Springtime is perhaps the muddiest of all seasons. And leave it to children to find the muddiest spots and make themselves comfortable! But aside from the inconvenience of cleaning up (or hosing off) a bit of dirt, it turns out that children are drawn to it for a reason; it’s good for them.
From the time they are infants, putting every little thing into their mouths, to the time they are toddlers, making mud pies and digging holes in the garden with their hands, to their elementary years when the most impressive mud puddles beckon to them, children seem to find dirt irresistible.
There may be good reason for this; according to the “hygiene hypothesis” that many scientists are studying, ingesting small amounts of dirt (and the millions of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that come with it) are necessary for the development of a healthy immune system. These bugs are the “police force that keeps the immune system from becoming trigger-happy. Basically, the immune system is now attacking things it shouldn’t be attacking,” notes Dr. Graham Rook, a professor in the department of infection at the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at the University College London (US News).
Rook goes on to point out that research has shown that an overly clean lifestyle (severely limiting a child’s exposure to dirt and germs through the overuse of antibiotics, hand sanitizers, and spending less and less time engaging in play outdoors, which is ultimately time spent just getting down and out dirty) is linked to the increase in our society’s prevalence of severe allergic reactions; gastrointestinal disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease; and autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Some other reasons to let your children get dirty include dirt’s benefits on one’s mood, reducing anxiety and stress, and there are even benefits of simply having dirt on one’s skin! (Read more here)
But perhaps the most obvious reason to let your child get dirty every day has to do with the connection he or she will make with nature. Getting dirty requires being outdoors, and we all need more of that! Plus, playing in the dirt is just fun!
The National Wildlife Foundation has many suggestions for getting creative with dirt, including painting with a mud and a twig paintbrush, making good old-fashioned mud pies, building with mud, and good old-fashioned digging in the garden for worms. So when your children start to get down and dirty, take comfort in knowing that it’s good for them!
Let Them Eat Dirt, by R. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta
Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, by Mary Ruebush
Mud Pies and Other Recipes, by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad
“If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job.” -Dr. Mary Ruebush, immunologist and author of Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends.
Thank you, Melinda Smith, for taking (and sharing) these awesome photos!