It May Improve Their Health:
A growing number of researchers have been advocating that dirt is something kids need. In the book “Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends” microbiology and immunology expert Mary Ruebush, Ph.D., argues that “exposure to dirt helps children build strong immune systems that will provide lifelong protection.”
The hygiene hypothesis, or the belief that dirt can protect children from allergies and illness, is a phenomenon that continues to be studied. While scientists debate the issue, the takeaway for parents is this: playing in dirt isn’t so bad and may actually be beneficial. However, you should still follow the rules of good hygiene, including teaching your child to wash their hands after playing in the mud or being exposed to germs, and, as even Dr. Ruebush notes, you should keep vaccines up to date since they provide an important boost of immunity.
It Engages the Senses:
The feel of mud underneath bare feet, the sound of a bird, the smell of grass up close - these sensory experiences will help your child understand the world better than any book or DVD can. You can tell your child all about berries, but until they see their bright colors, feel their squishy flesh and tastes how sweet they are, they won’t know what a berry is.
Research shows that when multiple senses are stimulated the brain is more likely to remember what’s being learned, so try teaching numbers, colors, and new words by using natural materials that engage multiple senses. Think aromatic flowers, rough sticks, and rocks.
It Builds Motor Skills:
Of course, there are many non-messy ways for your child to exercise their fine motor skills. Many nice, clean toys, for instance, encourage kids to pick up and play with small items or write on mess-free erase boards. The downside is that these games don’t allow for open-ended play. In other words, a child can only do what’s expected and pre-planned. There isn’t an opportunity to experiment much beyond the limitations of the features already present in the toy.
Give your child large sheets of paper, a bit of washable paint and any number of fun tools for painting and you’re more likely to see them get more excited and motivated to use those small hand and finger muscles. These muscles are the ones they’ll use for everything from self-feeding, to buttoning a jacket, to writing with a pencil.
Open-ended play is also important for encouraging your child to use their large muscle groups: legs, arms, back, shoulders, etc.
There’s only so much that can be done on a playground jungle gym. You may be surprised what a child will find to do in a backyard or park that has little more than some trees, small ponds and a dirt pit.