In this age of “germaphobia” I see so many parents chasing their children with hand sanitizer in hopes of keeping them healthy. In today’s post I will discuss how a little dirt may be good for our kids, and how once in a while getting messy in the garden is a really good thing!
Let me preface by saying that I grew up in a house where we take our shoes off at the door, and there was much importance placed on cleanliness. So when I started planting a garden with my boys as a yearly ritual, I often had to take a deep breath as they shoved their hands and feet into the mud. After years of gardening, it’s still not easy for me when the boys bring those dirty feet into the house!
But let’s look at the facts. As I discussed in my last post, starting a garden has all sorts of benefits, including improved nutrition and an improved understanding of science and the environment. Kids learn to plan a project and see it through. But planting and maintaining a garden can be a messy, dirty job…. AND YOUR KIDS WILL LOVE IT!
Growing research in the “hygiene hypothesis” has shown that early exposure to germs can protect from development of allergies and asthma. This early exposure is now shown to be long-lasting and protective against inflammatory disease well into adulthood.
Even more fascinating are animal studies which show that exposure to harmless bacteria found in dirt can enhance the release of neurotransmitters that promote happiness and well-being! So maybe there IS a scientific reason our kids seem so blissful as they are slugging their way through the mud!
Recent research in feeding shows that letting young kids get messy with their food (smooshing, smashing and smearing as they eat) actually promotes learning. If getting messy with food makes kids smarter, then getting messy in the garden should too, right? And what child couldn’t use a little more physical activity and sunshine while gardening?
So release the fears of muddy hands and feet, and get messy with your kids in your new garden. More about boots and gloves (which help with the mess) and other garden tools in my next posts!