Let your kids play in the dirt: 5 benefits to getting dirty

Let your kids get dirty!

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.

Let your kids play in the dirt: 5 benefits to getting dirty

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.

Let your kids play in the dirt: 5 benefits to getting dirty
photo source

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).

Let your kids play in the dirt: 5 benefits to getting dirty

• 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.

p.s. Embrace that five-foot tree, nature journaling with kids, and play outside as a family.


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 katiefox.net.

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  1. 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!

  2. 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:)

  3. 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…

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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 🙂

  14. 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!

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. Andrew K says:

    should i let my kids get dirty??;)

  18. What a relief to know I’m doing something right with my dirty boys 🙂

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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!

  23. I love this. My girls often come home from their preschool filthy – dirt under their fingernails, sand in their hair, paint on their arms, you name it! But my husband and I have come to really appreciate the freedom the kids are given to explore one of the most basic elements of nature…dirt. And being dirty usually means that they weren’t in front of a TV, screen, or computer, so the dirtier, the better!

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