Many parents today are concerned with their children getting too dirty, but does a little bit of dirt hurt? What are the benefits, if any? Recent research suggests that there are plenty of benefits when we allow our children to play in the dirt. Several of them are very surprising.
Most parents are aware that is it excellent for children to be outside, to run around and to burn calories. Many will agree that the increased exercise will reduce obesity, childhood diabetes, and hopefully, keep the child on a healthy path to adulthood. Yet here in America we will still find ourselves having childhood obesity rates double in the last 20 years (CDC 2008), being the largest consumer in pediatric ADHD medications in the world (Sax, 2000), having a sharp rise in pediatric antidepressant (Delate 2004), and 7.6 million children are vitamin D deficient (Kumar 2000). Several researchers have suggested that if we encouraged our children to go outside and play that these numbers would decrease and lay the foundation for a healthy adulthood for our children (CDC 2008).
But what are the other benefits to children playing outside and getting dirty? New research suggests that if we keep our children too clean and not let them explore dirt and expose them to viruses and bacteria early in life that they will have a greater chance of having allergies and asthma later in life (Yazdanbakhsh 2002), as well as autoimmune diseases (Platts-Mills 2002). Researchers at the University of California School of Medicine have also found that common bacteria living on the skin are responsible for the skin healing faster. Keeping children overly clean will not allow these bacteria to stay alive (BBC News 2009). Bristol University also conducted a study finding that bacteria found in dirt activate certain neurons that cause the release of the chemical serotonin, creating feelings of well-being in the same manner that an antidepressant would.
Perhaps it is time we let our little ones go outside for more mud pie creations.