Let Kids Play in the Dirt!

Last summer I was walking down the street and saw some kids playing in the dirt. The boulevard in front of their rather ram shackled house had no grass and the kids, probably 5-9 years old, had constructed some dirt mounds. They had even piled some of the dirt into the concrete gutter to create a dam, which they were filling with water from a hose. The scene took me back to my youth when dams, water and mud pies were a part of almost every day in the summertime.

These were low-income kids. If the family had been more affluent these “junior engineers” would have been in the house obsessing over their Playstation. Instead they were happily poking holes in the dam, observing the flow of the water, creating modifications and poking more holes. Ironically, low family income had put these kids in the same situation as I found myself in 50 years ago, with no indoor distractions and a whole world outside to explore. As I paused a few seconds to watch the joy on their muddy faces they must have thought I was nuts!

In my humble opinion these dirt-playing kids have both a mental and physical advantage over their Playstation generation peers. First, they are creating, experimenting, and learning some simple engineering. Second, their immune systems may be healthier because outside activities expose them to bacteria, which is important in maintaining a healthy immune system. A poll by ICM Research indicates that 6 out of 19 people believe children should be protected from ALL bacteria! 42 percent said that society’s health would improve if all bacteria were eradicated. However, experts say that people don’t generally appear to understand that bacteria can also be beneficial and that life on earth would not exist without it.

Professor Ken Jones, an immunologist at Cardiff School of Health Sciences, said “germ warfare” could prove damaging for children.

“With the huge media attention around dangerous bacteria such as MRSA, the marketing hype pushing total annihilation of bacteria via wipes or sprays, coupled with the dangerous reliance on antibiotics for almost any infection, there is a real concern that we are misunderstanding bacteria and the vital role some bacteria can play in our overall health and well-being and development of our young,” he said.

Scientists recommend that parents encourage outside play for their children, reminding them to wash their hands. They also recommend that parents refrain from using so many anti-bacterial products.

A couple of years ago they shut down an entire grade school on the East coast because some kid broke a mercury thermometer. The HAZMAT team arrived and it looked like the scene from a nuclear reactor meltdown. Gosh, when I was a kid we broke open a thermometer and played with that cute little ball of mercury, rolling it down our hand and squeezing it with our fingers! Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that playing with mercury was stupid. We were products of our own ignorance, but I’m still alive and kicking. Of course I don’t advocate that kids eat lead paint or breathe asbestos, but a little dirt under the fingernails isn’t going to kill a kid, even if it contains traces of pigeon doo-doo.

Gosh, when I was a kid we dared each other to eat bugs and played with worms, frogs, toads, and non-poisonous snakes. We picked up deceased (and probably diseased) animals of almost every species and regularly threw dog poop and other disgusting things at each other! When we came home for supper we would pull off our muddy clothes, wash our hands and eat mashed potatoes and beef. Despite this, I still have a pulse, as do most of us who grew up when televisions were something only the rich neighbors down the street had in their living rooms.

As an aside, but related to the subject of healthy activities for young people, if you’ve got a young son or grandson, I would like to recommend The Dangerous Book for Boys”, by Hal Iggulden. Marketed as “the perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty”, it is published by Collins (hardcover $24.95) and is in bookstores everywhere. This book is incredible! Among hundreds of things, it shows a boy how to make knots, build a tree house, make a battery, juggle, or build a workbench. It has extensive information on astronomy, fishing, baseball, famous explorers, and awesome quotes from numerous famous philosophers. It even has a section on proper treatment and respect for girls! I hope that someone writes a similar book for young ladies, but if there’s a young man in your life that you’d like to challenge and inspire, I strongly recommend that you take a serious look at The Dangerous Book for Boys.

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