Like most parents, you’ve probably told your children, “You’re filthy!” more often than you can count. If you’re worried about how germs affect your child’s health, you’re not alone. So is it okay to ditch the hand sanitizer and let them get a little muddy now and then? Studies show the benefits may outweigh the mess. Here’s the dirt on dirt and five excellent reasons you might want more of it in your kid’s life.
Dirt Builds Healthy Immune Systems
Image via Flickr by chascar Licensed CC BY 2.0
Germs found on the ground can help strengthen your child’s immune system. Unfortunately, our culture’s germaphobic mentality, especially post-pandemic, could be making our kids sicker. Their little bodies need to know what challenges lurk in their environment, so their immune system isn’t caught unprepared.
Jack Gilbert, a microbial ecosystem scientist at the University of Chicago, says that keeping your children from getting dirty is worse for them in the long run. Unless they’re fighting a cold or virus, over-sterilizing their environment with commercial sanitizers isn’t necessary. He recommends washing their hands with soap and hot water instead. He also mentions that your kids don’t need to clean up every time they pet the dog or come in from the backyard.
The Journal of Allergy and Clinic Immunology suggests you start encouraging more time in the dirt when kids are young. Its 2014 published paper indicated that exposure to allergens and bacteria during your baby’s first year might prevent allergies and even asthma-related wheezing as your child grows. So start their filthy outdoor experiences as young as six months. Just use caution and avoid areas treated with pesticides.
Dirt Boosts Academic and Development Growth
Unstructured outdoor playtime is vital to your child’s growth and development. This is another reason to start mud play for your child early. Many students who study environmental education also saw performance boosts in math, reading, and writing abilities. Even critical thinking and listening skills can improve when children work with soil.
The National Library of Medicine’s online journal reports that nature experiences promote learning. Hundreds of studies have helped educators understand the cause-and-effect relationship between dirt and academic success. That’s why Crème de la Crème’s facilities provide kids with a diverse collection of outdoor play equipment and two whole hours to get a little dirt on their hands every day.
Dirt Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Getting a little dirty in the great outdoors is far from a bad thing. This healthy habit may help your children lead happier lives. Our indoor, screen-dependent society is creating overweight, tuned-out, and stressed-out kids. Something is missing in their lives, and we believe it could be a strong connection to our natural world.
Playing outside can safeguard your child’s emotional development, too. Today’s hurried lifestyles contribute to anxiety and depression, and exposing your kids to dirt in a natural setting may effectively reduce ADHD symptoms.
The Child Mind Institute’s website has a terrific article that shows spending time in nature can reduce a child’s stress and fatigue levels. One study by the American Psychological Association reported a significant reduction in the risk of psychiatric disorders in children. Kids even showed growth in empathy and cooperation after spending time in green spaces like parks and forests.
Simply having contact with grime, whether through gardening, digging holes, or making mud pies, can improve a child’s mood. With the 41% rise in the use of prescription anti-depressants in kids as young as 5 over the last seven years, many mental health experts are committed to embracing alternative treatment methods, like getting dirty, to help kids thrive.
Dirt Helps Build Strong Bodies
In addition to exposing kids to healthy bacteria, parasites, and viruses that create a stronger immune system, outdoor play increases your child’s fitness level and builds healthy bodies. Frequent physical activity, like playing in the dirt, is an essential strategy that may help curb America’s plump problem.
The CDC reports that childhood obesity is a serious health concern for parents, with an increasingly alarming number of infants and toddlers weighing in the unsafe range. In kids between 2 and 11 years old, a shocking 33.7% of those little ones are considered overweight.
Spending time outside also raises levels of vitamin D. This vital nutrient may protect children from future health problems, like osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes. Kids who spend most of their time in class or on the couch are likely lacking in this vitamin. Help them decrease their risk of deficiencies and go roll around on the ground.
Dirt Helps Foster Imagination
Through the simple pleasure of playing with dirt, children can exercise their imaginations, as well as their muscles. Kneading, shaping, and flattening mud into pies benefits your kid’s executive function and creative thinking processes. All they need to do is get a little dirty.
If you don’t have a vast collection of mud nearby, kids can construct a glorious sandcastle right in your backyard. It’s a great alternative that still comes with all the benefits of good, old-fashioned dirt. Give them recycled containers, cups, and beach toys to design the fortress, then encourage your little ones to decorate their creation with rocks or shells.
Gardening is another creative way to get your kids in the mud. Tending to plants in a low maintenance plot of flowers or vegetables comes with loads of perks too. Your kids will learn about healthy choices, and fussy eaters may be willing to try the foods they grow. Let your children 2 and up get soil under their nails by weeding and harvesting the goodies you grow together.
So, there you have it. While you may have frowned upon dirty hands before, the facts and figures that Crème de la Crème just shared will probably have you looking for the nearest mud puddle. What do you think of our article? Did we miss your family’s best reason for getting muddy? Let us know if we did! Drop us a line so we can add your motivations to our piece.