Recently, I read a newspaper article about a town wanting to “improve” their school playground by adding a softer play surface to help cushion a fall and to get rid of the grass and dirt.
Excuse me, what??????
Apparently, parents were complaining that their children were coming home dirty.
~Pause for gasp~
FYI: I googled “kids having fun outside” and this is the first image that popped up.
What do you notice? No playground equipment. No fake surface. In fact, as I scrolled through the images, no where did I see any “soft surfaces” depicted in any of the pictures. Children were playing in grass, dirt, sand, snow and water. Imagine that.
Recently I wrote a newspaper article regarding the topic at hand. Take a few minutes to ponder this.
“Don’t get dirty.” “Wash your hands!” This has been the request of parents throughout the ages aimed at children coming in and out from outdoor play. But is this good advice? Can getting dirty and being exposed to germs actually benefit children? The answer is yes. The Centers for Disease Control stated that the number of Americans with asthma grew by 28 percent from 2001 to 2011. Research has also noted that children who are exposed to more microbes (or germs) early in life develop better immune tolerance to things like asthma and allergies. This “hygiene hypothesis” examines the idea that as we become a more developed environment, we are being exposed to less and less microbes that would otherwise “train” our immune system to function better against disease. Dr. Mary Ruebush, an immunologist and author of Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, says, “Let your child be a child. Dirt is good. If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job. They’re not building their immunological army.”
So, what can you do as a parent? Relax. Kids are meant to be dirty. Their bodies and minds crave the outdoors. As children are spending more and more time in front of a screen, the need to get dirty is increasing. Encourage children’s excitement for the outdoors. Let them taste dirt. Let them touch a worm. Forgo the hand sanitizer for every speck of dust. Not only does dirt benefit a child’s health, but it also benefits his emotional state. The National Wildlife Federation, in their article The Dirt on Dirt, states that, “Making direct contact with soil, whether through gardening, digging for worms, or making mud pies has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety and facilitate learning.”
What are some ways that you can help your kids get dirty? Start a garden. Even a small windowsill garden can be a great activity that encourages curiosity and learning. Make mud pies. Find a patch of dirt to water down and make some mud. Don’t want to tear up the yard? Fill a small plastic pool with sand and just add water. Build sandcastles, make moats, or just dig around. Get some dirt under those fingernails! There are lots of easy (and cheap) ways to get outside and have some fun. Don’t get scared by a little dirt and try acting like a kid again.