The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids


“Don’t track mud in the house!”

“Wash your hands before dinner!”

“You can’t play with that, you don’t know

where it’s been!”

Parents wear those phrases out like old blue jeans put

through the spin cycle too many times. Many have come

to see D-I-R-T as a four-letter word. Only two decades

ago, kids made forts with sticks and mud, waded up to

their knees in streams. How many do that now? Fears

about dangers lurking in the muck (microbes, parasites

and amoebas, oh my!) and a societal slant in favor of oversanitization

keep families from letting kids do what comes

naturally, which is to go outside and get a little messy.

But here’s a 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.

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