When children are out walking or playing in a green space… the risk of getting infected with microbes that carry human diseases decreases drastically. Allow your children to touch anything they want (except animal waste), including dirt, mud, trees, plants, insects, etc. Don’t act on the urge to clean them right after they get dirty, either; let them stay dirty for as long as the play session lasts or until it’s time to eat. In fact, our children experience so little time outdoors compared to previous generations that it’s ideal to encourage them to get dirty during the little time they have outside.
– B. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta, in Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanatized World, p. 135
When you spend so much time getting your kids outside, you’re sure enough going to deal with them getting dirty. My daughter especially loves to dig her little fingers into mud and roll little mud balls that she then presses onto the ends of little sticks, pushing the whole thing into the ground and proclaiming, “I made a mushroom!” She’ll do this repeatedly, and her hands become absolutely covered in dirt. While it’s natural to feel like I should clean her hands up sooner than later, I’ve gotten used to just letting her nature-connected hands be for a while. We can clean up when we get home, or before lunch. Allowing a little bit of earth to remain on her hands benefits her health. It’s a claim often thrown around when discussing nature connection for kids – “If you let kinds get dirty in nature, they’ll grow up healthier as adults.” And increasingly it’s a claim that’s shown to be true. A new book looks at the science behind the claim:
B. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta, Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanatized World (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2016), 304 pp.
Publisher’s description In the two hundred years since we discovered that microbes cause infectious diseases, we’ve battled to keep them at bay. But a recent explosion of scientific knowledge has led to undeniable evidence that early exposure to these organisms is beneficial to a child’s well-being. Our modern lifestyle, with its emphasis on hyper-cleanliness, is taking a toll on children’s lifelong health. In this engaging and important book, microbiologists Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta explain how the trillions of microbes that live in and on our bodies influence childhood development; why an imbalance of those microbes can lead to obesity, diabetes, and asthma, among other chronic conditions; and what parents can do–from conception on–to positively affect their own behaviors and those of their children. They describe how natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and solid foods influence children’s microbiota. They also offer practical advice on matters such as whether to sterilize food implements for babies, the use of antibiotics, the safety of vaccines, and why having pets is a good idea. Forward-thinking and revelatory, Let Them Eat Dirt is an essential book in helping us to nurture stronger, more resilient, happy, and healthy kids.
Authors’ website for the book with some resources