Let them eat dirt

18 Feb

This is the 3rd time I have attempted this post.  Hopefully my good friend Dora the Explorer will keep Bronwyn occupied long enough to finish this time.  I wanted to share with everyone an article I read in the New York Times.  The author shares something that I have believed for a while now: that dirt is good for kids.  She takes it one step further though in saying that no dirt is bad for kids.  Oh yeah?

“In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.”

There can be no question that there is a significant increase in the number of kids and adults with allergies and asthma.  These illnesses are more than annoying, allergies can be life-threatening.  But in an attempt to prevent them in our kids we seem to be going the wrong way.  Banning the substances that trigger these attacks only makes accidental exposure more likely to cause a reaction.

“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune responseto explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “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.”

This makes sense to me.  We allow our kids to practice climbing, walking, eating with a spoon and colouring with a crayon.  Can these activities be messy?  YES!  Can they be dangerous?  Sometimes, sure.  But do we keep our kids away from them for fear of a few stains or bumped heads?  Not if we know what is good for them.  How will they ever learn anything if they cannot explore their environment in relative freedom?  I am not suggesting we let them run wild, but certainly affording them some supervised time to try those things they want to do so desperately will, ultimately, make happier, more confident babies.  It is easier for me to teach my kids to use the stairs safely, than to be constantly hovering over them whenever stairs are present.  Plus, I don’t have to listen to the excessive whining that accompanies hearing “NO!” all the time. 

So, are we too clean?  The article quotes a Dr Elliott: “Dirtiness comes with a price. But cleanliness comes with a price, too. We’re not proposing a return to the germ-filled environment of the 1850s. But if we properly understand how organisms in the environment protect us, maybe we can give a vaccine or mimic their effects with some innocuous stimulus.”

Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. 

Sounds like a sure-fire way to get CAS to your house, eh?  Are we brave enough to protect our kids from debilitating and possibly life-threatening allergies and asthma attacks at the expense of sounding pretty non-PC?  I am going to try.


Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?_r=2&em


5 Responses to “Let them eat dirt”

  1. joan February 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    hooray for bare feet!
    i’ve believed in the whole dirt thing for years & years too… “God made dirt so dirt won’t hurt” right? 😛

    i love that my RSS reader will follow this blog… for some reason it didn’t like your windows live account.

  2. Patricia February 19, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    I just love reading all your blogs – they are very eloquant and entertaining!

    I definitely agree with you on this message. Not only do parents not want their kids to eat dirt and to just be kids, they also take it a step further and are constantly disinfecting everything. It doesn’t matter what they read or are told, they don’t acknowledge/accept that they are in fact killing the good bacteria that helps protect their kids by developing their immune system.

    I constantly have friends that tell me that it’s not a good time to visit because someone in the family is sick – my response to them is that I’m not bothered by that, to which I normally get a funny look or response. I believe that we need to expose our bodies to these viruses so that we don’t get as sick the next and I don’t believe that I will act any different when I have kids. I like to think that I will be a parent that lets my kids be kids!

    Congratulations on the new baby on board! I hope that everything is going well.

  3. Elaine February 24, 2009 at 3:06 am #

    are you telling me that Ethan should not be living in a bubble? whoops, my bad…

  4. Sarah March 1, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

    I use this thought all the time to make me feel better about not keeping my house squeaky clean. Thanks for the reminder; it’s ok that Kieran put some unidentifiable dirt in his mouth the other day – in fact it might have even been good for him!

  5. Jessica March 5, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    I am a firm believer in dirt. Today the girls were playing out as I was getting ready to go out with them and looked out and Jade was sucking on a icicle, that she pulled off the van. yummmmmmmm

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