Do you remember making mud pies as a kid? What about rolling down a hill full speed only to find there was a great big puddle at the end? Do you remember how much fun you had? Sadly, fewer children these days get to experience that fun because parents are afraid of the germs when kids get dirty.
Of course, we want to keep our kids healthy and safe. But research shows that this abundance of caution could be detrimental to our future generations. Getting dirty and being exposed to the microbes in nature is a good way to prevent poor health in the future. Besides, kids enjoy it! The mess might be annoying to clean up but read on for five reasons a little extra laundry detergent is worth it.
5. Improves Motor Skills
One of the greatest benefits of playing outside is that it teaches children motor skills. This is especially important or infants. For instance, according to research done by Eastern Connecticut State University, by 10 months of age children already have a preference to what textures they like and dislike.
In that same article, the author goes on to explain that playing is a requirement for children to learn regulating behaviors and emotions. Children who play less are more likely show aggressive and antisocial behaviors. The outdoors encourage play, particularly unstructured play.
Babies that are introduced to the great outdoors while learning how to walk also have a great advantage. Most children learn how to walk on flat surfaces. While this is a fine way to teach them, it doesn’t expose them to all the different surfaces they will experience. A sandy beach or a grassy hill can improve balance and coordination.
4. Teaches Kids About Nature
When children play outside they tend not to notice they’re learning. As they play in the mud they discover different worms, insects, and roly-polies. Then learn what type of environment those different species prefer. They hear birds and other creatures that communicate through sound. They even learn different smells, which helps in learning about plants and decomposition.
Gardening also provides a great learning tool for children. That’s why Mercy Montessori has introduced a garden on the 5th floor of their school. “It gives students the foundation they need to be contributing members of society,” says Lisa Klus, assistant principal, and director of the microeconomy program.
For this same reason, families find their way to farm-to-table communities like Aberlin Springs. Children here are exposed to a lifestyle that they would have otherwise never experienced. By interacting with plants and animals they learn science, critical thinking, and even empathy.
3. Gets Kids Away From the Computer
In 2014 NPR talked about how too much exposure to electronic media affects the way children are developing. They cited a study that showed how children that don’t get enough time away from their screens are less likely to recognize human emotions.
Linking back the previous research done by Eastern Connecticut State University they say that “A sedentary play style in the early years is likely to become an overall sedentary lifestyle: inactive preschoolers are highly likely to become inactive adults.” (Reilly &Jackson, 2004).
Few will argue that playing on a computer or tablet is fun. After a long day of learning it’s nice to just plop down and play a game for a while. However, by limiting screen time you do your child a favor. You prepare them for an active healthy lifestyle as adults. Not only that but you are also teaching them human relations.
2. Relieves Stress
If you notice that your child is suffering from anxiety and depression due to stress, take them outside. (Do it for yourself, too.) Prevention described how being outside can reduce stress levels. “When it comes to alleviating stress, there’s just something about being in our natural element that’s hard to beat,” says Catharine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
When pressures from school add up, take this opportunity to bond with your child. Take them to a park with a hiking path and let them talk about their feelings. You’re not only building a relationship with your child but you’re also putting them in a relaxing environment where they can be one with nature and alleviate some of the stress.
1. Introduces Healthy Microbes to the Body
The number one reason you should let your kids go outside, play in the mud, and just get dirty is that it introduces their body to essential microorganisms. The fear of dirt and germs is a trend that is now starting to reverse among parents. WebMD hypothesized that early exposure to dirt and germs could potentially prevent ailments like asthma and allergies as the child matures.
Children have a natural tendency to put things in their mouth that we feel they shouldn’t. The truth is that as long as it’s not a harmful chemical they should be fine. It’s true that they could get sick from not washing their hands after playing on the playground, but this is also exposing them to microorganisms that can help create natural antibodies.
According to the Huffington Post, scientists have discovered that our bodies are starting to miss microbes that were more common in previous generations. Scientists believe that the cause of this is twofold. First, children are not getting the essential exposure to good bacteria. Second, we are increasing the number of antibiotics we give children. This is detrimental because antibiotics kill not only the bad germs but the good ones. By doing so we are lowering our resistance to harmful bacterias.
You might cringe at the suggestion, but the next time your child goes out to play, leave the hand sanitizer at home. While you’re at it, if you have a family dog, or visit a friend with pets, don’t prevent the dog from licking your child’s face. Pets can also give microbial exposure to children that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
You want what everyone wants for your child: a long, happy, and healthy life. So consider whether it’s time to let them get dirty and have a blast. And don’t just watch them have fun, join them! You could find it has some positive effects on your own life. If you’re looking for suggestions on how to get your children outside more checkout suggestions from The Children and Nature Network.
IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain