“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”—Rachel Carson

We all feel it—that sense of panic that our kid’s eyes are turning into squares from watching too much television, that they are missing the essential piece of childhood that we had growing up. We can’t help comparing the way we spent our youth to the way our kids do. How we were left to our own devices and not to our electronic devices. We sit at playgrounds together and talk about how we never even wanted to be inside, that as soon as the bus dropped us home, we were off on wild adventures. But the reality is that our kids live in a very different world today and let’s face it, we didn’t have I-pads. Regardless, there is still the wonderful enticement of getting dirty that we remember and want our kids to experience. This book is a reminder of things you probably know, but I hope by showing them in a different format something might spark for you and your child. It is a book about getting dirty, getting a little wet, but mostly it is about being engaged. It is about taking simple natural materials and turning them into activities that will hold any kid’s attention for more than five minutes—activities that will not only get them dirty but hopefully will pique their curiosity and creativity, allowing them to slow down. Having these experiences together, to wonder at things together, to ask how something happens and then look for answers together, these times are the antidote to that earlier fear I mentioned. Just a few of these experiences will cement a love of the world outside your door. All you need to do to “keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies,” as Rachel Carson advises,  “is to provide the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Some of you might worry when you see a book called Muddy Boots that the mess will be too much to deal with. But heed this advice given to me by my daughter when she was about eight: “Mom, you need to stop cleaning all the time and make some memories.” Some of us have inherently high thresholds for chaos and others score very low on the mess-o-meter. But helping kids learn how to get really dirty and then how to clean it up promotes independence and self-care. Plus, there are all those studies now about how dirt is good for the immune system. So go ahead, let them get dirty, and, as authors Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks wisely advise, “Let children become completely immersed in nature. Allow them to get soaked to the skin in a summer rainstorm or plastered from head to foot in mud; let them stain their hands and arms with blackberry juice or have play fights with newly mown grass. Give them the freedom to muck about, get dirty, and generally have fun.” And as you let them get dirty and play with this amazing world around us, I hope they will help you reconnect with your younger self. I hope that you will watch your kids and remember the forts you built, the long summer days chasing crickets and fireflies, and again to cite Rachel Carson, “Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils, and finger tips, opening up to the disused channels of sensory impression.”