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Dirt is Good

Dirt is Good
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Dirt is Good

Kirstie Profile SmallDid your kids get muddy today? How about this week? This month? And more to the point did you? In our selfie driven, image conscious world we can sometimes forget the exhilaration of coming home with dirty hands, knees and faces. And that kind of messy only really comes from being outdoors. In this post, a collaboration with Persil to help launch their ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign, we share findings on how little time kids in the UK spend outside these days, look at the importance of getting outdoors with the family and and give some tips on encouraging your kids to enjoy nature through play… and play through nature…

Swinging on trees outdoors

When was the last time you or the kids hung or swung around outside?

Where’s Hannah?

I call Hannah so see what she wants for her dinner. But she’s not here. She’s out at the local playground. Of course. I should have guessed. With the nights getting lighter she’s rarely at home after school. She has keepie uppies to practise, and netballs to shoot and friends to play with. Around here there’s often a convention of ten year olds meeting in the school grounds after hours. I comment on this when my Mum rings. I thought she’d approve but she’s more concerned I don’t seem know precisely where my daughter is. I remind her of my own childhood tearing around on a bike and returning home hungry at 6pm. It was a different world, she replies.

Cycling on beach at Morecambe

The freedom of the bike – is it a feature of your kids’ childhood?

A different world but yet the same

It was a different world. And yet it is the same world.  Technology and family life may have changed but we are still human and the big wide world is still just outside. Kids still want to run around, splash in puddles, climb trees and jump off walls. Daisies still wait to be woven into chains, buttercups want to tell you if you like butter. Sticks still turn you into dragon slayers. Cats still purr to be petted. Nettles still sting. Worms still wiggle. Streams wait for pooh sticks. Dandelions tell the time. Rainbows still promise a pot of gold. Poke your head outside and you’ll quickly find that despite changes in lifestyle the childhood we had still lies in wait beyond the front door. But kids can’t unlock it stuck inside. We parents have to let them out, take them out, maybe even shove them out.

Last Child in the Woods

What about the freedom to climb trees? When did you last climb one?

Inadvertent jailers?

I think my generation and those that came after may have forgotten that the world is made to be played in, and that it’s good fun and good for us to play in it too. Consumed in equal measures by fear and technology, it’s too easy to keep our children under our noses, keep their knees clean and shoes polished, and encourage them to learn and explore with keyboards instead of buckets and spades.

In my own home Hannah’s keenness to be outdoors is trumped by two boys who increasingly hate to leave the house unless there’s a bribe involved. But even so I was shocked to read some of the findings from the ‘Play in Balance’ report commissioned by Persil to launch their ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign. Researchers polled over 12,000 parents of 5-12 year olds in 10 countries worldwide and the UK results suggest that that the top barriers to outdoor play are the unreliable British weather (82 per cent), lack of time (31 per cent) and children wanting to stay inside (31 per cent), all problems I can relate to.  What shocked me though was the suggestion that three quarters (74 per cent) of UK children spend less time outdoors each day than the 60 minute minimum recommended by the UNHRC for prison inmates.

It’s a powerful comparison which raises interesting questions like has our attitude to technology and risk made us parents inadvertent jailers? And if so shouldn’t we at least be acting responsibly to enforce the daily hour in the yard?

Have we inadvertently become the jailers of our children?

Have we inadvertently become the jailers of our children?

The games that time forgot

The survey revealed other knock-ons that come from the lack of outdoor play. Like the risk of unplayed traditional games being forgotten. Over half of the under 7s questioned (55 per cent) said they have never played conkers, in fact over half couldn’t identify a British oak tree. Children are not getting stuck in the mud and going to rescue each other either. I find myself wondering when was the last time I saw a child with a skipping rope or elastics to play cat’s cradle.

Kids playing in fields of Kranjska Gora Slovenia

Let’s not forget the power and importance of the simple pleasures of being outdoors and playing games

Dirt is good

As a company that encourages messy play, Persil is hoping to kick start some activity outdoors. It wants to help kids and parents discover or rediscover muddy happy childhoods with a new project. Dirt is Good is focussed on encouraging children to spend more time playing and interacting with nature. It aims to provide parents with the resources they need to encourage their children to get outdoors and to support learning through play and includes a partnership with the Wild Network with activities and tips on using the great outdoors as a fun ‘classroom’ for kids.

You might remember The Wild Network from the film Project Wild Thing. When we first saw that film we wrote a post on the idea of marketing nature to kids. The Wild Network is still on its mission to re-wild childhood; to help kids roam free, play wild and live nature-rich lives and it wants you to get involved. Mark Sears, Chief Wild Officer at The Wild Network says the ‘Play in Balance’ research highlights everything that they know at The Wild Network about today’s children “They aren’t getting enough outdoor play and it has serious consequences.  Yet the evidence is overwhelming – outdoor play is vital for children, it makes them happier and healthier.  Free the Kids.”

Persil has also created ‘Free the Kids’, a thought-provoking film that illustrates the issue.  Filmed in a maximum security prison in Wabash, Indiana, Director Toby Dye spoke to prison inmates about what their outdoors time meant to them and asked them what they thought it would be like to have less than 60 minutes a day in the yard.

Play matters

The science showing the significance of play and importance of connection with nature has never been stronger.

  • We know that in our pre-packaged sugar soaked society keeping active helps children stay fit and avoid obesity.
  • We know playing develops the brain as well as the body; it helps boost creativity, imaginative thinking and the ability to assess and manage risks.
  • We know playing together is good for family bonding, providing shared experiences, opportunities for communication and a chance to see each other in a different light.
  • We know playing out encourages children to connect with and take responsibility for nature, helps reduce stress levels and tires them out in time for bed.
  • We know many kids don’t get out enough.
  • We know as parents it’s our responsibility to fling open the door and do something about it.

This isn’t really about what children want. It’s what they need. Kids’ health, imagination, wellbeing and relationship with the natural world depends upon play, especially in the formative years. Getting out to playing shouldn’t be optional. It should be mandated! That’s the kind of jailers we parents should be.

Shoes stuck in the mud on The RIver Thames

You ruined your lovely shoes? Well done.

What about you?

What do you think? Do your kids get outside enough? Do they play enough? What tips do you have to share on getting kids (and parents) out and playing together more? Do leave a comment and let us know.

Climbing on Tresco near the Ruin Bay Beach Cafe

What will you do to get out and play with your family?

 Get involved with #DirtisGood

If you’d like to get involved with the Dirt is Good campaign to help get your kids playing out more then why not:

  • Visit for ideas on how you can get out today and play with your child.
  • Join the #DirtisGood conversation on social media. @PersilUK wants to hear what stops you and the kids from getting outside and how you feel about letting them out to play.
  • Ask your child’s school to sign up for Empty Classroom Day -a global initiative aiming to get children around the world learning outside of the classroom this summer.
Kids playing with worms in the woods

Getting dirty on an empty classroom day

Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in association with Persil UK to help promote their Dirt is Good campaign. It’s an idea we wholeheartedly endorse despite the consequences for the washing machine. The research quoted was carried out in February and March 2016 by Edelman Berland on behalf of Persil and the video produced for the Free the Kids campaign.  As ever, the other experiences, opinions, ideas and all the photography are all our own. 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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