Teaching, I would see it a lot: the student who missed out on art projects during the year because they didn’t feel comfortable touching clay, chalk, or getting dirty making papier mache. He’d choose not to touch the sea cucumber at the aquarium. She would miss seeing the frogs on a nature hike because she didn’t want her feet in the mud.
Certain children are more sensitive to this tactile sensory input than others; feeling different textures or being dirty makes them feel uncomfortable. That is who they are and that is absolutely okay!
However, I believe that it’s our job as the grown-ups in our kids’ lives to help them feel comfortable in as wide a range of settings and experiences as we can because this will only broaden our children's exposure to the world and knowledge of it.
One way that we can help our children at a very early age feel comfortable interacting with the world around them is to allow them to get dirty! I know what you're thinking. Allowing your child to play in the mud is, well.... annoying. You have to deal with the mess, the clean-up, and allowing your child to play in the dirt just seems like it takes up a lot of unnecessary energy on your part.
But I disagree. I think it is so worth the energy that it takes for us as parents, and here are 5 reasons why...
5 reasons your child needs to play in dirt today!
1. Playing in dirt can actually keep your child healthy! Read more about how in this article on Wellness Mama to learn more about the organisms in soil that can boost your kids' immune system or this one from the Chicago Tribune to learn more about how playing in dirt can even boost your children's cardiovascular health.
2. In a 2009 study by the American Psychological Association, close to half of teens exhibited signs of stress. However, stress can begin much earlier than the teen years for children and often parents are unaware that their child is stressed. Being nervous about separating from a parent or picking up on stress at home are just two ways that children may be experiencing stress at a very young age. Research shows that this stress greatly effects the brain, actually effecting our children’s IQs and the ways they think and learn. One great way to combat this stress is to ensure our children exercise. Another? Get your kids to go outside and get dirty! Read more in this Cornell article about how exposure to nature helps kids cope with stress.
3. Remember that bacteria found in dirt that helps keep our kids healthy? Believe it or not, it can also make your kids smarter! This article from ABC News highlights the way in which playing in dirt, and being exposed regularly to nature, can make our kids smarter.
4. Playing in dirt allows our children to develop cognitively, socially, linguistically, emotionally, physically, and creatively! Seriously, all of these benefits occur in sensory play. Read more about all of these benefits in detail here on PBS.
5. Okay, if I haven’t sold you yet, I know this one will do it. Playing outside can help your child sleep better, according to this article by the National Wildlife Federation. That's right. Your child will SLEEP BETTER. See... I knew I'd convince you. ;)
Now that I've convinced you... just a quick clean-up tip. After my kids have had some time playing in the mud, I love to put them in the shower, hand them cups and bowls and spoons, and let them play in the water. They get clean without a super-dirty bathtub, they have another great sensory experience, and it's easier for me. Win-Win-Win, I would say! (If your child doesn't like to shower, try letting them run through the sprinklers/a hose, splash around in a pool, or play with squirt bottles. These experiences will give them the sensation of a shower - and water in their face - and they'll be ready to jump into a shower in no time!)