The Benefits of Digging in the Dirt

The Benefits of Digging in the Dirt
In his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, which introduced the world to the term “nature-deficit disorder,” journalist Richard Louv argued that children need to unplug from computers and smartphones and reconnect with the original way of learning about the world: by wandering around outside. Louv’s book, naturally, was a big hit with environmentalists (the National Audubon Society and Wilderness Education Association were among those who gave him awards). But now that I have a child of my own and read as much about parenting and child development as I do about the environment, I’m increasingly aware that it’s not just the eco-minded who are calling for more mud pies and fewer LeapFrog computers for preschoolers. It seems that everywhere I turn, there’s another reminder that our children need less time in front of screens and more time figuring things out for themselves.

So this past summer, I enrolled my then year-and-a-half-old daughter in a parent-child class at the Brooklyn Forest School in Prospect Park, just a couple of blocks from our home. We walked to the park once a week and met up with other families to pour some water on dirt to make mud, share a snack, poke a stick in the water, and sing songs. The forest school, one of many across the country that takes the place of traditional preschools and kindergarten classrooms, isn’t a new concept. The first forest kindergarten opened outside Seattle in 2007, but programs like this one are becoming increasingly…
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