When my dad was growing up, my grandma used to tell him and his brothers that if they didn’t come home dirty, they clearly hadn’t had enough fun. When was the last time you remember encouraging your kids to play outside? Or that you told your child to go get dirty? For some reason, we’ve moved away from this. But what if I told you it’s really good for them?
Playing outside in the dirt has a number of health benefits for children. Research shows that exposure to germs found in dirt has positive long-term effects on a child’s health,
boosting immunity and even preventing allergies. Outdoor play usually means more sun exposure, which increases vitamin D in the body to build stronger bones.
Dr. Danae Lund wrote an article about the top reasons for playing outside and she listed several. For example, did you know that the benefits aren’t just physical? According to Lund, unstructured play promotes cognitive development, as children invent and explore. They engage all five of their senses when they dig in the dirt, make mudpies, and splash around in puddles. (Ok, four senses if they’re not eating the mudpies.) She also notes that outdoor play is a major mood booster and can help kids develop longer attention spans.
With my own kids, I remember that they always slept better after a day of playing in the great outdoors. Like me, you may also notice that your kids complain less about being bored (or know what to do when they feel that way!) and are just, plain, happier.
As Lund points out: Playing outside is a great stress reducer, so kids may end up having an easier time sharing, taking turns, and being more cooperative overall.
I totally understand why you might be feeling a little reluctant to let your kids get dirty. After all, you have to clean them up afterwards! But one way to solve this is to set aside clothes that are specifically for outside play. You can also make cleaning up a game, hose them off, or let them run through the sprinkler to clean up.
Too often, kids don’t feel like they have permission to get messy. They’re worried they might get in trouble. Empower them to get down in the dirt and do whatever their little hearts desire. I’m talking about the total abandon of rolling in the mud, mud fights, even a mud Slip and Slide! Sure, you’ll scrub some fingernails, but when you witness your child’s unadulterated joy, you’ll realize how beneficial getting dirty really is.