Let your kids get dirty!

by Katie

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

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.
“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?

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  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. I agree

  10. I really do agree

  11. 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

  12. At THE BATTLEGROUNDS™ mud run, we totally agree getting dirty is fun! Not just for kids but for adults too!! Thanks for the great post about the benefits of mud. I am going to link to this article on my blog and newsletter. I also have a great pick of kids covered in mud if you want to use it!

  13. avatar
    Kristin says:

    I don’t think anyone mentioned a huge benefit of digging in the dirt yet – WORMS! My son can spend an hour finding worms and making a suitable home in a bucket for him:)

  14. avatar
    Juli vrotney says:

    my three are always outside playing in the dirt/mud…making experiments. My oldest is 7 and he loves to play with bugs…

  15. Love this! My kids love playing outside and getting dirty!

  16. I feel guilty every now and again that I’m not the obsessive child hand-washer, or that I leave smudges on their arms and legs until they’re done doing whatever messy thing it is that they’re doing. That said, my kids didn’t get colds this winter.

  17. first off, I let my kids play in the dirt. However, I think most people misunderstand what the studies are talking about when they talk about the hygiene hypothesis and autoimmunity. They are talking about not how clean you keep you kids, but the lack of parasites(ie worms) that kids in developed nations are exposed to. This probably has to due with more to do with sanitary sewers and clean water (yah!) then playing in dirt. Yes, it’s good for the immune system to come in contact with dirt, but don’t assume bad parenting is involved in a kid having an autoimmune problem, or that your kid is healthy just because you let them play in dirt. Sorry I have a child with IBD, and am a little sensitive to people spouting off about playing in dirt as a solution to the rise in autoimmune diseases in children.

  18. Excellent post, Katie! Thank you!

    I grew up on a farm and was constantly covered in dirt and I loved every minute of it! It was a great time for me to play with my younger sisters, I have many fond memories that will be with me for the rest of my life.

    Thank you again! We need to have more people let their kids play in the dirt!
    ~Emily L. Moore

  19. Mine love the dirt/mud. They are outside playing in it right now! It’s pretty much an every day occurrence here. As we like to say, they earn their baths each day. They are 7, 5, and 2. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Yes my kid plays in dirt and nature, puddles and sand and all that good stuff. I just make sure he washes his hands when we get in :)

  21. My older kids loved dirt and getting dirty. My youngest has never liked it. As a toddler, she also hated play dough and finger paint, etc. Come to find out, she has trouble with sensory issues. So, I’ve been trying to reintroduce her to the textures of nature slowly. We planted lamb’s ears in the garden, which are super soft and fuzzy. She will dig with me in the dirt, if she has a shovel. I let her pick flowers, because that means she’s touching them. She’ll never be the kid covered in mud, but she’s learning to accept dirt more, and now that I understand her more, I am planning for this summer to be full of opportunities for her to become even more comfortable outside. It’s the perfect sensory therapy arena.

  22. When I was a kid, where there is no laptop, desktop etc., I play at our backyard with my friends. We enjoy playing even we got dirty. In this modern world, I will let my kids too play even they will get dirty because its good for their health too.

  23. Love this! My boys are happiest when they play in the dirt. I’ve always encouraged this and had to initially fight off that urge to step in. Now, I’m fine.

    We live in the southwest and our dirt is more like dust. We visited the midwest and my toddler was in heaven with the dirt there!

  24. Thank you for this post. I need to remember this on a daily basis. My son is a little over two and loves to play outside. This was a good reminder to just relax and let him enjoy running around and getting dirty without me trying to keep him clean by wiping his hands off. I must admit that I’m guilty of caring the hand sanitizer around :)

  25. avatar
    Linda B says:

    I could not agree more. Dirty kids are happy kids, and I am happy to say that my daughter is raising her 4 boys the same way!

  26. What a great post! I grew up in a home where “dirt can’t hurt” was a mantra. We had a “sand pit”, not just a box. Lucky for us it was a natural sand pit. Now my children have the same. I know a local preschool that “closed it sand box” because too many parents were complaining their children were coming home sandy and dirty. The story (told to me by a woman on a play ground in support and happy about the school’s decision) made me sad for days! Wonderful post. Thank you. ~ Marnie

  27. Some study has revealed that the bacteria in the soil is actually helpful for you health. You’re right children should be given a little freedom after all it’s there age.

  28. avatar
    Andrew K says:

    should i let my kids get dirty??;)

  29. What a relief to know I’m doing something right with my dirty boys :)

  30. Great write-up. I am interested in such as this particular. Very good details I’ll look for any information regarding Hcg weight loss .

  31. My husband and I have two girls (twins). We live out in the country. There is a small pond that becomes a mud pit in the summer. We take the girls out there and let then have fun. They love playing in the mud.

  32. Even in the heart of NYC, I try to give my three year old a chance to play in nature as much as possible. Fortunately, we are close to Central Park. Of course, a little more vigilance is necessary (broken glass, dog dirt, worse) but we both have so much fun playing with trees and climbing rocks.

  33. Don’t forget that you become grounded when in contact with the earth. Something we could all benefit from in this day.

  34. As a preschool teacher I couldn’t help but notice the children gravitate towards our pile of top-soil rather than the sandpit! Add water & we had the perfect slippery slide. Shovel it into a tractor tyre, throw it seed potatoes & the children were digging for gold later down the track, then cooking up chunky chips. =) yep dirt/mud/clay fantastic areas of play!

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