December 7, 2014

The Mud Pie Manifesto: 5 Things Children should do Outdoors, No Matter what Grownups Say.


Children of America, put down your smartphones. You have only your chains to lose!

With the best of intentions to nurture your development, an entire generation of parents has unwittingly removed you from your natural habitat.

Indeed, in the interest of keeping you safe, clean and productive, we have done nothing short of facilitating your mass migration to the great indoors. We have fundamentally altered the landscape of childhood from one of backyards, city parks, meadows and woodlots into one of synthetic soccer fields, endless carpools and the electronic devices that already consume as much of your days as a full-time job inevitably will.

And instead of feeding your sense of wonder, we have forsaken the simple pleasures of simply being for the mind-numbing buzz of our preoccupation with being connected at all times.

The cruelest irony is that in almost every way, this is not how we, ourselves, grew up.

So, if you can, please forgive us our madness. And I beg you to listen to me: don’t listen to us.

Open the door. Go outside. And begin by doing these five things, no matter what grownups might say.

1. Climb a Tree

Once, sometime after we were apes but before we became lawyers, our species permitted its children to climb, swing and play freely in the trees. Did some of them fall? Certainly—but what better place than the original jungle gym to contemplate risk and test your limits, all while building strength and breathing fresh air?

And while your predecessors undoubtedly couldn’t match your generation’s texting and gaming skills, studies confirm the obvious: that they were leaner, fitter and stronger—a significant and measurable difference over the last decade alone.

2. Make Mud Pies

Adults who look disapprovingly upon the act of making mud pies have either forgotten their own childhood or never had a proper one in the first place. Disregard them—and their instruments of clean laundry—at all costs.

Squishing mud-luscious earth through your fingers and giving it shape is a primal creative urge you simply must satisfy. If pressed, remind your parents that getting dirty actually is good, clean fun; University of Bristol researchers have found that exposure to the bacteria in soil can raise the brain’s serotonin levels and lift one’s mood. Who knows—they might even join you.

3. Jump in Leaves

When you grow older, you may gain insight through the practice of meditation or mindfulness. While you are young, you would do just as well to practice the art of leaf jumping. With rake in hand, you will toil to bring order out of chaos by heaping fallen leaves into a pile.

And when all is done, you will again be surrounded by the disorder of scattered leaves, the fruits of your labor consumed. But for a few glorious seconds in between, you will run and leap into that pile with pure, joyful abandon, suspended on the razor line between anticipation and memory, and you will never be more present than you are at that moment. Just don’t forget to check yourself for ticks when you’re through.

4. Stare into Space

Grownups would have you believe that always being busy is the same thing as always being productive. Forgive them, for they simply may have forgotten that what looks like nothing really can be something.

After all, it’s easiest to gain perspective when you’re not in motion. Lie on your back as a parade of clouds drifts by, and wait for ephemeral works of art to appear. Or look up into the starry night to stare edgewise at our own galaxy from within—or even to consider distant stars like Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, whose light will have traveled through space for more than a thousand years before falling on your eyes. Then, go do your homework.

5. Wish on a Dandelion

Above all, remember that every adult once was a child who jumped in puddles, made swords of sticks and caught fireflies by the jarful on languid summer evenings. But inside of us—deeper for some of us than others—that child remains, and we need all the magic we can get. So when you see a dandelion that’s gone to seed, its head puffy and white, you know what to do: make a wish, say the magic words, and blow.

Please just don’t do it in my yard.


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Author: Todd Christopher

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s Own

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