It is a question that lots of parents have asked themselves:”Why does my child love playing with dirt?” One plain and simple answer may be: kids love the way dirt feels and smells. Another down to earth answer could be: children play with dirt because as an element very near the composition of their own bodies, they are instinctively attracted to it.
Obviously, one clear concern when kids play with dirt is health. However, studies show that children that play with dirt aren’t at higher risk of developing diseases, compared to those that don’t. Furthermore, it appears that kids that play with dirt develop stronger immune systems and resistance to viruses and bacteria. An article released by the Wildlife Federation entitled, The Dirt on Dirt, explains that dirt and germs are in fact good for children:”… all those things which make mothers reach for hand sanitizer and laundry detergent–may, in reality, be a grubby little prescription for health and happiness.” Of course we would not leave our children play with dirt at a doggy park, or in any other place that would present a hazard to the health of children via contaminated animal feces, toxic wastes, or some other pollutants. Yet, if we have access to a backyard or if there’s a well-maintained park in our neighborhood, than allowing children to play with dirt is perfectly fine.
Playing with dirt is quite therapeutic, kin to the act of gardening. In fact, teaching gardening to young children can be a excellent way to take their explorations with dirt to the next level. Both, girls and boys alike enjoy playing with dirt. We may have seen how much fun boys have picking up dirt and dumping it as they float through dirt with bulldozers and dump trucks, or women having a ball as they pretend-play to be mommies; cooking everything from mud pies, to cookie mush. This kind of play is not only innocuous, but it lends itself to mutual socialization as kids cooperate with peers at a non-competitive atmosphere.
There are endless possibilities when kids play with dirt. Playing in open nature, can have an impact in the intellectual orientation of kids, even opening the doors to future academic pursuits. A research study on environmental education demonstrates how beneficial it is for children to learn about their world hands-on. In her abstract, Joanne Glenn (Glenn, J 2000) explains that kids learn science by doing science. The results of her studies also reveal that children improve across several academic areas when educated in an environment-based classroom. Improvements were registered in reading and math scores, science and social studies.
The Journey Back to Nature
It might not be simple to encourage children who have been exposed to nature to get dirty. Children nowadays are so connected to technology, that playing in the dirt may sound like a foreign concept to many of them, particularly those living in metropolitan areas. He is really nostalgic of times past when kids freely played in nature, and parents really encouraged it. He believes children should be reconnected to character, but feels that somehow society is conditioning our children to be fearful of it. He proposes using the principle of green urbanism, and weaving nature into classrooms to encourage what he calls: A No Child Left Inside motion.
Remembering it is only in the past three or four decades that we have turned our backs on mother nature as a source for solitude and pleasure, can help us recover our dull senses. We must awaken to the proven fact that children will need to play, roam through, and explore nature if they are to grow up to be caring people who are interested in the well-being of the planet and its resources.