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Report: Kids Should Get Dirty on Earth Day

April 19, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - Dirt is good, a new report says - especially for children.

The National Wildlife Federation report makes that case by highlighting the benefits of letting children get messy outside - and its release coincides with Earth Day activities in Texas this weekend.

Meri Margaret Deoudes, who oversees the federation's "Be Out There" initiative, says most youngsters naturally want to be messy and cites good reasons to let them dig around.

"There's some natural bacteria in dirt. Don't think too much about it as a parent, but that actually helps build up their immune system."

For young children, Deoudes says, there are tactile benefits to playing in the dirt. Encouraging them to make mud pies and create forts also counts as exercise, she says.

Getting grubby equals happiness for many children, she says, and scientists have found some clues about why.

"Some of the research is showing that there is something in dirt that actually triggers serotonin, which makes kids more happy, more relaxed, and also some of the studies are showing that that helps them perform better in school."

Recognizing that mucking around in the mud is a good thing may be toughest for parents because, Deoudes says, the societal slant is toward over-sanitization. She wants families to keep in mind all the benefits of dirt and outdoor time to try to balance the thoughts of extra laundry.

"If we can kind of think about that underlying message, maybe that will help us control the urge to instantly wash them."

The Environmental Protection Agency website has a list of events in Texas this weekend, with several hands-on opportunities in the dirt.

The report, "The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids," is online at nwf.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX