If your toddler is anything like mine, a pile of dirt and a mighty machine is a simple formula for hours of entertainment! Whether it’s dump trucks in the dirt of our (idle) backyard garden, or backhoes and bulldozers at the local beach volleyball court, our household rarely goes a full day without digging SOMETHING! Even on craggin’ days, C’s backpack is filled with miniature construction vehicles that he uses to build roads, gather leaves and sticks, and pile up pebbles at the base of the cliff while the grown-ups are climbing.
While I’m not sure how similar it is with girls (but I’m about to find out in just a couple months!), I know that “dig-a-thons,” as we have christened them, are the simplest and most convenient option in our arsenal of green hour ideas. He may not always feel like hiking, and biking can be a little hit or miss…but if given the choice between staying indoors or going outside to dig, he’ll vote dig just about every time.
Regardless of the digging project du jour, it is inevitable that C will end up lying flat on the ground – hands, feet, and sometimes even his face completely engulfed in dirt. But the best thing about sand and garden soil (for a parent anyway!) is how easily it shakes out of clothes! (Mud is a different story…but stripping down before entering the house works wonders for keeping the mud where it belongs – outside!)
But not only are dig-a-thons good for your child’s imagination and fine motor skills, it turns out they are good for your child’s immune system too! There’s been a lot of talk (and research) done on this topic, and for the past several years, as researchers have been discovering that the millions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and even worms!) that enter the body via regular old dirt actually HELP rather than hinder the development of a healthy immune system. This theory was coined as the “Hygiene Hypothesis” by epidemiologiyst David Strachen back in 1989. In layman’s terms, the theory is quite simple – when a child is exposed to the wide variety of harmless microbes found outside in nature, his/her immune system learns to distinguish which substances are harmful to the body and need to be destroyed, and which are harmless (or even beneficial!) and can be left alone.
I’m certainly not advocating that we as a society stop washing our hands and start eating mud pies. But what I am saying is that there are far more important things to worry about than a dirty kid. Getting dirty is an integral part of the way my little guy explores the world around him, and I’m certainly not going to put a stop to those imagination wheels once they get a turnin’! It might make for more laundry and dirty bath water at the end of the day, but it will hopefully aid in fostering a life long appreciation of exploration and discovery! So the next time your family is bored and looking for something quick and fun to do, grab the nearest bulldozer/bucket/shovel and get diggin’! You might be surprised at how much fun you have!
I was forever dirty as a kid, as was my husband, which no doubt has shaped our feelings on the subject today. In fact, my grandmother used to say that “every child should swallow 10 pounds of dirt by the time they turn 10.” (Not sure where she got those numbers, but she was obviously a believer in the Hygiene Hypothesis! What was YOUR experience like growing up – were you allowed to get dirty, or did you get in trouble for soiling your clothes? How do you think that has influenced the way you and your children interact with the outdoors today?