Every Kid Deserves a Good Pair of Boots
We are blessed with lots of rain here in the Pacific Northwest. After living in the desert of Arizona for 3 years, I LOVE the rain. I appreciate how much life it brings to this valley. And we’ve almost survived our first rainy season here. Locals tell us that we should be prepared to get wet up until the 4th of July, but we’ve seen a definite turn towards spring in the weather these last few weeks. We’re enjoying warmer temperatures and more sunshine, plus we’re getting to reap the benefits in blooming trees and fresh produce.
But, I’m not going to lie. The rainy winter is long. In January and February, weeks would go by without sunshine, and that wears on everyone. It’s tempting to cozy up inside with hot tea and watch the water run down the windows all winter. Thing is, I know a certain toddler and a certain dog that need to enjoy the freedom of being outside every day. And it turns out, I have that need, too. I just get internally grumpy when I don’t get my outside time. Kids and dogs get very externally grumpy.
Another thing we’re blessed with in our neighborhood: a meadow. It takes up about half of a block, and it is just open space cared for by folks in the neighborhood. It is edged by flowering trees and some native plants chosen to attract pollinators. (Yesterday, BabyC met her first bee in the meadow, and I think all the buzzing that we do when we read books about bees finally made sense to her.) The grass is wild and overgrown, and there are plenty of interesting sticks to play with. There are even a few stumps that BabyC loves to climb. And when it rains, there is water. But that’s it. No playground equipment and no sandbox. Yet, BabyC is happy to wander around the meadow for an hour at a time.
I’ve written before about how toddlers don’t need toys, and we’ve spent very little money on toys for BabyC so far. We did, however, invest in a good pair of boots for her. I scoured local consignment shops for a couple of months before I would consider spending this much on a pair of boots she’ll outgrow in a season. But you know what? Totally worth the investment. These boots have encouraged hours of free play in our wild little meadow.
A good pair of boots is empowering. No reason for this girl to be afraid of a little water. No soggy socks or frozen toes. No mama groaning about another pair of ruined shoes. These boots – along with BabyC’s rain jacket and pants – are impenetrable.
I think this is important. I want my little girl to know mud and dirt and feel comfortable in the natural world. In a couple of years, she may be spellbound by the princess culture. She may refuse to leave the house without pink sparkly shoes, and that’s OK. But I believe that the earliest experiences matter. I believe that by making nature a part of BabyC’s everyday life from the very start, it will become a place of refuge for her. It will be something that she values and appreciates.
A few weeks ago, there was news of a recent study finding that about half of preschoolers do not get a chance to play outside even once per day. This is shocking enough, but I’d be willing to bet that the number is even smaller for toddlers. My evidence? It took me forever to find a pair of boots for BabyC in size 4. Shoe manufacturers seem to think that toddlers don’t play outside until their feet hit a size 5. And I doubt if that was an arbitrary decision handed down by a CEO. It was probably based on market research showing that parents of toddlers just don’t buy rain boots for them.
Sadly, that study on preschoolers and play found that girls were even less likely than boys to have the opportunity to play outside. Princess expert Peggy Orenstein weighed in on that finding, wondering if the gender play gap had anything to do with the shoes marketed to our girls. Girls’ shoes are often sparkly and delicate, better suited for tea parties and dance recitals than running in a meadow or splashing in mud puddles.
I’m sure Orenstein is onto something, and I think we should all be concerned about the lack of play opportunities for young kids, especially girls. But in my town, I also see schools that make outdoor play a priority, and that gives me lots of hope. There is an outdoor play-based preschool in our neighborhood, and their class frequents the meadow. They walk to the meadow as a pack of explorers, all suited up in waterproof coveralls and rain boots. One morning, I watched them crest over the hill as they approached the meadow. A child at the front of the pack raised a fist and yelled, “Water in the meadow! Water in the meadow!” Everyone cheered, and that warmed my heart on a rainy day.
So for now, BabyC is outside splashing around in a pair of sturdy boots, every single day.
Before I know it, she’ll be putting her foot down for pink sparkly ballet flats. My hope is that by then, the joy of mud puddles will be so deeply ingrained that she’ll still jump in, sparkles and all.
Every kid deserves a good pair of boots. Does your child have some?