As new findings come to light there is even more reason to get the children outside for play and learning.
We are bombarded with advertisements about cleanliness. Adverts which prey on our sensitivities about being good parents and emotionally blackmail us into feeling that we are less of a parent should we fail to micro-sterile our homes or allow our kids to ever encounter a speck of dirt.
However, if we can overcome our terror at the risk of our kids contacting germs and bacteria that may harm them, we might instead be benefitting their health.
It’s now understood that children need exposure to certain germs and microbes, especially those found in the earth and green spaces, to help them build a robust immune system. It’s also been suggested that certain microbes can affect mental health too. Contact with these microbes, many found in soil, can lead to increased resistance to allergies, asthma, diabetes, certain diseases and can promote healthy brain development. Apart from the fact that an interest in the natural world promotes intelligent thinking.
By keeping our kids separate from outdoor dirt and dirty play, exacerbated by the switch from outdoor entertainment to indoors and a sterilised indoors at that, we are inhibiting the development of their natural health. And a naturally strong immunity.
So perhaps we should rethink our routines and encourage children to play out, take more lessons outside, and investigate the outdoor world with interest, allow them to get dirty rather than recoil in horror at what they’re touching.
We can do this by:
- Facilitating opportunities for them to play in the dirt and mud; sculpt, mould, draw, and invent imaginary scenarios (mud pies for example) with it.
- Spending time outdoors in parks and woods and encouraging them to make dens with any natural materials they can find.
- Allowing kids to examine, touch and handle the plant, animal and insect life they show interest in (within reason – nettles and wasps may not be within reason for example – even though they still need to know about them).
- Making collections of the things they find (seeds, leaves, stones, etc) and researching them together.
- Refraining from panicking when they inevitably get or put things in their mouths. It’s unlikely to do too much harm. And tiny microbes in dirt affect us in beneficial ways we’re only just at the tip of understanding.
- Shopping and cooking foods that came with soil on rather than those that have been pressure washed and plastic wrapped. Planting and growing some of your own.
- Giving up constant use of the hand sanitiser and sterile wipes, which are not only unnecessary but bad for the environment too. Washing hands is adequate.
Children naturally want to play and explore the environments they are in and this is beneficial to their educational development too. However, modern day culture has limited those environments and consequently inhibited their exposure to useful microbes. But we can turn that around and facilitate opportunities for our kids to enjoy some good healthy dirty play.