A recent National Geographic article made a startling statement: Today’s kids spend less time outside than does the average prisoner. Wow. (But it’s not just kids—the article cites a recent study that says adults spend 93% of their time indoors, too.) Paul Bogard, author of The Ground Beneath Us, says kids should be much more hands-on with dirt. Like playing outside in it. Like helping out in their own gardens, planting seeds they can grow, pulling weeds. Bogard cites scientific studies that show playing outside in the dirt can inoculate them against some diseases. He says that parents think dirt is “dirty,” and try to keep their kids from contact, when it is actually beneficial to children.
Scientist and researcher Dr. Jack Gilbert agrees. In his book, Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System, he urges parents, especially those of small children, to expose their children to dirt with its “huge array of harmless germs that, while they may not colonize us, have complex traits to train up your baby’s immune system.”
So, should you unlearn all you thought about dirt?
Yeah, unlearn. Gilbert says let them play with animals. He says that dirt on the hands and faces of children is good. Let it stay on them until they come inside, and at that point, wash up with soap and water and stay away from hand sanitizers.
Yeah, unlearn. That five-second rule of dropped food on the floor? Unless you’re in an area like a hospital where there are dangerous pathogens, it doesn’t matter how long it was on the floor, says Gilbert. Just pick it up and eat it.
Yeah, unlearn. Gilbert also cites studies that show that parents who licked a pacifier that fell on the floor and then gave it back to a baby actually strengthened their child’s immune system by doing that.
How about you? What’s your low-down on dirt?