This Is Why Your Kids Need to Play in the Dirt
Kids love to play in the dirt, and it turns out, there are science-based reasons for giving them the thumbs up. Scuffing around in a garden patch of soil will put more dirty clothes in your washing machine it’s true, but the long-term benefits are worth it. There are unseen bacteria, virus, and other tiny organisms that inhabit the soil... and they’re good for you!
Scientists have recently discovered that one bacterium in particular has an important effect on good health. It’s called Mycobacterium vaccae. You simply breathe it in when you’re out anywhere in nature... and your kids will certainly be exposed to it while playing in the dirt. Read on to find out why this is one little germ that you will want your kids to get to know.
Improving Brain Growth and Mood
This important little bacterium raises serotonin levels and stimulates neuron growth in the brain, according to research done at Sage Colleges in Troy, New York. Translated, that means better moods, and more brain growth. High-enough serotonin levels in the brain create a sense of calm. So putting a cranky child out to play in the dirt may be your best decision of the day.
Calmer moods help children focus better and learn more easily, and that’s where the neuron growth comes in. The same research found that Mycobacterium vaccae caused faster learning. Test subjects (mice) figured out a maze twice as fast, and with less anxiety, when they had good levels of the “dirt bacteria” in their systems.
Get Your School to Take Notice
An all-asphalt playground may not be the healthiest choice for a learning environment, given this new information about the benefits of dirt. “It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks,” noted Dorothy Matthews, head of the research project at The Sage Colleges.
Benefits to the Immune System
Playing in the dirt also helps your child build up immunity by offering regular encounters with all types of bacteria and viruses. As your child plays with these germs, their immune system slowly learns the environment and will be triggered to protect them from harm, when appropriate.
Each time your child encounters a potentially harmful “something” in the dirt, their body works to build up its immunity to it. So rather than sterilizing and disinfecting the population of beneficial bacteria and microorganisms your child encounters, encourage them to garden, make mud pies, and otherwise get dirty. You’ll actually be strengthening their ability to fight off diseases, and reducing the chances of catching every passing cold.
A Good Source of Minerals
We don’t usually think of dirt as a nutritional source but it contains the iron, zinc, magnesium, and other minerals important for growth and health. These are absorbed into a baby or child’s body through the skin. Minerals, especially iron, are related to motor development, cognitive abilities, and behavior. Walking barefoot helps absorb the wealth of minerals available in the soil. Making mud pies may even be better.
Just be sure your children are always up to date on their tetanus shots!
Ways to Get Them in the Dirt
Expose your toddler to dirt by putting some in a small plastic play pool along with some toys. You can also reap the benefits of gardening with your kids, get a potager going, or work on a kitchen herb garden.
Simply going on a nature walk regularly, with shorts stops to look at bugs or pick up some sticks and rocks, can make a wonderful difference to your child’s ability to stay healthy, grow well, and be happy.
How do you feel about letting little ones get dirty once in a while?