The other moms in the playground hate me. While they constantly tell their kids, “Don’t touch that! You’ll get dirty,” my daughter is off touching all the things they just forbid their kids.
Their poor kids just watch on enviously while Isabel makes a sand castle, buries herself (literally) in a pile of leafs, or pokes at some mud.
I honestly don’t understand what the big problem is with getting dirty is. As you can see from the photo below, even I still get pretty dirty.
It saddens me that these parents spend so much time battling dirt, especially when getting dirty is actually GOOD for kids for the following 6 reasons.
1. Kids Need the Outdoors
Most children today spend less time outdoors than prisoners.1 Increased screen time and less outdoor play time is contributing to ADD, obesity, and vitamin D deficiency.2
Mental health is affected too. Did you know that children’s stress levels significantly fall within minutes of seeing green spaces? One study even found that time in nature makes for nicer social interactions. 2
Not to mention those studies which show nature boosts creativity and cognitive thinking!
For their physical and mental health, kids need to get outdoors. And you can’t expect them to go outdoors without getting a bit dirty in the process.
2. Getting Dirty Means a Hands-On Approach to Learning
The hands-on approach to learning is considered best for children because it activates their minds.3 How are you supposed to be hands-on if you won’t let your kids touch anything which might be “dirty”?
Let’s start raising a generation of geologists, biologists, archeologists, and other “dirty” jobs instead of a bunch of mindless yes men and yes women!
3. Getting Dirty Boosts Immunity
Here is a VERY big reason to let your kids get dirty. There are two leading theories about how dirt helps strengthen immunity.
The “Dirt = Diversity” theory hypothesizes that the body creates a catalogue of pathogens that it comes in contact with. When the body has a large catalogue, it is better able to defend itself from them and other pathogens.
The “Hygiene Hypothesis” states that over-cleanliness is limiting children’s exposure to germs early in life. Without contact with germs, their immune systems are not able to develop and they become more susceptible to immune diseases.4, 5
4. When You Stop Worrying about Dirt, You Can Relax
A lot of the parents I know don’t mind the dirt per se. They just hate washing dirty clothes and having sandy shoes tromp into their homes.
Parenthood is worrisome enough. Why add dirt to your list of worries? Once you stop worrying about it, you’ll be able to sit back and relax while your kid goes and plays.
Just buy secondhand clothes for your kids. And never buy white. Dark colors hide the stains a lot better. As for tracking dirt into your home? I don’t mind extra sweeping if it means my kid can enjoy nature to the fullest.
5. Cleanliness Does Not Equal Hygiene
Just yesterday I was burying Isabel in fall leafs in the park. As I was tossing leafs around, I almost touched a big pile of dog crap.
Would it have been gross if I had touched the dog crap by mistake? Yes. But is that a reason to never play in leafs? Hell no!
Staying clean is not the same as hygiene. As NHS writes, “Good hygiene is about preventing the spread of germs at times and in places and situations where it really matters, such as when preparing food, after using the toilet, after sneezing and when someone’s ill with an infection.”
6. Dirt Makes Kids Happier
There are whole new waves of information about how bacteria and organisms which live in our bodies – our microbiome – contribute to our health. Some of the most fascinating research has to do with how gut bacteria send signals to our brain which influence mood. If you are new to the topic, I recommend watching this TedX talk by Jeroen Raes on gut flora.
In regards to dirtiness and happiness, one study found that certain bacteria in soil activated a group of neurons in the brain that produce serotonin.6 Maybe there’s a lot more to “nature is medicine” than just a pretty view!
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Resources for this article:
3: http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=37519014: http://earth911.com/living-well-being/free-probiotics-3-great-reasons-to-let-your-kids-get-dirty/