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?