Why Children Should Get their Hands Dirty
Our world is changing fast, the childhood that I and most of my friends enjoyed in the 50’s and 60’s no longer seems to be the norm.
We would race out the door in the morning and spend most of the days (when not at school of course) exploring the great outdoors.
From rock pooling down in Newton’s Cove…
…hanging off the stone pier fishing…
…to hours spent haring around the local parks and gardens.
(Radipole shown below was my stomping ground)
We’d return home when suitably famished, our clothes, hands and faces dirt streaked as a testimony to our wide ranging wanderings and doings.
A quick splash of cold water and a smidgen of soap sufficed before we tucked greedily into our tea.
But is that modern day leaning towards perhaps sometimes over-obsessive hygiene causing problems for the health of our younger generation?
Nowadays you are blasted with adverts for all manner of products that shout to the heavens how they kill ‘99% of all household germs’ and other such dire threats to vital bacteria and microbes.
Consumer guilt leads us to feel we should scrub and polish our homes to within an inch of their lives.
Gathering evidence though teaches us maybe we should sometimes down the dusters and open those doors to the world outside.
It is actually good for children (and us adults) to encounter many of those those bacteria that lurk in the soil, they activate the neurons in our brains to produce serotonin, which is not only necessary for a multitude of bodily functions but acts as a natural anti-depressant.
(One of the reason’s why hands on gardening can be a literal life line for people suffering from depression.)
That early exposure to dirt and its hard working microbes also helps towards building disease-resistance in young bodies.
There is the theory known as the Hygiene Hypothesis, that cites that lack of exposure in young children to these good microbes and bacteria as a hinder to the the building up of their immune systems, it can’t learn to recognise it’s own cells and over reacts.
Could this account for an increase in people suffering from auto-immune diseases such as asthma ands eczema.
It doesn’t stop there, ‘Nature Deficit,’ another term bandied about by todays experts describes how the lack of outdoor play can be linked to rising depression, attention disorders and obesity in childhood.
Of course, outdoor play involves risk, but is that really such a bad thing?
Children should explore, wander off to discover different places and activities, dig in the mud, make clay pots from the soil, paddle in rock pools…
…that way they build self-confidence, learn to judge risk, though it sometimes involves a trip to A&E. (But that’s yet another hard lesson learnt!)
Obviously not all things that lurk are harmless but I think we have to strike a careful balance between being overly protective and cleaning-obsessive to giving them some freedom and teaching them basic hygiene.
For further reading click here.
Time to abandon the hygiene hypothesis: new perspectives on allergic disease, the human microbiome, infectious disease prevention and the role of targeted hygiene
are being supported by the