Scientists are beginning to echo what gardeners have been saying for years: it’s not only fun but healthy to play in the dirt, and today’s children (especially girls) need it more than ever before!
Over the past half-century, allergies have dramatically increased in children, while time spent outdoors has decreased. And while there may not be a direct correlation, many experts believe that children who are exposed to soil-borne bacteria from an early age may develop stronger resistance to infection, and be less susceptible to autoimmune disorders.
Girls are still less likely than boys to play in the mud and scrabble in the dirt, perhaps due to lingering stereotypes about ladylike behavior — or practical issues such as not wanting to “ruin” nice clothes. And certain autoimmune disorders, such as Lupus, are present in women at a much higher rate than in men. One conclusion? Growing up “too clean” may be unhealthy.
So what can you do? This summer, make sure the children in your life run through your sprinklers, dig in your garden, jump in at least one giant mud puddle, and prepare a tasty mud pie, complete with sticks and leaves. Ideally, every child should spend several hours outdoors each day. While that may not be practical year-round, summer is a great time to introduce kids to the joy of gardening . . . which, at any age, is really just the joy of playing in the dirt!
My oldest two kids are a scant 16 months different in age. They are by all accounts, inseparable, they even work at the same place. They are also about as different as two people can be, one is quiet, reserved, inquisitive but not forthcoming readily with an opinion, and one is Meghan.
One of my favorite memories is of Ryan on our back porch in El Dorado with a hose in his hand shouting, “That’s disgusting, don’t come near me!” and his sister happily clad in a strawberry bathing suit trying to encourage him to, “Just try” the lovely mud pie she had created especially for him.
He wouldn’t, he didn’t, and it would have given him nightmares for years to even consider such a prospect. After all, this is the child that had to have a wet towel handy when fingerpainting in order to immediately get the paint off after smearing it to paper. He also looked very accusingly at me, as if I had been holding out on him, when I got him paint brushes to go with his paints. “You’ve known about these all along?”
The dirt aversion, however, did not exist when it came to the garden. For this, I am grateful. Ryan loved the garden, and still does, though he is not very vocal about it. His favorite food is salad and has been since the age of 3. He would eat it straight from the garden and still does. He’s the reason I persevere in lettuce trials every year, well that and the stubborn, never say never streak that runs in me.
I remember having to take them both (Ryan and Meghan) to the tomato plants and tell them, “We don’t eat them until they turn red.” It wasn’t the birds getting the cherry tomatoes.
So, this year I planted out the extra dwarf pac choy and they really love Flint, dirt. Ryan came in with a hod stuffed with radishes and pac choy and I saw the look again on his 20 year old face. The same look he gave me when he was 2. That look of wonder and just a little accusation, “You’ve known about these all along?”
Garden with your kids. Borrow kids to garden with. Lease them if you have to. Kids need the garden!
Have an extra dose of paisley in your day!~KeriAnne