On Raising Kids: The Power of Running Wild


I grew up running wild outdoors. My parents rarely knew where my siblings and I were after we flew out the backdoor, probably a good thing. We were swimming in muddy ditches, having dirt clod wars, falling from trees, and biking in the dark with pop cans stomped to our feet and dragged on the road to see if we could raise sparks. We raised sparks alrighty—in our bodies and souls and moral imaginations. We made pacts and held secrets, we formed alliances, covered for each other and felt no need to ask for our outdoor freedom, we just went out the door and didn’t look back until dinnertime when our fierce appetites sent us home.d1f49dc495b711e29f5522000a9f14ae_6

Things are different for kids today. Parents are more careful with their child’s discretionary time and curb the outdoor freedom that they grew up with. Their children’s’ days are structured with classes, sports, and activities. What little time is left is eaten up with screen time. As my children grew up I was often stumped that parents would allow their children to watch violent movies and play video games of destruction, but not allow them to climb a tree or get muddy. Technology and screen time seemed to me far more dangerous than a little dirt or the arms of an apple tree.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after a stressful situation—a change of plans, trauma, uncertainty—and adapt to the new situation with inner skills. These skills are developed, not bestowed. Oh if only it was as easy as waving a magic wand over our kids’ heads! Plink! This too will pass, but it is not. It is a growing process, and it is up to parents to invite this powerful attribute to come along for the ride. Most of the ride to resiliency involves healthy doses of uncertainty, and there is a wild and wonderful arena available for this, out the back door, free of charge—the Great Unknown of weather and mud puddles and hidey-holes. The Scandinavians, famous for their year-round outdoor kindergartens have a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Bundle them up in waterproof suits, dress them in layers. Human bodies are washable and dryable!

Here are 10 top-notch ways for kids to play outside in the mud where there are treasures of imagination and strength waiting:
1. Make a mudpie kitchen. Put together a plastic bin of old pots and pans, spoons, spatulas, cups, muffin tins, and butter knives
2. Dig for buried treasure! Bury plastic dinosaurs and toy animals or rocks spray painted gold or coins. Supply a small hand trowel and let the kids dig
3. Make mud soup—give them a large plastic bowl or pot, add dirt, water, and the herbs of grass and leaves. Ladle it up into cups
4. Create a wild pile of sand, dirt or pea gravel. Washed construction sand, or pea gravel can be ordered very inexpensively by the yard from a gravel supply company. There are a variety of ways you can present the sand or gravel. It can be as simple as a pile in a remote corner of the yard (the best option!), to a ground level built-in box on the deck (easy clean up! Simply sweep the sand back into the box!). You can also use a child’s plastic swimming pool as a sand box (punch drain holes with a large nail in the bottom of the pool before placing the sand)
5. Paint mud art! Fill a plastic bucket halfway with water, add enough dirt for a pancake batter consistency, stir it up and use large paint brushes on a long strip of butcher paper (waxed side down)
3102915a41efa9930ad2e3a2ee3c77346. Make mud bricks in an ice cube tray. Pack damp dirt into the tray and allow to dry. Given our damp Northwest weather you may have to bring them into the garage or a dry place to cure
7. Plumb the backyard with lengths of PVC pipe and joiners. You can easily pre-cut the pipe yourself with a PVC pipe cable saw
8. Supply a giant bag of colorful golf tees, and let the kids poke or hammer them into the ground for free-form art
9. Collect old bricks and use mud as mortar to build with
10. Use wood scraps—often given away for free at building supply stores—or use an old set of wooden blocks to build a mud city
11. Remember that good childhood memories are not made of clean clothes and polished shoes!5181ZjXd3uL._SX425_

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  1. What a great article Nancy. My children are aged 7, 8 and 9 and when a friend gave us their old Wii last year I was nervous that they would become a little obsessed with it. However, to my great joy I need not have worried. On the same weekend that we acquired the Wii, my husband attached a rope to a tree in our front yard. The Wii simply could not compete with swinging around on that rope. Each day for weeks they had to be dragged inside just on dark, and their neighbourhood friends all gathered to join in the fun. I was so heartened to think that a simple rope and the act of swinging around under a shady tree was all they wanted to do. Watching them out in the fresh air, laughing with their friends while they all lined up for their turn was heartwarming. There’s no denying it – kids like the simple stuff.

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