Montessori Monday: Getting Dirty

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,

Play Outside -- I wish this tip could go without saying, but the sad truth is that the great percentage of children spend more time indoors on Wii and Xbox than they do outdoors getting dirty. On any nice afternoon, we kick our kids out into the backyard to explore, and since they were tiny toddlers, they always return with dirt under their fingernails (or possibly animal dung), mud around their noses and mouths, and weeds and wild grasses lodged in their clothes. These are all immune system boosters that far outweigh the inconvenience of having to wash dirty children. Which leads me to my next point... 
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


  1. Oh my goodness! I am disgusted by the removal of those nature words from the jr. dictionary, but definitely not disgusted by a muddy child. I think it's so cute! We live in a tiny duplex with a tiny yard, and I send my son outside to play as often as possible. I fill a bucket with water, and he finds a spot to make mud. I love to watch him digging and searching for roly polies. He also loves to ride the nature trails near our house on his balance bike, which he calls his "mountain bike." I have to confess that we do give him a bath every day, but we wash his hair only a couple of times/week.

  2. We are definitely a "get down in the dirt" family.
    It's sad that those words were removed from the dictionary...I had no idea!

    *Just wanted to say a quick thank you for bringing The Sunday Studio to my attention...I am terrible with blogging templates...I just purchased one of hers and LOVE it! Thanks! :)

  3. We recently bought my parents' farm and watching our five-year-old evolve proves it was the best decision we ever made. He rolls out of bed in the morning and is gone for hours until he's hungry. I heard him crashing through the bushes last week chanting, "We're top of the food chain! We eat everything!" I'd call this move a success. lol


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