Let the Kids Get Dirty

let them get dirty 2025

A clean freak’s tips for outdoor play

As a recovering clean freak, I often create excuses to avoid going outside. Kids have a knack for achieving maximum grubbiness outdoors. My 3-year-old likes to smear mud on his face. He also rubs sand on his scalp for fun. My younger son, a baby, refuses to be carried when we’re outside. He prefers to crawl through the dirt, mouthing every rock and woodchip he can find. Nature provides a bounty of choking hazards! Then comes the laundry, the wet shoes, the mopping. Is an hour of fresh air really worth all the trouble?

It sure is. According to Children & Nature Network, an organization dedicated to connecting children and communities with the outdoors, playing outdoors can improve or prevent attention difficulties, obesity and mood disorders. It also provides a rich sensory experience that promotes learning and civic-mindedness.

So, how can clean freaks overcome hang-ups about dirt? Local author and educator Cynthia Jenson-Elliot says most people have fun once they jump in and give grime a try. When Jenson-Elliott does gardening workshops with kids and teachers, she tells them they don’t have to touch anything and are welcome to just look, but they can’t resist exploring with their hands.

“We get so much of our information about the world with our hands,” Jenson-Elliot says. “Our very brain development is dependent on getting our hands into everything. Even dirt!”

To overcome dirt-phobia, allow yourself to take pleasure in sunshine, breezes and plant life. Replace anxious thoughts with genuine wonder at the beauty of nature. Sure, kids get dirty outside, but with practice, they’ll learn to remove muddy clothes and shoes at the door. The more time you spend in nature, the more you’ll crave. And here’s a bonus: Kids who play outside have less time to clutter up the house.

Ready to explore and give it a shot? Read “Let the Kids Get Dirty—6 Fun Places to Play Outdoors in San Diego.”

We’d love to see your photos as you’re out exploring! Post photos on Instagram, mention @sandiegofamilymagazine in your post and use #sdoutandabout.


Anne Malinoski is a freelance writer and mother of two boys. She’s been described as “indoorsy,” but she’s working on it.

For more fun, read “Let the Kids Get Messy: A clean freak’s guide to sensory play.”


published 2017



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