littlegirlindirt1

Let your kids get dirty!

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About Katie Fox

Katie is a writer, a teacher, a mezzo-soprano, and a lover of all things red. She and her husband Shaun are passionate about mentoring and equipping artists of all kinds. Find her online at katiefox.net.

On a typical afternoon these days, you might come over to my house and discover a scene very much like the one pictured above. My daughter is almost three years old, and she currently has a fascination with dirt – the dirtier, the better.

She can literally spend hours playing in the dirt, moving it around, making dirt cakes and mud pies, and covering herself in earthy brown goodness. I suspect she is not alone in her fascination; it seems that both boys and girls are drawn to play with dirt from the very youngest of ages.

At our home, there have been a few observers who objected.
“Ewwww!”
“Yucky! Don’t play in the dirt!”

I simply smile and say, “That’s what childhood is for—getting dirty. It’s good for her.”

And believe it or not, it is good for her – body and soul.

Dirt: It does a body (and soul) good

Here are just five ways (of many) that dirt can benefit your children.

1. Did you know that studies have shown dirt to be good for your brain? Apparently, there are types of bacteria that are naturally found in soil which activate the neurons that produce serotonin – a key chemical in many bodily functions, as well as a natural anti-depressant. In other words, dirt can actually help make you feel happy. (And I’m not just talking about the mud wraps at the day spa.)

2. Dirt is also great for the immune system, especially in children. Research has shown that early exposure to the naturally occurring microbes in soil will help build stronger, more disease-resistant kiddos.


Photo by James Emery

In our germaphobic culture where we have entire aisles of cleaning products at the grocery store, some children are being raised in “overhygienic” conditions. Without enough exposure to different bacteria and microbes, it is thought that the immune system doesn’t learn to recognize its own cells, and this could be a reason for higher rates of asthma, eczema, and other diseases.

3. If you’ve read The Last Child in the Woods, you’re familiar with the term “nature-deficit disorder.” In our technologically savvy generation, kids just aren’t getting enough time to play outside, and that has now been linked to attention disorders, depression (yes, in children), and obesity.

4. Children who play outside laugh more, which means they’re happy!  It also means their blood pressure and stress levels are lower. (Did YOU know that those are two physical benefits of laughter? We could all probably stand to laugh a little more!)

5. Kids who play outside grow in their character development: they become more adventurous, more self-motivated, and they are better able to understand and assess risk.

5 reasons dirt is healthy for kids
Photo by Lori

How to get dirty

Now, I know some of you may still be thinking about those mud wraps—but I have a theory that mud wraps are just a socially acceptable way for grown-ups to play in the dirt again. Grown-up or child, playing in the dirt is good for the soul as well as the body.

Here are some ideas for your children:

• If you’ve never tried this, just give your child a bucket and a shovel and set them in the dirt. See what happens – they will probably be in heaven for quite some time.

• Garden with your kids! There are lots of gardening tips on Simple Homemade, and Tsh has three suggestions for gardening with kids. You can create a separate little garden for your children, too – if your child is very young, you don’t even need to actually plant anything in it; they will simply love having a dirt plot of their own.

• Explore nature with your children; study insects, leaves, wildflowers, rocks, etc. Start a nature collection. Take hikes. Wade in creeks. Go on picnics. DON’T clean their hands with antibacterial wipes before you eat. A little water and soap will do.

• Check out Simple Kids for lots of ideas on kids and nature – it’s a virtual treasure trove!

Considering all the benefits of playing in the dirt, it sounds like a great idea for us grown-ups to get outside and join our children.

Do you let your kids play in the dirt? What about you?

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. Also worthy of a mention is sand!

    I was discouraged from playing in dirt when I was little, but I did have a sandbox. And now I have three kids but no backyard, but we live very close to the beach (and some good playgrounds) so our beach serves as a very large sandbox!

    Even though sand is annoying (getting into the carpet of the car, and into all sorts of anatomical places you didn’t know your babies had!) it doesn’t stain. And I know from experience that babies and toddlers can eat (yes, eat) bucket-loads of sand without any physical harm. (But eating said does lead to interesting diapers, I have to admit! Oh, and the beaches in my area are quite clean compared to some of the polluted ones I’ve seen overseas.)

    Still, I wouldn’t mind my kids having a good play in some good old dirt.

  2. With three boys…um…yes we play in the dirt…everyday! He, he. But it is amazing to me how many kiddos who come over to play and can’t get dirty or wet.

    Great post today Katie!
    .-= Eren´s last blog ..Garden Habits: Morning =-.

    • avatar
      Dick Heckenberg says:

      At a young age have them plant potatoes! Potatoes do not need any real care or weeding, success is guaranteed! They will love harvesting them.

  3. When my son was a toddler I taught him to be super clean. I realized what I had done when he refused to lick his fingers after eating Cheetos. To correct this was pretty easy actually. I invited my friend with the dirtiest kids (as in they play and end up very dirty) to the park after it rained. They got filthy and all was well.

  4. Now that it is summer, my kids are filthy and need to get in the bath tub every night. I love to see them dirty, because it means that they are having fun and are spending the day outside.

    I have a close friend whose daughter is the same age as my oldest (4.5 yo). My friend has told me that she thinks her daughter has OCD. I don’t know how to tell her, but I think my friend has brought it on her poor dd. This child is afraid to get dirty as in she freaks out when she gets messy. My friend is always primping this little girl; her clothes are perfect, her hair is perfect. Being dirty doesn’t even phase my kids, I’m not sure they even know when they are dirty.
    .-= Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet´s last blog ..Odd$ and End$ – ‘There Goes The Water Bill’ Edition =-.

    • I don’t mind messy outdoor play, but my toddler daughter freaks out when she gets dirty or wet (most of the time) and immediately wants to wipe it off – on ME! I’m not OK with that. I’m not a super-clean person, but I also don’t want to be changing all our clothes multiple times a day.

      • Haha, my daughter is the same way- she played in the mud today with her friend, rubbing it all over both of them and was fine and happy, but helping me make dinner her hands got a little wet and it was “DRY IT OFF MOMMY!!!”

  5. This time of year when my husband and I shower our feet get exfoliated from all of the sand in our bathtub. It lifted my heart to read this post. People are shocked when they see how much I let my children play in our yard, they get VERY VERY dirty. If we don’t have mud they will find a way to make it. To me this is what childhood is about.

  6. Love this! We’re gardening this year, and doing so with a 2 and 1 year old alongside can be quite a challenge, as we try to weed and they “helpfully” pull up precious plants… but it is important, and they LOVE digging, watching things grow, running through the sprinklers, and being outside – which is so, so important for kids!
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..Babywearing in Botswana =-.

  7. avatar
    Christina says:

    I love it at the end of the night if the bath water is gray, it means my boys had a fun day. I think it is cute when the 2 yr has a dirt smug on his face. When we head to the beach, I don’t even bother to worry about the sand, even if they want a snack after playing in it. (Okay I don’t let them reach into a bag to grab one, but if they eat sand who cares.)

    We are now gardening together, and my 5 yr loves checking on the veggies and helping water them.

    My mom would actually make mud puddles for my sister and I to play in. She would just hose us off at after we were done. No big deal.

  8. Yes! Yes! Yes! Let your kids get dirty. Let them play. Please don’t turn them all into germaphobic clean freaks. It is okay. You can wash them later and Oxyclean their clothes.

    Over Easter, I was very talked about (not good) at an Easter egg hunt. Another mother was agast because my 2 year old was playing in the dirt and eating some of it. Not a lot, just tasting really. She was appalled when I took a picture of my mud faced girl before I told her it wasn’t probably a good idea to eat too much dirt because it would spoil her supper. She probably was even more offened because I laugh when she tried to chastise me for letting my baby get dirty??!!??

    There are many stories with dirt girl (my daughter). She really loves nature and has an explorers heart. Another mother asked me why she didn’t think playing in the mud was yucky, I told her because I never told her it was.

    • I really like that last bit about not telling your child that “dirty is yucky.” That seems to be a really great lesson for the grown ups.

  9. I loved reading The Last Child in the Woods, and not just because it verified my parenting instincts. With seven boys, it wouldn’t have mattered if I approved of dirt or not – they’re like magnets to it. Not sure if you’ve heard of Charlotte Mason, an 18th century educator, but she advocates having children be outside 4 hours a day – much of that time WITH the mother (that’s the hard part).
    Great post! I hope lots of young (clean :) moms will heed your advice.
    .-= Debbie @ Cheaper by the Bakers Dozen´s last blog ..Missed Photo Opps =-.

  10. Playing in the dirt is/was awesome. My strongest childhood memories come from playing outside. I’m definitely planning to let my future children get dirty. :)

  11. avatar
    Jessica says:

    Advice #1 is so true: Dirt makes you happy! I used to have a flower garden and I remember being up to my ankles in dirt, dirt cacked in my finger nails and everywhere…and being blissfully happy. I played outside a lot as a kid and I hope to pass that on to my daughter as she gets older.

  12. avatar
    Marilyn Holeman says:

    Even though my kids are grown, I still enjoy reading this blog. (Lord willing, I’ll have grandkids some day.) I digress. O ur kids had a dedicated “digging area” in the yard. That way they could dig and play to their heart’s content, and I didn’t need to worry about unexpected holes in the yard.

  13. avatar
    Elizabeth says:

    My son is 17 months old and loves playing in the dirt. He has since he was even younger and we are happy to let him. My husband also enjoys playing in the dirt so it works out really well. We garden together as a family, camp, etc… Life is so much more fun when you just have fun. And, anyways, that is what waterhoses and bathtubs are for…especially if you have kiddos like our son who will spray himself with the water hose.

  14. Have to agree with Trisha – living near a beach, we include sand in this category, and I am the mom that has a burned back and raw knees because I will build sand castles and dams and moats with the kids rather than sit and read a book. A dirty kid is a happy kid in my book!
    .-= WorkingMom´s last blog ..Home Economics 101 =-.

  15. My youngest (now 13) used to get sooo dirty. She used to suck her thumb and one day, she was covered in mud from head to toe, except for that white thumb. That was gross, didn’t let me stop her from playing outside, but it was gross.

    There is so much FREE entertainment in the yard, we had a swingset and put the bottom of the slide in one of those cheap plastic pools, so they had a water slide. They had a sandbox that was an old tire, etc. We had a picnic table (kid sized) outside where they could paint and do play dough and of course eat lunch at it, they only had to come in for the restroom, and even then I had to carry them over the carpet at times. =) Of course, we did baths every night and then had to clean the tub afterwards!

    Those were the good ol’ days. Enjoy every minute!

  16. I just posted pictures from my son’s mud play. We had to rethink the garden space to allow for his mud play. Currently there are dinosaurs and horses caked in mud waiting for the shade to played with again.

  17. Great advice. I love watching my kids play and get dirty. We do lots of walks in the ditches along our road which in the wetter months are full of mud, they roll down hills and play in the garden. It’s great to be a kid and I love that it’s good for them. I wish more parents understood that.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Vegetarian Foodie Fridays: Vietnamese Noodle Salad =-.

  18. YEAH! Great blog post! I couldn’t agree more.

  19. I love letting the kids get dirty – it always seems like a badge of good exploration. Several weeks ago, we got two yards of dirt delivered to our backyard and our 4 and almost 2 year old played very happily for hours and hours there – I posted about it:http://thekingsandi.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/dirt-pile/
    We used the dirt for our yard, but now I want to get more just for play…
    .-= Carol´s last blog ..this moment =-.

  20. avatar
    Catherine says:

    I have four children so dirt is inevitable for us! My middle son’s feet are usually dirt-colored from June through September. My motto has always been: Kids and clothes are washable!

  21. We have a 24 X 24 mulch playground that my youngest uses like a sandbox.
    We love playing outside, it just has been so hot this week, we have had get wet in order to tolerate the heat and humidity. Today, we had a water gun fight…too fun!
    .-= Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith´s last blog ..7 Quick Takes Friday Volume 1 =-.

  22. Love your thoughts about letting the kids play in the dirt. My kids are always happy to get dirty and dig and dig in the sand box, or even in the mud.
    .-= Taylor at Stain-Removal-101.com´s last blog ..Removing Blood Stains From Fabric – Tips And Video =-.

  23. LOVE IT!!! I preach to everyone young parent i know, its OK, absolutely OK, to let your kids get muddy!!!

  24. I sometimes take a picture of us in the morning so my husband can see us all clean and pretty. Trust me, by the time he gets home we often look pretty wretched…but happy. And that is me too not just the kids.

  25. Oh I love this post!! My kids are always dirty! Digging for dinosaur bones, building mountains, planting flowers..just moving dirt from one place to the other can hold their attention for a long time! :)

    I loved hearing all the many benefits of it!
    .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..Want to add more sweetness to your day =-.

  26. avatar
    Cynthia says:

    I love playing in the dirt! Not long ago, my 7mo discovered dirt at the park and got absolutely filthy, and it warmed my heart, especially since my other two came and played with us. It was a good family moment.

  27. Oh I love kids who play in the dirt! There is absolutely nothing more fun (although the clean up by moms leaves much to be desired). I took my granddaughter camping last weekend and we found some polliwogs in the creek that ran behind us. We accumulated a few, put them in a container with some dirt, water, and rocks, and talked about frogs all day long. We put them back in the creek later in the day and she’s been talking about it ever since. What a fun way to learn about nature! Great post Katie!
    .-= Tina@RideOnToys´s last blog ..The Power Wheels Lil Quad – Safe And Easy To Use For Your Toddlers =-.

  28. my kiddos LOVE playing in the dirt…it’s one of the reasons we haven’t landscaped our backyard! here’s a pic of my daughter gettin’ down and dirty!

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=13196359&id=754600440
    .-= katie anaya´s last blog ..a trek through the snow =-.

  29. We celebrated the first hot day of the season with a BBQ and my adult self still loved walking around the yard barefoot cleaning off the patio furniture. No better feeling. :)

    It’s scary to think about what our health will be like if the over hygienic conditions continue. It seems like the studies in favor of kids getting into the dirt, playing and growing up with pets, etc. is staggering at this point. As someone who has always been allergy-free and gets sick less than anyone I know, I consider myself major proof. Looking back, it feels as if the first 10 years of my life were spent either making (and eating) dirt pies, “swimming” in a slimy pop-up pool or sleeping close to the ground in a backyard tent. I definitely intend to give my son the same experience!
    .-= Alternative Housewife´s last blog ..Things I Want Now =-.

  30. I love this post! And my kids LOVE dirt!!!
    .-= onemotherslove´s last blog ..First Belly Shot- =-.

  31. Nothing thrills my son more than to dig his hands in the dirt. After he has had time to get dirty, jump in the puddles, squish his toes in the mud, throw a few rocks… he is a much more peaceful and happy 2 year old.
    .-= S. M.´s last blog ..New Lion =-.

  32. avatar
    losbuthere26 says:

    The more the kids play in the dirt here the better they play together. I am one of those moms who even send the kids out in the rain to play… find those mud puddles and roll in them. My mom was the same way. play clothes are play clothes for a reason. When we were little we would run behind the tractor when papaw or daddy was cutting the ground. I have pictures of the kids rolling in mud and pictures of me and my siblings rolling in the mud. I still like walking thru the puddles.

  33. Great post! I have always been an advocate of playing in the dirt. My friends have learned to send an extra set ov clothes when they send their kids to my house. :-)

    I still enjoy playing in the dirt, but I call it gardening because it sounds more grown up.

  34. I can’t think of anything brilliant to add, Katie, except for a big YAY!!! And WOOO HOOOO! We love playing in the dirt. It is so, so good for the hands and for the soul. LOVE it, Katie!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..SortaCrunchy Q-ampA – Parenting Books- Some Favorites of Mine =-.

  35. avatar
    Christine says:

    As they say, You’ve got to eat your peck of dirt before you die.

    As evidenced in the family photos from our beach vacation last week, my 10 month old daughter is tucking in for her peck all before she hits 1 year. Sand by the handful. It’s still stuck inside her ears. That girl loves the sand. And her brother loves dirt. Just good clean dirt. Not that fancy sand stuff.

    Only advice, buy good used play clothes, a good stain remover, or make your peace with clothes that are done after one child – or a combination of all three.

  36. Thank you!! As a former Immunologist, I am heartened by your article and the comments that people do realize that germaphobia and ‘dirtophobia’ is not such a good thing, after all! I especially appreciate your mentioning that playing in the dirt strengthens our children’s immune system, which is absolutely true!!
    .-= Roshni´s last blog ..Class Act =-.

  37. Another thing that helps me not care about my kids getting muddy – I buy as many clothes at thrift shops and garage sales as I can. At a dollar a shirt, who cares if it gets dirt rubbed all over it this summer?
    .-= Deb´s last blog ..Myers-Briggs Can Suck It =-.

  38. wonderful!!! i want to grab the kids and head out! great post, especially in the middle of summer!

  39. So, perhaps I am just a health-freak, but what about the dangers of chemicals and pesticides in dirt? I grew up in the country and loved frolicking in mountains of brown delight, but am not so sure about city dirt. I don’t mind grime, but I do mind chemicals.
    .-= Heidi´s last blog ..Monday Motivation- I’m Free At Last- =-.

  40. The mom of my step kids does not let them get dirty, so they like coming to see Dad since we let them get absolutely filthy.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..It’s Funky- Freaky Friday- Fashion’s Oddest Finds- Right Here- =-.

  41. My husband and I always say that we subscribe to the “dirt theory of immunity,” and so far we have dirty, healthy kids. Our daycare provided decided not to lanscape their backyard, because the kids never wanted to play in the small grassy area anyway. The raw dirt provides so many more exploring opportunitities.
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..This and That and a Haircut =-.

  42. avatar
    Talia Nuckolls says:

    I hear about high levels of Lead in dirt these days. Anyone else hear this? I’m all for it…but not the Lead.

  43. This was an interesting post. I do have some concerns…those with older houses can actually have lead in the dirt around their homes, from paint chips off the sides of their house. Even if you can’t see the paint chips doesn’t mean there isn’t lead in the dirt. And like Heidi mentioned what about pesticides…..I guess I can see the benefits of playing in dirt but I also think parents need to be wise about what dirt is ok to play in.

  44. Great post. And it’s so true what Christine said about play clothes. Except for a few special pieces of clothing, I’ve about given up. Between the dirt and the art projects, my daughter’s wardrobe has that permanent earthy-arty look. But it’s all good.

    I particularly love the implications of this soil research for connecting kids with their food. I wrote about that on my own blog: http://spoonfedblog.net/2010/06/30/clean-food-and-dirty-kids/ The blog is called Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat. Hope you’ll check it out.

  45. Why does this post bring me to tears??
    I think it’s because of the fight that I have with myself over this very issue. Something deep in me knows that it’s good for my kids to play in the dirt- but another part of me does NOT want to deal with them being… dirty.
    Right now, we have a blow-up pool in our front yard. I can’t tell you how many times they have made mud pits for “swimming” instead of actually swimming! And I can’t help but laugh whenever I think of it!
    So when they kept on digging in a hole they made right off our front walkway, I was loathe to tell them to stop. When my husband finally did, I had a hard time enforcing it. He decided to start another hole for them on the other side of the yard. Again, I had a strong reaction. Simultaneously, I thought he was being ridiculous- and he was being such a great father! I asked him, “Is it really necessary for them to have a place to play in the dirt?” His answer: “Yeah, I think it is.”
    I am grateful for this article, and the concrete reasons that reassure me that it is GOOD for my kids to play in the dirt!

  46. My daughter’s third grade teacher likes to say that getting dirty is a sign of having fun. My kids must really be having a ball.

  47. I love it! My fondest childhood memories include digging in dirt building a city with my cousins…we would spend hours in the red clay. I love when my kids are dirty, plus it doesn’t hurt to have the pool outside for them to go splash around in before coming inside. :)

  48. Amen and amen! We LOVE dirt around our house. There have been many bath-times when I don’t even fill up the bathtub and leave the water runnin because there’s too much dirt on the kiddos…. We, too, have an unlandscaped back yard with old flower bed remnants–those former flower beds are full of dirt and old mulch and millions of earthworms, ladybugs, roly polies, and other creepy crawlies: a preschool paradise. Since I have three preschoolers, I’ve been all for the dirt play and stayed away from landscapes I’ll have to “tend.”

  49. My siblings and I played outdoors all year long, and spring and summer meant dirt, dirt, dirt. We made mud pies, dug holes, splashed in the puddles that formed in the sand alongside the road. Worms were like pets.
    I remember watching ants at work, trundling bits of sand to build mounds or dragging food back to their homes. Sometimes I’d see a bunch of tiny ants moving a much larger dead insect and marvel at their strength. I also remember spending parts of afternoons following butterflies from flower to flower. (Sure, those things are interesting on the Discovery channel, too, but so much better experienced up-close and personal. And with TV you don’t get to drop a cracker crumb and watch the ants scurry to “harvest” it.)
    We were barefoot, of course. My mom insisted on nightly baths so it didn’t matter how dirty we got. I remember a sense of satisfaction when I saw dirt melting off me and into the water. It wasn’t that I craved cleanliness (except insofar as it made my mother happy) but more of another scientific interest about how things work. Get dirty, then the dirt disappears. Interesting stuff for a small child.
    I completely agree about letting kids get down and dirty, and I feel sorry for kids whose only attachment with nature comes from a manicured soccer field. My niece posted some photos on her Facebook page of her older son plastered with mud up to his armpits — he and some other kids were out during low tide and they looked like dirt babies. The grin on his face said it all: “Yes, this is fun, and thanks, Mom, for letting me get so dirty you’ll have to hose me off before you let me in the house.”
    (Incidentally, he and his brother are healthy as horses.)
    As for the germophobia, yep, that too. I wrote a piece today called “Filthy lucre,” about my habit of picking up dropped coins. At the end of the year I count them, round up the total and send it to the food bank. A whole lot of people think that’s disgusting. Haven’t they ever heard of soap and water, or hand sanitizer? The world is covered with germs. Some of them should be avoided. Some of them aren’t so bad for us. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t the “phobia” part that makes people sick, or at least more vulnerable to sickness.
    If it’s kosher to post URLs, here it is:
    http://www.donnafreedman.com/2010/07/05/filthy-lucre/
    And if it isn’t kosher, please feel free to delete it and shake a virtual finger at me. :-)

  50. Great reminder, so I included in my blog’s weekly Reading Roundup!! Thank you for sharing!

  51. I loved this post. It took me quite a while, actually moving to the mountains, to consistently let my kids really play in the dirt. Our apartment’s dirt previously was toxic in more ways than one. Because this subject is one dear to me, I posted a link to this post on my blog, Rosie Girl Dreams last Saturday. Here’s a link:
    http://rosiegirldreams.com/6-sharing-saturday/sharing-saturday-lots-of-sharing/
    Thanks again!

  52. Kids love dirt and that is a fact, especially boys. Children love to play outdoors because everything is interesting to them. They do not think that they will get dirt, they just do whatever they feel is interesting, and if that means they will get dirty it is alright for them.

  53. It is great to see so many comments in favour of dirty kids.

    I think one of the biggest problems is that parents don’t want their children to get dirty, not because of hygiene reasons, but more because they don’t want the “hassle” of cleaning up after their children. Personally it isn’t hassle for my son to get a bath – he loves that as much as he loves splashing in puddles or digging in the garden and helping me plant seeds. He is only 3 too!

    I have never had a fear of dirt..I have also encouraged my son to be barefoot as much as possible, even outside.

  54. It is great to see so many comments in favour of dirty kids.

    I think one of the biggest problems is that parents don’t want their children to get dirty, not because of hygiene reasons, but more because they don’t want the “hassle” of cleaning up after their children. Personally it isn’t hassle for my son to get a bath – he loves that as much as he loves splashing in puddles or digging in the garden and helping me plant seeds. He is only 3 too!

    I have never had a fear of dirt..I have also encouraged my son to be barefoot as much as possible, even outside.

  55. I’m near 30 and have 3 beautiful kids. I always let my kids playing on the dirt and get them dirty. You are absolutely right Katie. “That’s what childhood is for – getting dirty. It’s good for her.” I think it helps them a lot to grow and makes them charming. Actually I like the way the looks when they plays in the dirt. Aren’t they looks beautiful? I thinks so. And obviously I’m careful about their health.

  56. Couldn’t agree more. Kids are always so happy to play in the dirt. And they can learn a lot of things from the experience at the same time

  57. Ah, sand is a good idea. It’s July already and I still haven’t done the annual refilling of the sandbox!

    Also I heard a piece on NPR earlier this year in which the guest said that girls develop asthma at higher rates than boys in the US–and his theory is it’s because playing in the dirt really does build immunity, and little boys play in the dirt more than little girls. He thought girls tend to dress “nicer” on a day-to-day basis, and the girls’ moms and teachers keep them out of the dirt so they don’t mess up their clothes.

    I’ve thought alot about how my daughters’ dress since I heard that. And I don’t chide them (as much) for getting dirty.

  58. avatar
    Katelyn says:

    We are moving soon (2000 miles north) and one of the things I’m looking forward to most is having a backyard we (my almost 1 year old and I) can actually play in. Our current one, despite my best efforts, is filled with sticker plants interspersed amongst the very sorry looking grass. It doesn’t help we are in a semi arid desert climate.

  59. Love it! These reasons are also why we let our dog lick our baby, and we let her without fear that our baby is getting germs. From what I understand dogs’ mouths are pretty clean anyway, but any bacteria our child gets from our dog will just help her resistance to allergies!

  60. My 3 yr old wouldn’t want o go bare feet and play with sand when we went to the beach and when asked why , he said..it’s dirty….i think it’s my fault because “it’s dirty” is always coming out of my mouth whenever he touches things that I feel and think are dirty….now, when he sees a spot in the house, he’d say it’s dirty…and I think I better do something before he miss playing out in the rain,or playing in the garden..with mud..and dirt…and I’m going to start by buying that shovel thing…

  61. avatar
    Kristen says:

    My kids discovered dirt on their own (aside from the dirt in the garden). I couldn’t see them one day in the yard, but could hear them (4 & 6 yrs old), only to find them over the hill w/2 pails, 2 shovels, & boots, making mud pies & laughing like crazy! It was even in their hair! I love your post & hope more kids get to have as much fun as mine!

  62. I love your article! I agree 100%! I grew up on the beach and loved sand! Unfortunately my kids only get to play at the beach for a couple of months every couple of years but in the mean time we have a sand box and a small part of my garden when the kids love to play! They love to dig for rollie pollies and warms, they get dirty and have so much fun! I love to garden and I can see how great it feels to play in the dirt!!!

  63. I love the first picture, it reminds me of my childhood. I could never resist the siren call of a good mud puddle!

  64. all about being outside and my laundry reflects it! From the beginning DS has been outside playing in the dirt, mud, rain, sand, grass etc. When I teach horseback riding lessons, he is given a little patch of sand in the ring to take his sand toys, diggers and cars. He loves it! We take nature walks that include playing in streams, lakes etc. I think it is kind of fun to watch some of the other moms and their “horrorified” looks!

  65. My friend is a personal trainer one of her client is an immunologist (someone who studies the immune system). When she got pregnant he gave her one piece of advice. Let your child play in dirt!

  66. Great article! Thanks! Brings back some wonderful memories of mudpie making and crawdad catching in the creek bank behind my neighbors house. I still love to “play” in the dirt via gardening and hiking. I’m looking forward to introducing my future kiddos to the great outdoors.

  67. I need to print this and hand it out to a few parents I know. LOL I love it! God made children washable for a reason and outsided hoses are a mom’s bestfriend. Imagine life without playing in the dirt?

  68. Love this! I do think we shelter our children from dirt way too often. Thanks for the facts about digging in the dirt being healthy!!

  69. I loved this post! My two boys absolutely love to play in the dirt, and get messy in the sand on the beach. They would be mucking about in the dirt 24/7 if it were up to them. You’re so right on about the good things dirt does for kids’ immune systems, and for their souls (laughing and natural play is the best!). My natural inclination, I have to admit, is to stay away from dirt…so at first I had to hold myself back from pulling them out of the earth and cleaning them up. But now I just let them at it! And we all benefit from that.

  70. Yes, yes, yes! This is a great post. We live in a town house that has a large courtyard in the center with a playground and you can always find one (sometimes all!) of my four children (ages 1, 2, 3 and 5) getting good and dirty out there. It is astonishing to me though, the number of people that will send their kids out to “play” with the instructions “Don’t get your clothes dirty.” I purposely do not buy expensive clothes that I would be upset about my children making a mess on. I understand the need to stay clean and presentable when you are on your way out to certain places, but for ordinary days…….PLAY. GET DIRTY. BE A KID. After all, I can hose you down and wash away the dirt. The benefits and the memories will be there forever.

  71. I love this post. I use to always play outside when I was young and get dirty.lol

  72. Woohooo! Loving this article. Having grown up with a marvelous amount of dirt in rural WA state I still remember the soothing feeling of getting my fingers and toes into that soft-as-silk Summer dust/dirt. Now my kids seek out the one spot in our yard with cool, soft dirt and will play there for hours! Of course, this also provides a GREAT occasion for an hour in the bath afterwards–WATER PLAY is another free and easy Summer activity that’s a natural follow-up to dirt play times.

    I’m naturally a germ-0-phobe though, so I really appreciate your logical breakdown of this subject…sometimes I have to be reminded to let loose even more and give my kids real freedom to ‘get dirty’! THANKS!

  73. Oh yes, my 14-month old loves getting dirty! We’ve been gardening with him alot the last couple months. Today we’re off to the beach to build sand castles and collect pretty rocks. My mom has an unused raised bed in her garden that she topped up with nice dirt and toys for him to play with at her house.

    A few years ago my best friend and I observed someone stopping their young child from rolling down a hill. She was disgusted and said she’d be making her kid roll down the hill. I said, what if they were in their good white shirt? She said, that’s what kids’ clothes are for: getting dirty! I always remember that when I consider holding my son back from getting dirty. Besides, he grows out of clothes so fast, who cares if he ruins a few.

  74. Camping! Going to the beach. Not sure if sand counts as dirt though…

  75. When I was a child I was brought up in two different households. One household scolded me for ruining my clothes, hair, etc.
    The other household would calm me down when I got dirty and was sobbing, and I still remember to this day the simple line I was told. “It’s a child’s Job to get dirty, it’s the family’s Job to clean up together.” Then I’d be encouraged to finish playing since I was a mess anyhow and then I’d be tossed into a bath with lots of bubbles and toys and I was so happy.

    I now have the same motto for my children, they’re allowed to get dirty, make a mess, but everyone has to participate in cleanup – their mess or not! I’m still trying to help my husband accept dirt play though, hopefully this article will help!

  76. avatar
    Sharon W says:

    I am not a fan of dirt. In fact, I’d love to have a garden, except for the fact that I refuse to dig around in the dirt. Not just because of the dirt itself, but also due to all the bugs that crawl around in it. A friend told me a while back that there were benefits to getting dirt on your skin. But I didn’t act on that information. My 16 month old has yet to play in the dirt. Though I’m sure she’d love it, I just can’t imagine intentionally setting her down in the dirt. Yes, I’m a bit of a germophobe. But I do know not to use antibacterial soap. Thanks for this article, guess I’m gonna have to work on not passing my germophobia on to my daughter.

  77. avatar
    Babette says:

    I’m in my sixties, but my daughters were always out in the yard, in the dirt, growing up. They played with flowers, had their dolls out there, found land snails and interesting insects and learned about botany by osmosis. Today, one daughter lives in Alaska and is surrounded by natural beauty and the other lives in NY and is a mixologist of very unique cocktails, some of which incorporate herbs and flowers she learned about out in the yard! She feeds the squirrels on her fire escape…Both daughters appreciate Nature and are ardent recyclers and environmentalists. How can children who are only exposed to technology and are afraid of “germs” ever be motivated to save the planet by their life choices? Very, very sad.

  78. avatar
    Heather says:

    When I was a child I absolutely loved playing in dirt! I was the happiest and healthiest kid ever! I used to eat snails and dirt and I was absolutely fine. I think these days people are protecting their children way too much from germs. How are kids going to build their immune system?… great post!!! :)xx

  79. Playing in the dirt should be a requirement of childhood. My daughter would spend the entire day outside if she could. I buy all of her clothes expecting her to get them dirty and would never put her in anything that I would be upset about if it got ruined. Between eating, art, and being outside she is almost always a mess. I have a feeling my twin boys are going to be the same way.

  80. I adore digging, esp. with my kids. I am against un-authorized digging where my kids just pick a spot and start to dig through a decent patch of grass or flowerbed (even near buried utility lines). So, when I authorize digging it’s a free-for-all dig-fest. They LOVE digging! They pick their tools with gusto and dig with imagination.

  81. Love this post. It confirms everything I wrote about here: http://ecomilf.blogspot.com/2011/06/price-paid-for-little-peace-and-quiet.html
    Thanks for including some information about just how beneficial it is! xo m.

  82. Several moms were complaining about how dirty the kids got on a school field trip to a farm. It was a source of joy for me! My child is a cancer survivor who was immuno-suppressed due to chemotherapy for almost 3 years. NO parks, NO playdates, NO dirt of any kind! Seeing her come home filthy meant she was HEALTHY and NORMAL and STRONG! Yippee! Yay for dirt! I still enjoy seeing her get messy years later. Dirt is GOOD!

    • I just said a prayer of thanks…for your daughter’s health and for the reminder of how blessed we are to be able to get out and get dirty. We have an awful lot of first world problems these days. :-)

  83. I always enjoy reading your posts! This one in particolar, it was international MUD day some days ago and the world of moms/ bloggers and teachers have been experimenting BIG time with Mud. We all did some great lifting up from body’s immune systems and brains. Let’s not forget the senses and joy in the hearts. I experimented with my child at home, we turned the livingroom upside down and created a little mudpit ;)
    http://www.angeliquefelix.com/blog/little-pig-house-mudmess-livingroom

  84. Amen, amen! Dirt is good for the soul, no matter how old we are.

  85. I’ve found that my kids can stay happily occupied way longer outside getting dirty than inside with some silly toy. Sometimes I wonder why we even buy toys. We’ve cut way back on our toys because dirt is way better:)

  86. My mom (who was terminal with stage 4 breast cancer) gave out this same advice to a nurse (also a Mom) who came to take care of her. The nurse would talk about how her son would always find dirt or something to get into and she was always having to chase him around with a Tide Pen. My mom said in short “Life is too short to be chased by a Tide Pen and to be dressed up and put on display everyday. Expected not to get dirty with perfect hair and clothes. Kids only get to be a kid once.” and she also asked the nurse if this is one of the memories she wanted her son to have of her? Because that was the memory my mother had of her own. She was never allowed to get dirty and was always “in trouble” for it. The next week the nurse came back and told my mom she was right, she had left her Tide Pen at home and let her son be himself, she could always soak his clothes in Tide at the end of the day.
    In the big picture, some dirt on some clothes really doesn’t matter. The fun does!

  87. Great post! Honestly, I felt yucky too when my kids go out and play with the soil or dirt. You are totally right being so hygienic weakens my kids’ immune system. They catch cough and colds very easily. They also get eczema very quickly whenever they are exposed in dust or dirt. This post is really awakening to me. Thank you.

  88. I was never allowed to get dirty as a child, not necessarily because of germs, but my mom just didn’t like dirt tracked into the house. I do let my kids get dirty, but I do find myself trying to keep them clean from time to time. This article is a great reminder of all the good playing in the dirt can be for kids!

  89. I always intuitively felt that playing in dirt can be … well … therapeutic. I can still remember the joy that I got when goofing around with dirt, mud and clay during childhood. I remember I used to run around in the surroundings after a decent rain, holding a magnet and searching for iron particles. It was really fun!

  90. It’s a shame that child care is so “germaphobic.” the kids have to wash their hands every transition, every time the get messy, every time they go to the bathroom or blow their nose….that’s like 20 hand washings in 2 hours! Not to mention the provider has to sanitize everything every second it gets used… Disposable paper towels, baby wipes….all of it… You aren’t even allowed to use a clean rag to wipe things down with the bleach water. It just baffles me…

  91. I always hated getting dirty. I didn’t want to mess up my clothes or my hair. I was never discouraged from getting dirty, I just thought it was gross and chose not to. My daughter is the same way. She’s much happier playing with her dolls than getting muddy. My husband tried to get her to get dirty and I wish he’d just let her be. I feel bad for the poor thing, if she doesn’t want to get dirty then she shouldn’t have to.

  92. Great post, After viewing a lecture by Richard Louv author of “Last Child in the Woods” I was very inspired. As a result I now take my son who has a genetic disorder to our local community garden every week and I know that its making a difference in him.

    Before I took him to the garden he was obsessed with the X Box, but since then he is rarely on it. He has become fascinated with spiders and his language has come a long way. Just yesterday one of the gardeners was telling me how dirt has natural anti depressant factors!!! That just makes so much sense to me.

  93. Hi, We designed a sandpit in our home and my daughter loves it. I don’t have dirt in much of my backyard as it is all covered with mulch. She can spends hours in sand and I usually let her play for a while before her shower time. My son on the other hand is not so keen these days and likes play with his toys and other stuffs. Guess every kid is different. But, I was restricted from dirt when I was a child though.

  94. I am very tech-savvy, but I’ve spent my entire childhood playing with insects, feeding them to spiders, digging through the dirt, etc.

    Never washed my hands once. Rubbing your hands in the grass is just as good. Only run a trickle of water over them to get any insect-innards off my hands so as that they don’t affect the taste of anything I eat after.

    Other than the occasional flu in the winter (when 6 metres of Newfoundland snow keep me from actually getting outside), I’ve never been sick.

  95. Yes, my kids play in the dirty on a daily basis (except for the winter). The baby actually cries when it’s time to go inside. The hardest part is making sure my kids aren’t digging in the vegetable gardens. Having a log border helps them see where they’re not allowed to dig, and I cleared a small plot of dirt that they’re allowed to do with as they will. The only rule is no making mud, and they get around that one fairly frequently.

  96. Where did we come, that we have to explain things that are self-evident since the dawn of humanity. sad

  97. This is a great post! I have an in home daycare and the kids I care for play in the dirt all the time. They have helped me plant gardens, and their all time favorite thing is finding worms. We had some robins whose nest got destroyed and boy did those little chirpers need to eat all the time. The kids were a major help with finding the worms we needed. It’s kind of funny because almost all the kids who I watch were “afraid” of dirt before coming here. Their parents would tell me that their child would freak out if they got dirty or saw a bug. Haha! Not anymore. They run up to their parents with worms and they parents freak out :) One day, Keegan (3 yrs) was throwing dirt/mud at the privacy fence that seperates my yard from the neighbor’s. He had so much dirt all over him and I told him that he was so dirty, and he looked at me very serioulsy and said, “Well, so is the target.” Then he turned around and kept throwing the dirt. He had a very good point!
    God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt. That’s our motto.

  98. I agree

  99. I really do agree

  100. realy great website who dont like to let theyr child to ply outseid
    let them read all after mybee wl understand
    i hope my son will go for outseid for play with heis mom permision

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