Do you let your kids get dirty? Do they spend time outside collecting nuts and leaves and chasing squirrels? This past week, the Oxford Junior Dictionary opted to remove dozens of nature words like 'acorn' and 'minnow' from their latest edition and add tech words like 'broadband' and 'chatroom' in their place. This is worrisome.
Montessori honestly didn't say much about children being outside and getting dirty or being in nature. On the one hand, she didn't have to, and on the other hand, it was completely irrelevant.
Montessori didn't have to talk about children's time spent outside because the children she was working with were children whom she had literally plucked off of the streets to bring into her classroom. These were children whose parents left for work in the morning and, being too young for school, but not babies anymore, took to the streets where they ran amok, got into trouble and generally drove the Roman police crazy. "Street urchins" were what she called them in her early writings, if you can believe it.
On the other hand, the notion of getting dirty and spending time in nature was completely irrelevant in bustling central Rome in 1907. Doctors' understanding of the transmission of disease, let alone bacteria and viruses, was extremely limited. (Have you read this fascinating book?) Montessori wrote a lot on the notion of the supra-nature, or the environment that we as mankind have constructed atop the earth's nature, but in the middle of Rome, there is not much nature to speak of and it was not a big part of those children's lives. They spent plenty of time outside in the city.
Montessori's work therefore centered around providing something else: An indoor classroom with lessons and activities for the children's brains. Knowing that there was a profound an undeniable connection between the brain and the movement of the young child's body, Montessori integrated this movement into her work. She also advocated for a garden, courtyard, or similar outdoor space seamlessly connected to the classroom itself. But beyond that, it wasn't the primary need of those children in 1907 Rome.
But nowadays, as evidenced by the removal of obsolete words like 'blueberry' and the addition of relevant words like 'bandwidth' in a children's dictionary, children are not playing outside nearly enough. In "Dirty Kids: How Germs Can Be Your Child's Best Friend," Ben Greenfield lays out good ways to expose your children to dirt for health's sake. He writes,
Don't Bathe/Shower Every Day -- In our post-Victorian, cleanliness-obsessed culture, it can be tempting to give our children a daily warm bath, followed of course by a perfect hairdo and a color-coordinated outfit from the Gap. But sometimes it's OK to let the dirt ferment on your child. On many a summer day, our boys go two or three days getting dirty and playing outside without a bar of soap in sight -- and while they get a bit stinky and stained, this is a fabulous stimulus for their immune system.
You can read the full article here.
Our children get very dirty and play outside just about every day. We skip a bath now and then, but I like to have clean children climb into my bed at night when they inevitably do! ;) I searched for months at several different stores before finding a good nail brush. This one is soft and gentle, yet still works!
It did make me wonder, when I couldn't find a nail brush at several stores specializing in children's gear, if perhaps nail brushes are no longer an essential part of children's lives given how little they play outside? Is this really happening? I'd love to hear your thoughts on your children's frequency and enjoyment of being outside, getting dirty and spending time in nature. Coco and Theo are never happier than when they're doing all three!
Old Montessori photograph via Dream Before You