'Dirt doesn't Hurt'

Child playing in mudThe G21 region became part of a growing international movement aimed at boosting kids’ mental wellbeing through increased outdoor activity with reduced direct adult supervision.

The ‘Dirt Doesn’t Hurt’ partnership of GMHBA, Barwon Health, G21, Batforce, City of Greater Geelong (CoGG), Surf Coast Shire (SCS) and the Geelong Kindergarten Association (GKA) worked throughout 2013 to spread the message through a campaign across the G21 region.

The campaign targeted the parents of children aged up to 8 years using parent information forums, posters, brochures and the aptly named “bucket and spade” list which encouraged families to create a list of experiences they wished their children to have before they reached age 8.

Active in Parks manager with the People and Parks Foundation, Ms Sue Noonan said there was a growing realisation globally that children needed more freedom, independence and opportunities to experience the outdoors to improve their mental health.

“Groups such as ‘Free Range Kids’ from the US and ‘Rethinking Childhood’ from the UK are communicating the same message – get kids outside, amongst nature and being able to play without adult participation,” Ms Noonan said at the time.

“It’s a common sense approach.  We’re going back to basics, to the kind of childhood many of us can remember where as kids we were able to interact with nature, explore and play in our local outdoor environment with minimal interaction from our parents.

“Exploring, making mistakes and learning from them is all part of a natural development process that has become less common in our society, with potentially damaging impacts on the mental wellbeing of kids.”

Ms Noonan said the most recent Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) results for the CoGG and the SCS showed a worrying trend of children starting school emotionally and socially vulnerable, with the potential for this to continue into secondary school.

“According to the AEDI community profiles 17.8% of children within the Surf Coast Shire and 24% of children within the City of Greater Geelong are ‘at risk’, or vulnerable, in the area of ‘social competence’,” Ms Noonan said.

“And 18.6% of children within the Surf Coast Shire and 23.4% in the City of Greater Geelong are considered ‘at risk’ or vulnerable in the area of ‘emotional maturity’.

“Children have lost the opportunity to play in natural environments and do the sorts of things we used to do as kids, such as walk to school, climb trees, build a raft or even make choices about how to spend their time.

“It’s not too late. If we can get our kids outside and let them know we trust them, not only will we improve their emotional and mental health, we will potentially also improve our obesity rates!  It’s a win win,” Ms Noonan said.

Available for Download: Dirt Doesn't Hurt poster (8mb)