Dirt Is Good: The Value of Allowing Kids to Get Dirty
By Jennifer Cummings, M. Ed. – Positively Green – This time in our history has seen a resurgence of interest in all things environmental and ‘green’.
More Americans are concerned about where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how their lives impact the planet’s health. Houses are more efficient, cars are cleaner, and furnaces burn less fuel. However, more than ever before Americans are searching for new ways to distance themselves from the very thing they are trying to save- the Earth!
As people have become more accustomed to living in areas that are removed from daily exposure to rural activities there has been an increased concern about exposure to the germs found outside and inside our homes. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of cleansers, soaps, antibacterials, UV lights, steamers, filters, and other gadgets all dedicated to fighting off the ever-present germs. Natural, chemical, and organic cleansers abound. People not only clean their homes, they sanitize them; hands are no longer washed, they’re disinfected. Dust and dirt are, well,dirty words.
So what does this all mean? Americans’ growing fear of dirt and germs only serves to further remove them from the natural world. Kids that can’t play outside for fear of getting dirty or germy will never be excited by finding a frog in a pond or by building a fort out of sticks with their friends. Making mud pies and jumping in puddles after spring rains is being relegated to the history books, and be spoken of by people who fondly ‘remember when’. Where will tomorrow’s environmentalists and conservationists come from if kids aren’t invited to get involved in the natural world today? You never know- you could be hindering the next John Muir!
Aside from limiting children’s exposure to all things green and natural, the American obsession with fighting germs anywhere and everywhere could actually be causing harm. Some people believe that by not allowing children to come in contact with naturally occurring germs in dirt, dust, and on pets they are actually setting their children up for allergies and illness later in life- a real example of hurting with kindness. On the other hand, some children are also developing sensitivity to all of the different chemicals and cleansers currently used in the average American household, leading to different health problems. Does this mean that either way, American kids are doomed? No way!
As with most other things in life, moderation and careful consideration are the watchwords to look for. Certainly, kids washing their hands is a good thing and parents absolutely want to protect their kids from getting sick. Food should be washed to make sure that there are no nasty germs waiting to make your family sick. And kitchen sinks and toilet seats? Now there’s a great use for those cleaners!
However, kids should still be allowed to play outside and in the dirt and in puddles and pet dogs and roll in the grass without needing to be immediately sanitized. Moms and dads need to allow kids the place and space to have fun in a creative, natural setting. No room in your yard? Then visit a local or state park, a beach, conservation area, pond, community garden, or forest. There are many resources online to help you find a great place to have fun in your community. Kids don’t know what to do? Time to jump in mom and dad- there’s nothing wrong with you having a little fun in the dirt, too!
Looked at objectively there are far more health risks associated with modern children’s overuse of the living room sofa to play video games than there is in letting them play with things they find outdoors. So as you’re wiping down your counters with an antibacterial cloth and steaming your bathroom floor, take a minute to think about where your kids are and what they’re doing. They may be clean, but are you doing them any favors?
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
Her publications: Tips from the Teacher provides useful hints and "tricks of the trade" that you can use at home to boost your child's academic progress year after year. And Homelinks Teacher Tools for Communicating with Parents New Skills Strategies, Newsletters and Home Communication Tools for Teachers(grades 2-8)
More Child Education Resources:
US Dept. of Education
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