While many times getting our hands dirty is frowned upon, Be Out There has some new facts and figures that may have you throwing your kids into the nearest mud puddle.
In our report The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids, we reveal how getting down and dirty in the great outdoors -- far from being a bad thing -- helps children lead happier, healthier lives.
But here's the dirty little secret:
Dirt and germs can actually be good for kids. The things small children want to do outside, like building mud castles, splashing around in puddles and rolling down hills until their clothes are irreparably grass-stained -- 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.
Unfortunately, boys and girls today spend the better part of their time, seven hours per day on average (Rideout, 2010), indoors, in the sterile company of technology, rather than following their in-born impulses to explore the natural world with their senses. This indoor childhood is damaging to kids. In fact, in the last twenty years as kids spent less and less time outside, childhood obesity rates more than doubled (CDC, 2008), the United States became the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world (Sax, 2000), 7.6 million U.S. children are vitamin D deficient (Kumar, 2000), and the use of antidepressants in pediatric patients rose sharply (Delate, 2004).
When kids do leave the house, a growing body of research suggests the exact things we do in the name of protecting them from dirt and germs, such as not letting them get too messy and frequently using hand sanitizers and antibacterial products, can inhibit their mental and physical health and resilience.
For the Health of it
When we let our kids play in dirt we're not only allowing them to explore the wonders around them, we are also exposing them to healthy bacteria, parasites, and viruses that will inevitably create a much stronger immune system! Many kids who live in an ultraclean environment have a greater chance of suffering from allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases that we would otherwise be protected from through the simple pleasure of playing with some nice common dirt.
The Joy of Dirt
Studies have shown that simply having contact with dirt, whether it's through gardening, digging holes, or making pies out of mud, can significantly improve a child's mood and reduce their anxiety and stress. With antidepressant use in kids on the rise, an increasing number of experts are recognizing the role of nature in enhancing kids' mental health. Dirt can even improve classroom performance. It's easy to see the effect when you watch children play outside.
To Download the Full Report (pdf), go to http://www.nwf.org/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/Dirt-is-Great.aspx.
National Wildlife Federation (NWF)
Be Out There Campaign
PO Box 1583
Merrifield, VA 22116-1583