From the moment you laid eyes on those pink little cheeks, you’ve probably slept with one eye open. You were overjoyed when she started crawling, and a week later, you were constantly at her back fearing she’d injure herself. And by the time she started walking and exploring her home, you were probably a bundle of nerves.
Toddlers have a natural tendency to touch dirty things and put them in their mouth. It’s their way of exploring the world around them. So, when your child loves to get her hands dirty, you might think it spells trouble. But don’t fret. Dirt isn’t as bad as you’d think it is for your child. Frolicking in the mud, apparently, not only helps children develop better immunity, but also improves their observation skills, instincts, and creativity.
According to psychologists, leaving children to their own devices on a playground may just be the best thing you ever do. They find that toddlers who are given the freedom to explore–within reasonable limits–learn to creatively interact with the environment. Says Akila Sadasivan, a child neuropsychologist, “Playing in dirt helps stimulate creative thinking in children. They indulge in imaginary play with sand, twigs, rocks, and mud, all the while improving their immunity. Using hands this way also improves motor development, as playing with different textures stimulates nerve endings in the palms.”
Parents rarely find it easy to let their little ones get dirty. Some even prefer sterilising everything around their children, including their homes! Mud in the child’s mouth is probably one of their top worries, right below cuts, scrapes and bruises. But according to Gever Tulley, founder of California-based Tinkering School, a summer programme for experiential learning, parents should let their children learn unconventionally too, even if it means they get “scraped, bruised and bloody.” In his Ted Talk 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do, he speaks about how children can actually learn about safety by handling things we consider hazardous–fire, knife, electrical appliances and the like. Naturally, most parents might think that’s outrageous, but Tulley does have a point. How will children ever deal with these things–in case of emergencies–if they’ve never been taught the safe way to handle them?
“If children have successful interactions with their toy environment, they interpret those experiences as having mastered the toys. (…) As children continue to grow, mastery over non-physical items becomes a new task.”
When left to toy with dirt and other objects in a natural environment, kids’ imagination is more active, their motor skills sharper, and social skills smarter.