Sensory Activity for Toddlers and the Positives of Dirt Medicine
While Spring is still attempting to Spring, it's been cold so we've been having more days inside than outside. Hibernation is still happening so we've had to get creative with our activities. We've been bringing the outside inside with rocks and dirt! Maddox loves being able to pick the dirt up with his truck and dump it back in. This activity occupies him for quite some time. It's incredible how much enjoyment there is out of something so simple. He brings his cars into the bucket, he squishes the dirt with his fingers, he pretends his dinosaurs are eating the dirt, and he occasionally flings it all over the place. But it's nice and it's surprisingly healthy. It helps get him in tune with his senses while allowing him to create and stay occupied and benefit from the positives of dirt.
And YES. There's more to dirt than messiness and it doesn't get enough respect. It's so beneficial to the human body but we've become so detached from the Earth that it's not usually discussed.
Most people aren't aware of the benefits of dirt. They're so accustomed to seeing it where they don't see past dirt = dirty. People have become so unnaturally clean, it's actually more harmful than it is helpful. Germs and dirt help our immune systems become stronger. If we're not exposed to germs, our bodies can't work to protect us. Our houses don't need constant, chemical scrub downs and too much cleaning products can actually increase the risk of allergies and asthma and a whole other host of conditions (even obesity). Personally, I suffer from both and mainstream cleaning products give me an instant flare-up.
Science and research shows us that tiny little organisms, known as microbes, live in our guts. This is known as our gut microbiome. It's important in early years that we develop a healthy microbiome because it has an effect on our lifelong health. The gut microbiome helps kick our immune system into gear yet without the exposure of microbes, our gut microbiome does not have what it needs to learn how to fight infections.
The Power of Dirt
Put down your spray bottle and take your child outside (or inside like we did). They have a natural curiosity to play in dirt and even eat the dirt. It's often a magnet for children and they can't help but be pulled to it. There's a possibility this could be a natural instinct in their bodies. Their desire to eat dirty objects and play with them could be to help develop their immune systems and teach their bodies how to fight against potentially harmful germs.
"What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her book, Why Dirt Is Good: “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored."
Not only is dirt for a healthy immune system and microbiome, it's a mood booster. People who garden, go outside in nature, or have plants in their home, are likely to be happier and live a more active lifestyle. Dirt contains the harmless bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae and this study showed that mice fed with the bacteria had less anxiety and performed better than the other mice in the mazes. The stimulation and sensory of both smell and touch have a calming effect. It allows you to focus on the scent and feeling, taking you out of your mind and giving you a little meditation.
Let Kids Play!
So, what can you do?
- Go outside and make mud pies! You don't have to actually eat them because making them provides enough benefit.
- On cold days, bring the dirt inside. Grab a little bucket or container, cover the bottom, add some rocks, trucks, dinosaurs, shovels, etc and let them play. Yes - it may go in places other than the bucket but that's the magic of it. Let loose a little expectation of cleanliness and enjoy.
- Go for walks in the woods and allow your child to explore the dirty forest floor. Whenever Maddox and I go walking, we have to stop every few feet so he can pick dirt up and squish it in his hands.
- If you have a garden, let your little one help. They'll probably get distracted and take the dirt elsewhere but let them. They're exploring and creating and it's amazing how much a child can do with dirt. Once you all are done, eat outside and don't wash your hands. Remember the dirt is medicine and a little getting in their food is actually HEALTHY!
- Walk outside barefoot with the kids.