- Toddler: at this age, your child is likely perfectly comfortable getting down and dirty. At dinner tonight, put away the cutlery and eat with your hands. Enjoy the texture, the colors, the sheer squishy sensation of feeling your food before you eat it. If you didn’t pick the ingredients from a garden, tell a five-minute story about the journey your food has taken to get to your plate. Imagine the worms that fertilized that garden squirming around your food just before the farmer’s hand pulled it out of the ground. Say a blessing for all involved in helping plant, grow, tend, harvest, package, and deliver your daily food.
- Preschooler: get some vegetable or flower or herb seeds, find a spot in the yard or pot you can fill with dirt, and plant the seeds with your child: no gardening gloves allowed! Or find a lonely, long-forgotten houseplant stashed somewhere in your home and offer it a fresh start in a bigger, nutrient-rich, new dirt home (either in your garden or in a larger pot). Notice where your comfort zone ends with getting dirt under your nails or on your clothes. Water the earth until it’s nice and muddy and pat down the surface together with loving care. Talk about how the dirt will give nourishment and protection to the seed while it grows. See dirt as life-giving and positive rather than a menace.
- Early elementary student: it’s probably been a few years now since your child has run barefoot around the yard, on the beach, or on a playground. It’s time to kick off the shoes and find some interesting paths to walk barefoot. Spend five minutes finding as many different surfaces to walk on — some surfaces may even hurt if your tender toes have been cooped up too long. This is where some physical courage might come in handy!
- Upper elementary student or ‘tween: See if you have any long-forgotten clay or a tube of facial mud mask around the house. Plan to spend five minutes with your hands in the clay sculpting some exotic creature, or give each other a five-minute mud mask facial. If you have the opportunity, on the next rainy day find a mud puddle and surprise yourself and your child by sitting in it! Let go of the worry of dry-cleaning costs and what the neighbors may think. Bask in the healing properties of mud; have you ever noticed how contented pigs seem to be? There’s a reason. Let the nutrients in the mud rejuvenate you and your ‘tween.
- High schooler or teen: It’s time for your teen to cook tonight. The meal could be as simple as spaghetti or scrambled eggs, but it’s going to be served with a twist. Tonight, dinner is to be served on the floor! We are not suggesting that you simply sit on the floor to eat off your plates, but that you actually eat off the floor. This could bring up all kinds of inner and outer resistance; notice what you’re feeling and explore with your teen what’s coming up for them. This may provide the perfect opportunity to test what you and your child’s comfort level with getting down and dirty is just before they leave home and eat off someone else’s floor. You could also try just eating on the floor together, as many cultures around this world do everyday. You may need to revisit some of the earlier dirt workouts if your teen seems to have skipped a few stages of getting comfortable with dirt. Improvisational workouts like this provide an opportunity to practice the kind of emotional, social, physical and for cognitive flexibility that today’s world requires.
Research suggests that playing with dirt exposes us to beneficial bacteria, and also allows us to build resistance to the less friendly microbes. Working on these skills may call upon different types of courage, depending upon your child’s particular strengths and/or temperament. For example, asking some children to play in the dirt may require physical courage, for others social courage if they care what their pals think. Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child needs to complete this workout.