Let Them Eat Dirt

Is there anything more endearing than a boy playing in the dirt? Before I had boys I would have said, “Yes, lots of things.” But now I have two snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails and I am in Heaven.

I am amazed how soon the fascination begins- as soon as my baby began crawling, he sped to the nearest potted plant to do some digging.

As much as I want to discourage this and reach for the hand sanitizer, I can think of at least three good reasons to let them play in the dirt- and maybe even eat a little of it too.

1. Playing in the dirt is good for the immune system. “What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her book, Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends. “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.” Apparently viral and bacterial infections produce a similar immune response, but with less impact. (And I’d rather have my kids develop a robust immune system by playing in the dirt than from endless runny noses and coughs!)

2. Children today spend most of their time inside, and have what Richard Louv calls “Nature-Deficit Disorder“. Research is linking time spent in nature to longer attention spans, better cognitive functioning, reduction of stress, and strengthened family bonds. Personally, I don’t think we need scientific evidence to convince parents about the benefits of outdoor play, or even just fresh air. Almost every fussy/grouchy (or “grunchy” as my son calls it) child has an instant attitude shift when taken outside. Which leads me to #3…

3. It makes them happy. Need I say more?

4 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Dirt”

  1. Yes yes yes yes yes! (Can you tell I agree?)

    Love Richard Louv – The Last Child in the Woods I refer to again and again. It infuriates me that people make it difficult for boys (or girls) to play in dirt. I’ve seen parents block their kids from doing many times simply on the grounds that they’re “going to get dirty”. That picture is unreal. Is that where you live? (Cue dramatic music along with swoons of envy…)

  2. Thanks Rachel! That’s my son’s special dirt pile at his grandma’s house at the base of the Smoky Mountains. Every time we go for a visit he asks why we can’t live there…it is magical, and the stuff childhood dreams are made of. This photo was snapped just before he harvested peanuts ( that huge plant in the top center of the pic).

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