By Jan de Lange
Parents all over know that young kids love playing in the dirt. Mud, gravel, sand, dough, food, and water: they love it all. While tired parents may find the sticky hands, muddy clothes and sandy carpets taxing, there are important benefits to letting your kids play in the dirt:
Research in the 1980’s came up with the hygiene hypothesis. Researchers theorised that children in developed countries – and by proxy communities or households with similar lifestyles to those in developed countries – are subjected to fewer everyday infections and contaminants in early childhood than used to be the case. They proposed that this led to a weakened immune system that had not been prepared for commonly occurring environmental factors, increasing the likelihood that these children would get allergies and illnesses later in life.
Later research went even further to theorise that humans have gradually lost touch with the microbes we evolved with like fungi, parasites and bacteria, and that these play an important role in our health. This “old friends” approach suggests that increasingly sanitised play environments in early childhood have distanced us from these microbial lifeforms.
The sheer enjoyment of playing outside in the dirt is not something to be scoffed at. The wellness benefits of children having a fun childhood have been well documented. Playing outside gives your children the opportunity to also learn to have fun. Here they get the chance to enjoy themselves and to indeed discover an easily accessible means of enjoyment.
Playing in the dirt and playing in the sun are usually one and the same. Since human beings’ main source of Vitamin D is sunlight – there being few food sources for Vitamin D – outside play is an essential activity for children. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a host of health problems like type 1 diabetes, certain cancers, and metabolic bone disease. Giving your children plenty of sun keeps their Vitamin D levels in healthy ranges and establishes the habit of seeking outdoor time.
Development: Mind and body
Playing outside benefits your child’s mental and physical development. They go on flights of fancy, growing their imagination. They play with things big and small which is excellent for developing fine motor skills. They move around and expend some of the buckets of energy young children are so well known for. This is not only great for them physically but helps keep excessive boredom and frustration away.
Playing outside is one of the fundamental experiences kids have when growing up. It helps strengthen the immune system, develops their growing and connects them further to the world they’ve been born into.