grandmother always reminded us of the “peck of dirt” we were supposed to ingest during childhood.  Among many other things, my grandmother was a wise woman. She knew that dirt happened and more importantly, to let it.  She passed these ideals on to my mom who was always so pleased when I bathed my kids at night and the water ran brown.  Dirty kids are happy kids she would say while I scrubbed layers of glue, paint, and dirt from my babies.

Now that my kids are much older, I still want them to explore their environment with the same curiosity and open-mindedness of a toddler.  However, now that they are responsible for cleaning off their own dirt, I wish they would do it more often.  Shower that it.  They have mastered play!