A literal connection with the environment – getting out and getting dirty – is a great way for kids to gain an appreciation for nature.

While that was a given for almost every kid at one point, in recent decades the advent of the helicopter parent has greatly reduced what was once an essential part of childhood. That sad state of affairs is the impetus behind EarthPLAY, a new program launched by Earth Day Canada to promote unstructured outdoor play time for kids.

Aside from the health benefits, more outdoor play should provide kids with a stronger motivation to protect the natural environment.

With Saturday being Earth Day and the nicer weather encouraging us to get outdoors, now is as good a time as any for everyone, not just kids, to muck it up a little. Woolwich Healthy Communities would doubtlessly welcome a few more bodies for Saturday’s community clean-up day – while not play time per se, it’s certainly an opportunity to get your hands dirty and learn firsthand how much of a mess we’re capable of inflicting on our environment.

The idea behind EarthPLAY is a good one, with benefits behind the environment.

Unstructured play is seriously undervalued, with doting parents stifling any form of adventurism in their kids, pushing structured programs and encouraging passive indoor activities as “safe.”

Many adults have forgotten the simple joy of pure, unvarnished fun that comes with being a kid, especially with the arrival of spring, not to mention the eventual summertime school holidays.

For many adults who predate the helicopter generation, your summers were environmentally friendly and good for you, body, mind and spirit.

Think about it, summers – at least as we knew them – were spent being active outdoors. At that time, we were literally in touch with the earth – and we had the grass stains on our knees to prove it.

We made sandcastles and mud pies, proving that you’ll eat more than a peck of dirt in your lifetime. Better for our digestive systems were the wild berries we picked, and ate on the spot.

Ponds and creeks – home to the occasional plunge – were perfect places for catching tadpoles, frogs and turtles. Nearby trees provided the essentials for makeshift spears, bows and arrows. Pick-up baseball games – there was always one to be joined – combined athletics with a chance to bake in the sun … and go home with your shoes and underwear full of sand.

Running through yards and hedges playing hide-and-seek or chase led to scratches, scrapes and burrs in your hair.

Hands that were always covered in something – bicycle grease or perhaps the mysterious stuff accumulated by the Frisbee – only saw a nailbrush when mom got a close look.

A rope stretched between backyard trees and covered with a blanket was perfect for camping out overnight.

Even as we grew older, into adolescence and high school, we were still outside more often than not: campfires, barbeques, shooting hoops and the like.

At some point, however, many of us move away from that. Walking, running and cycling are replaced by the car. Our time with nature is something of a battle: mowing lawns, plucking weeds, trimming hedges. It’s a chore. The interaction with nature is a means to an end, not an end in itself, the way it was when we were kids.

Reclaiming such childhood rites is an appropriate Earth Day goal.