It is a question that many parents have asked themselves: “Why does my child love playing with dirt?” One plain and simple answer may be: children love the way dirt smells and feels. Another down to earth answer could be: children play with dirt because as an element very close to the composition of their very own bodies, they are instinctively attracted to it.
Builds Immune System
Of course, one understandable concern when children play with dirt is health. However, studies show that children that play with dirt are not at higher risk of developing diseases, in comparison to those that don’t. Furthermore, it seems that children that play with dirt develop stronger immune systems and resistance to bacteria and viruses. An article published by The Wildlife Federation entitled, The Dirt on Dirt, explains that dirt and germs are actually good for children: “… all those things that make mothers reach for hand sanitizer and laundry detergent–may, in fact, be a grubby little prescription for health and happiness. ”
Of course we wouldn’t leave our children play with dirt in a doggy park, or in any other location that would present a hazard to the health of children via contaminated animal feces, toxic wastes, or any other pollutants. Yet, if we have access to a backyard or if there is a well-maintained park in our neighborhood, than allowing children to play with dirt is perfectly fine.
Playing with dirt is very therapeutic, kin to the act of gardening. In fact, teaching gardening to young children can be a wonderful way to take their explorations to the next level. Both, boys and girls equally enjoy playing with dirt. We may have witnessed how much fun boys have picking up dirt and dumping it as they roam through dirt with bulldozers and dump trucks. Or girls having a ball as they pretend-play to be mommies; cooking everything from mud pies, to cookie mush. This form of play is not only innocuous, but it lends itself to reciprocal socialization as children cooperate with peers in a non-competitive atmosphere.
There are endless possibilities when children play with dirt. Playing in open nature, can have an effect in the intellectual orientation of children, even opening the doors to future academic pursuits. Children’s present interest in the products of the earth can literally spill into interests in the fields of biology, ecology and conservation. A research study on environmental education shows how beneficial it is for children to learn about their world hands-on. In her abstract, Joanne Glenn (Glenn, J 2000) explains that children learn science by doing science. The results of her studies also show that children improve across several academic disciplines when taught in an environment-based classroom. Improvements were registered in reading and math scores, science and social studies.
The Journey Back to Nature
It may not be easy to encourage children who have never been exposed to nature to get dirty. Children nowadays are so connected to technology. Playing in the dirt may sound like a foreign concept to many of them, especially those living in urban areas. Richard Louv author of Last Child in the Woods (Louv 2005), explains this as a peculiar phenomenon, and have coined the term; Nature Deficit Disorder. He’s truly nostalgic of times past when children freely played in nature, and parents actually encouraged it. He believes children should be reconnected to nature, but feels that somehow society is conditioning our children to be fearful of it. He suggests using the principle of green urbanism, and weaving nature into classrooms to encourage what he calls: A No Child Left Indoors movement.
Remembering that it is only in the last three or four decades that we have turned our backs on mother nature as a source for solitude and enjoyment, can help us recover our dull senses. We must awaken to the proven fact that children need to play, roam through, and explore nature if they are to grow up to be caring individuals who are interested in the well-being of the planet and its resources.
“Get the Dirt on Dirt.” N.p., n.d.Web.
Glenn, J. (2000,September1). Environmental-Based Education, Creating High Performance schools and Students. Retrieved May 29, 2015,
Louv, R (2005). Last child in the woods. Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Alonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
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