Dirt, Play, and Child Development

Silas enjoying a mud footbath at the children’s pop-up spa behind the mud kitchen.

Silas enjoying a mud footbath at the children’s pop-up spa behind the mud kitchen.

There’s a plethora of research and information about the benefits of play, play in nature, and how playing in the mud enhances child development. Here are some of my favorite resources:

Depressed? Go Play in the Dirt, Livescience

This is a study that discusses bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which is good for your brain. The bacteria naturally found in soil increases levels of serotonin, helping to relax, soothe, calm, and help make you feel happy.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn—and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D. and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer, Ph.D.

A book that explains the process of learning from a child’s point of view, including the five elements of play:

  • Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable.
  • Play must have no extrinsic goals; there is no prescribed learning that must occur.
  • Play is spontaneous and voluntary.
  • Play involves active engagement on the part of the player.
  • Play involves an element of make-believe.

The Adult Role in Child-led Play – How to Become a Learning Ally, NaturePlay

An article that discusses how adults can support learning and development of children through unstructured, child-led play.

The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally, David Elkind

A book by a child development expert on the value of imaginative, spontaneous play.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv

An important book that has been fueling a movement by introducing studies and evidence about how direct exposure to nature is critical for children’s physical and emotional development. Discover a wealth of additional research plus a growing community at Children & Nature Network.

Playing in dirt and mud builds child’s immunity, Child Magazine

An article that discusses how exposure to microorganisms found outside leads to improved immune systems and how unstructured play benefits rounded-skill acquisition and development.

Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, Dr. Mary Ruebush

An insightful book that explores how the immune system develops in children and how you can make your immune system healthier.

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