NY Time: let your kids play in the dirt

<p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?no_interstitial%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?no_interstitial&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

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<p>Training the Immune System</p>

<p>“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 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.”</p>

<p>One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.”</p>

<p>He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they “also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us.” </p>

<p>“Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he added, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”</p>

<p>Studies he has conducted with Dr. David Elliott, a gastroenterologist and immunologist at the University of Iowa, indicate that intestinal worms, which have been all but eliminated in developed countries, are “likely to be the biggest player” in regulating the immune system to respond appropriately, Dr. Elliott said in an interview. He added that bacterial and viral infections seem to influence the immune system in the same way, but not as forcefully. </p>

<p>Most worms are harmless, especially in well-nourished people, Dr. Weinstock said. </p>

<p>“There are very few diseases that people get from worms,” he said. “Humans have adapted to the presence of most of them.”</p>

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<p>Well, of course it is "Times", not "Time".</p>

<p>I'm glad the antibacterial soaps were not that widely used when our kids were little. I still avoid them and look for the regular kinds.</p>

<p>I really think the increases in many diseases among children is due to the sterile environment many kids to day seem to occupy. Mostly supervised play, too much soap, more time on tv/computers than in the dirt.</p>

<p>Oh good! Validation of my not raising D & S in an uber-clean environment!</p>

<p>I truly believe this. I spent many years of my childhood (in Somalia) literally playing in the dirt. We called our game "mud roads". We made elaborate cities in our back yard using gray water from the kitchen because water was in such scarce supply that we couldn't use fresh water. I hardly ever get sick. I can't even remember the last time I had a cold. We built our kids a huge sandbox and when they were little I'd send them out there with a hose and they'd play for hours on end. They too, rarely get sick.</p>

<p>While playing in the dirt has its physical health benefits to kids, it also has mental health benefits.</p>

<p>Get them out of the house and they can find value in solitude, beauty in nature and fulfilment in activity. IMO--the "brainier" they are, the more this becomes essential.</p>

<p>I noticed this first hand when I was growing up. Our neighbor who was a super rich doctor did not let his son playing with dirt. He was as white/pale/girlie as you can be. I've also heard from the maids that worked for the doctor that his son also was more immute to illness. Of course, I love to play with dirt and was a forever "tomboy". I still can climb any fences better than my teenage kids. So this article confirms it.</p>

<p>I spent so much time outside in the dirt and the trees and just about everywhere I could crawl or camp. I spent time in barns with horses and barn cats, and played with the dogs in my yard. It was also Texas. Imagine my surprise when I survived. :D</p>

<p>I have had the same experience as mathmom: can't remember the last time I actually got sick! Must've been when I was 13 or 14, which is about 10 years now. </p>

<p>Anecdotally, this certainly seems to hold true. Then again, I also remember reading this same sort of conclusion on the cover of a Reader's Digest at the supermarket, so I don't think it's surprising to anyone.</p>

<p>I wonder if this also applies to kids who eat dirt? DS did not actually EAT dirt but when he was around 2-3, it was a daily ritual to check his mouth after he had been outside playing because he would stick small rocks/pebbles in his mouth and suck on them. He was diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder around that time so presumably this provided some sort of sensory need! I never did worry about him getting sick (he never did) but was much more concerned about choking (which he also never did). </p>

<p>Playing in both sand and water are very calming activities for individuals with tactile defensiveness so this was always a big part of his daily routine.</p>

<p>I remember reading several years ago that kids with pets have stronger immune systems too - same reasoning. I grew up on a farm and was usually covered in dirt or worse. I loved mud pies - my absolute favorite thing to do.</p>

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Playing in both sand and water are very calming activities for individuals with tactile defensiveness so this was always a big part of his daily routine.

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I had no idea, but Mathson loved his sandbox, and is one of those kids who hated tags and would only wear certain brands of socks. And still won't wear jeans because they are "too stiff".</p>

<p>S1 and S2 started to dig to China when they were about 7 and 5. This went on for almost three years-- they spent most of the summer digging away. Covered in dirt most of the summer. Eventually they had a hole about 20' x30' and almost 6feet deep. When they finally gave up, they filled up the hole and planted potatos. Healthy activity in more ways then one. And it grows great potatos.</p>

<p>I don't think this is surprising either. </p>

<p>My elder son was four months old when we moved to Nairobi, Kenya (for the next four years). Our U.S. pediatrician was concerned and warned us not to let him crawl on the ground or in the grass once we got there. Even though we were all immunized against everything possible, she was worried about parasites, worms, weird viruses. After we arrived, we mentioned that warning to our Kenyan pediatrician. He just laughed. He essentially said what this article says: let them play in the dirt and crawl in the grass and be exposed to germs to strengthen the immune system. We did (as did all the other expat parents we knew.) I'd say there is a lot of truth to the "expose them" strategy. Both my sons are rarely sick.</p>

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I don't think this is surprising either.

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So if it's not surprising to anyone here, and nobody seems to be against this idea, why do some parents insist on not letting their kids get dirty?</p>

<p>See Kate of another thread--J&K+8--she's a total germ freak and has a fit if the kids get dirty or make a mess.</p>

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Our neighbor who was a super rich doctor did not let his son playing with dirt. He was as white/pale/girlie as you can be.

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<p>"Girlie?" Are you serious? That's pretty insulting both to girls, and to boys who don't conform to stereotypes of masculine behavior. (Just like "tomboy" isn't necessarily a pejorative term for girls, especially before adolescence, but "sissy" is <em>always</em> an insult for pre-adolescent boys.)</p>

<p>Otherwise, I agree with what everyone's been saying.</p>

<p>Don't laugh...my husband insisted that our babies were comfortable with the same amount of clothing as we. As a result, we never over bundled them or dressed them more warmly than we were dressed. Both seem to have developed a stronger tolerance for temperature variations than many of their friends. I can remember laughing when I saw babies and toddlers wearing winter clothes in the spring and summer. I wonder if there is a similar study or discussion about this loosely related topic?</p>

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So if it's not surprising to anyone here, and nobody seems to be against this idea, why do some parents insist on not letting their kids get dirty?

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<p>It is a great imponderable.</p>

<p>I have the same question about some people's objection to exposing their children to skiing (think Jackson Hole), whitewater rafting, hang-gliding, high ropes and rappling.</p>

<p>With proper instruction, equipment and practice it makes life better for those who enjoy it.</p>

<p>IMO-- Living Life is all about risk management, not avoiding all risks.</p>

<p>Anybody else remember making 'mud pies'?? Mixing water with good ol' dirt, flattening the pies with your hands and putting them out in the sun to 'bake': such fun! I must have a great immune response as a result of all that dirt!!!</p>

<p>Lots of parents won't be caught dead without their hand-sanitizer--kind of scary!</p>

<p>It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to let your kids get really dirty!</p>

<p>No</a> Child Left Inside: Home Page</p>

<p>my kids still have mild asthma despite my casual housekeeping unfortunately.
usermom I couldn't even get my younger daughter to wear clothes in the winter let alone the summer- in 10 degree one winter she was so mad that I wouldn't let her outside, but she wouldn't keep her hat or gloves on or her jacket zipped.</p>

<p>Mathmom, I think we have the same son. OT, but mine bought his first pair of jeans recently and really likes them. They're Lee Carpenter jeans (he got his at Sears). They're soft and somewhat baggy. </p>

<p>My oldest, despite my best efforts, hated to have his hands dirty. He would keep a towel in the sandbox to wipe his hands off. He's better now and likes to camp and hike, but it was a long few years when he was young.</p>