When you think of dirt, what is the first thing that comes to mind? "Dirty"- unsanitary, germs, bacteria, messy. Well, dirt might be messy, but it is far from unsanitary!
Not so long ago, most likely when YOU were a kid, it was normal to go outside, with nothing but your imagination and the dirt on the ground. But things have changed. Kids are spending the majority of their down time indoors, in sanitary environments and are being impacted by it.
Dirt, or soil, is the loose top layer of the earth's crust, a mixture of minerals and organic materials, plus air and water. Did you know that 1 TSP of dirt contains billions of organisms? These little microbes are responsible for so many vital resources that play a part in our everyday life. Dirt is responsible for recycling water, provides us with nutrient dense foods, shelter and sources of medications, and is also used in beauty and culture. Dirt is where most of our nutrients originate from- our water, food, and skin absorption.
Dirt is considered the skin of the earth. Similar to human skin, the earth needs it's skin to survive, and we need the earth to survive.
So this is all fine and dandy- we need the earth, the earth needs dirt, but why do WE need dirt? Especially our children?
Some of the biggest health benefits of dirt are; promotes a stronger immune system, reduces allergies, improves digestion, decreases heart disease, prevents stress, and encourages nutrient absorption! It is immensely important to start exposure of dirt at a young age, as the little one's are still growing their immune system and learning healthy habits.
"Wash your hands before dinner"
"Don't play with that- we don't know where it's been"
"Get off that dirty floor"
Classic everyday examples of phrases used by parents to protect their children from germs. I am not saying to stop teaching your children proper hygiene or etiquette skills, I'm simply suggesting to let your child get dirty!
More commonly in today's children there is a huge increase in indoor play. Kids are more likely to catch sicknesses if they are always indoors in a sanitized environment. Being indoors means children have little exposure to microorganisms. "Okay so why can't I just let my child play outside more but on playgrounds, and confined environments?" Of course kids need to experience different atmospheres during play, but the microorganisms found on jungle gyms and man-made safe zones are not the friendly bacteria we would like your children to be exposed to!
Playing in dirt gives your child access to both beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria, and the more types of organisms they are exposed to, the better their bodies will be at identifying which is which, and how to act accordingly.
Not only is dirt good for your immune system, but it also helps with allergies, absorption of nutrients, and digestion. You can absorb nutrients through ingestion, mucus membranes (nostrils, eyes) and skin contact. Also, don't be too worried if your little guy mistakes mud pies for a real pie- it is safe and actually beneficial in small amounts!
We've all heard the phrase "Rub some dirt in it" when we get hurt. Well, as aggravating as it is when that is someone's advice, they are not entirely wrong! Children who have a higher exposure to outside/the environment actually heal quicker!
Now if you're still not on the mud train, or if your child is getting too old to want to be covered in mud, another great way to be exposed to the benefits of dirt is to start a garden. Creating a garden with your child not only is a bonding experience, but they also learn valuable life skills. Some skills include; sensory skills, encourages healthy eating, enhances motor skills, scientific concepts, responsibility, environmental learning, patience, and organization.
Letting your children be outside to just be a kid- getting dirty and all, increases their serotonin (happy hormone) levels, which overall increases their mental health.
Some fun ways to encourage outdoor soil play;
-mix mud and let them create: sculptures, houses, mud pies, art pieces
-go digging for worms
-splash in puddles
-roll down hills
-go on hikes/forest walks and explore
-create a garden
PS- ADULTS CAN STILL HAVE FUN IN THE MUD AND ENJOY THE BENEFITS AS WELL! HAVE FUN WITH YOUR KIDDO'S THIS SUMMER!