A Day in the Dirt: For the Sake of Learning


Learning in our backyard is one of the most powerful tools during this time of restricted travel and playgrounds and pools being closed or limited. Now is the time to find entertainment and learning with your kids right outside your door. It’s as easy as studying insects, worms, and leaves in the dirt. Finding a tree to climb or a puddle to jump in.

Learning in the dirt

Exploring Creativity

Playing, or as I like to call it learning, outdoors is a great way for kids to explore creative and imaginative play. When your kids are making mud pies or building stick forts, they are creating adventurous storylines and complex characters to enhance the entertainment value of their latest creation.

Sensory Play

Learning outdoors for little ones is especially helpful in the development of sensory play. Encourage your kids to smoosh mud between their toes, roll down a grassy hill, or hold a fuzzy caterpillar in the palm of their hand. The fresh air, the breeze, and sunshine all add to the experience and can positively affect your child’s overall mood.

Self-Directed Learning

As much as we want to direct the learning that our children are experiencing, playing outside is one of those times to step back, stop explaining, and let them be. The best teacher outdoors is nature itself. Let them turn rocks over and look for worms, give them the okay to not use a shovel but rather their bare hands, and once in awhile challenge them to jump in the puddle instead of going around it.

Strategies to be Safe

One thing is for sure, there is no nature-deficit disorder in my house. Raising two little boys who prefer the less traveled road (figuratively), we find ourselves in lots of unique and dirty scenarios. When your children are risk-takers and adventure seekers in the outdoors, sometimes their curiosity can get the best of them. Here are a few strategies to help guide your children into safe learning while outdoors.

Refrain from telling your children to “Be careful.”

Instead, ask them what their plan is or if they feel stable and safe? This approach also encourages critical thinking and cause and effect of actions.

Be a good role model: even in the mud.

If you demonstrate that touching the dirt is silly and fun, your children will want to participate alongside you. This is especially critical if your usual response to dirty things is ‘eww’ or ‘gross.’ Your children may be conditioned by previous experiences to think that getting dirty is not acceptable.

Introduce old toys to a new environment.

Long gone are the days where my boys will drive their dump trucks around the house and be entertained. Once I allowed them to take the dump trucks outside, their once-forgotten toy has endless uses for hauling sticks, grass, and rocks.

Being outside and getting dirty is for everyone!

While I am the mom of school-aged boys, my toddler niece loves to create dandelion necklaces and dream up rain puddle swimming pools complete with leaf beach towels for her baby dolls. Outdoor play does not discriminate.

Dirt and Learning

Remember, both kids and clothes can be washed. Go have your kids spend a day learning in the dirt—I dare you!

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Becka is an Iowa native who moved to Omaha in June 2015. She is one half of a higher education couple, a mom to identical twin boys (Avery and Elliot 2014) and two sassy wiener dogs (Nora and Knox). Becka enjoys the craziness of twins and the unpredictability of each day. Even with three degrees, most recently a doctorate in higher education, she continues to find herself googling things like “pachycephalosaurus + herbivore” or “excavator vs digger.” With two very energetic and curious preschoolers at home Becka enjoys the peacefulness of her daily commute to Lincoln where she is a coordinator in the Nebraska Business Honors Academy. Becka loves being outdoors in her garden, on the lake with her family, or sitting on the patio with a friend. Her kryptonite is diet coke, peanut m&m’s and a kid free Target trip.