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 youngest of ages.
At our home, there have been a few observers who objected.
“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 is good for your brain? There are types of bacteria naturally found in soil that 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 naturally occurring microbes in soil will help build stronger, more disease-resistant kiddos.
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, 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.
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.
How to get dirty
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:
• Give your younger child a bucket and a shovel and set them in the dirt. See what happens. They’ll probably be in heaven.
• Garden with your kids! We’ve got lots of gardening tips, and Tsh has three suggestions for gardening with kids. You can create a separate little garden for your children, too (if your child is really young, you don’t even need to plant anything in it; they’ll just love a dirt plot of their own).
• Explore nature with your children: study insects, leaves, wildflowers, rocks. 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.
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.