June 24, 2019
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Why letting young children play in dirt is actually healthy for them

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Annie Wilson (right) gets slopped with mud by Kathrine Durant during a 2002 "oozeball" competition at the University of Maine in Orono.

Spring has sprung and summer is inching closer, which means it is peak mud pie-making season. If you’re a parent like me, then the idea of your kids being covered head to toe in dirty, icky mud is probably enough to send you to the edge of sanity. Who wants to clean up that kind of mess?

But it turns out that letting kids get slathered in mud and dirt outside is actually beneficial to their immune systems — not to mention their sense of fun and creativity.

Jack Gilbert, a research scientist from the University of Chicago and co-author of “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System,” recently told NPR that what parents have always been told about kids and dirt is just plain wrong. Take the famous five-second rule, for example. Gilbert told NPR, “The five-second rule doesn’t exist. It takes milliseconds for microbes to attach themselves to a sticky piece of jammy toast, for example. But it makes no difference. Unless you dropped it in an area where you think they could be a high risk of extremely dangerous pathogens, which in every modern American home is virtually impossible, then there’s no risk to your child.”

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Gilbert has found that when kids are exposed to germs through dirt – from the garden to the kitchen floor – their immune systems kick into gear and become more robust, which is beneficial to a growing body. Further, Gilbert says that when kids get exposed to different kinds of germs it may actually prevent or decrease the risk of developing some allergies and even asthma, a respiratory condition that affects 6 million American kids under the age of 18.

Beyond the science of how dirt and germs benefit a child’s immune system, we’ve long known that kids who play outside often are more relaxed, better focused in school and at home, and have lower levels of stress and anxiety. It could be the physical exercise, fresh air and even all those germs working in tandem to protect a child from getting sick.

So, this mud pie-making season, make sure to let your kid get as dirty as possible. Not only will your kid have a blast and probably consider you the best parent in the world, but you get the assurance that your child will come out of their creative play with a tougher immune system. That’s a win-win.

Related: Hundreds got muddy in Orrington for Wicked Muddy Mainer

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s May 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

 



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