As a parent, you have probably heard of the Hygiene Hypothesis by now. In a nutshell, it states that children are becoming more ill and growing into adults with compromised immune systems and more allergies because they are not exposed to enough germs early on in life. Exposure to different pathogens and other microorganisms can help educate the immune system and protect it from other harmful germs in the future. Research suggests that by allowing children to play outside, you know in the dirt, we are helping them build a healthy microbiome.

Typically, being outdoors helps children (adults too) relax and turn off the part of the brain that practices self-discipline. Being able to unwind and get their little hands in the dirt gives children a much needed break, which in turn keeps immune system-depressing stress at bay. Personally my two young boys can be really wild indoors and default to whining, fighting or anything emotionally stressful really. As soon as I take them outside however, they concentrate on putting rocks somewhere, drawing with a twig in the dirt, pushing a toy truck through a puddle and so forth. The point being is that the natural calming effect of the outdoors helps the immune system function properly so we can have healthier happier kids.

Playing in the dirt, specifically gardening also gives children a hidden immune benefit. It creates a closeness to food which fosters a future appreciation of eating healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs. When children have a personal connection to food from the garden, they not only try it, but they will also help you cook it. Foods straight from the garden are packed with beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and nutrients, which makes for an alkaline internal environment where an immune system can be strong and thrive. The end result, very healthy little people.

Next time you’re stressing about your kids getting too dirty outside, just remember that they are actually doing some good for their bodies and that they won’t be little kids forever. Many of us adults already face some allergies or other immune issues, but remember getting dirty in the garden is good for big people too, the same theories apply. Whether it’s planting a tomato plant or building a mud pie, let your kiddos go at it as they’ll thank you in the future for helping them develop into healthy adults.