Why You Should Let Your Kids Get Dirty

Let your kids get dirty! It helps them learn how to clean up and independent. Good habits, like getting physical activity and washing their hands regularly, can also help ward off many health problems later in life.

“Playing in the dirt quotes” is a fun and healthy activity that children should be encouraged to do. The benefits of playing in the dirt include increased oxygen intake, improved immune system, and it helps with creativity. Read more in detail here: playing in the dirt quotes.

Vintage little boy with hands in mud.

Editor’s note: Ben Greenfield contributed this guest article. 

Did you ever eat your own boogers as a kid?

Well, it turns out that humans may have an inbuilt desire to consume this organic delicacy. According to studies, a child’s snot contains germs that, when consumed, helps to improve the body’s natural immune system. Don’t worry, this doesn’t imply you should collect your children’s boogers and give the nuggets back to them, but it does emphasize the need of allowing our children to get messy.

I must confess that when my twin infant boys were born about six years ago, I had my concerns about the usefulness of allowing their delicate and innocent bodies to roll, crawl, and toddle amid the dirt and muck. But, since then — especially after learning what I’m about to tell you — I’ve become extremely lax, and my boys now climb up and down farm animals near our house and elephants in developing countries, wallow like hogs in every mud puddle they find, and eat fistfuls of olives with faces and hands stained from exploring every corner of the garage and backyard.

You must comprehend the hygiene hypothesis, as well as two other crucial assumptions, to understand why I’m not bothered about germs, and why you shouldn’t be either. In a nutshell, these ideas contend that limiting early exposure to parasites, germs, and viruses increases the risk of allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune illnesses in adulthood. Let’s take a closer look at each of these hypotheses.

3 Critical Hypotheses

Vintage little boys playing in dirt and mud.

Dr. David Strachan was one of the first to publicly propose the “hygiene hypothesis” in scientific literature, despite the fact that the concept that exposure to certain illnesses may reduce the incidence of allergies is not new. Strachan noted in the research that children from bigger families were less likely to develop allergy disorders such as hay fever and eczema since they were likely exposed to more germs via their siblings. Since then, epidemiological research have proved that growing up on a farm, as well as having a big family, has a protective impact.

Dr. Graham Rook proposed the “old friends” hypothesis in a 2003 article in a journal of immunology, arguing that the exposures necessary to increase immunity are derived from microbes present since hunter-gatherer times, when the human immune system was evolving, rather than being developed in childhood or during any other recently evolved infectious exposure. Rook argued that the bacteria that co-evolved with our immune systems are old, and that we’ve become so reliant on them that our immune systems can’t develop or function correctly without them. Microbes that inhabit our skin, gut, and respiratory tracts, as well as the animals we live with, include symbiotic bacteria, viruses, and helminths (also known as parasites or worms) that establish chronic infections or carrier states that we can tolerate and that aid in the development of specific immunoregulatory responses.


Finally, the “microbial diversity” idea has developed in recent years, which claims that the health and variety of bacterial species in our gut mucosa is a major role in immune system strength. Dr. Rook likened the embryonic immune system to a computer with numerous programs but scant data, so this makes sense. The immune system generates a “database” throughout pregnancy and infancy exposure to a variety of species that enables it to recognize and react to hazardous substances in the internal or external environment. This microbial diversity theory also explains why vaginal birth is excellent for babies: throughout their journey via the vaginal canal, a baby is exposed to a range of helpful bacterial species.

Each of these ideas is based on the broad notion of the body’s T cells upregulating in response to pathogenic pathogens, and epidemiological evidence seems to back them up. Many studies have shown that a range of immunological and autoimmune illnesses are far less frequent in poor countries than in industrialized ones, and that immigrants to these industrialized countries acquire immunological disorders like asthma only after settling there for a while.

Furthermore, although there is no evidence that lessening our contemporary practices of cleanliness and hygiene would have any effect on rates of chronic inflammatory and allergy illnesses, there is enough evidence that our present behaviors increase the risk of infectious diseases!

Sure, not all germs are created equal, and there are times when you’ll want to keep your children safe. If MRSA (staph infections), rabies, measles, rotavirus, anthrax, or ebola were spreading through your city, it would be prudent to keep the children inside rather than letting them sweat and blow snot with the other children. These kinds of scenarios, however, are uncommon.

So, hopefully, you now see that in our contemporary day of antibiotics, antibacterial hand soap, bottle boiling, and daily washing, we’re seeing new and unprecedented instances of autoimmunity, autism, ADD, food allergies, leaky gut syndrome, and obesity in our children.

10 Different Ways To Get Dirty

Vintage boys playing in mud hole.

Now that you know why germ, bacterium, and even parasite exposure may be beneficial to a child’s immune system development, it’s time to get down to business: how to really get filthy! There are lots of other ways to make your babies “filthy” if they weren’t born through vaginal delivery. Here are twelve of them:

1. Allow Your Children to Taste Things – Resist the desire to swat a handful of leaves, a patch of soiled grass, a clump of mud, or a little discolored snowball out of your child’s exploring hands! The same can be said about their proclivity for gnawing on supermarket cart handles, licking odd windows, and chewing on automobile seat belts. Allow your children to explore the natural world by touching, handling, and even tasting it. My children give our dog a kiss on the lips. I used to watch them lick coffee shop restroom floors, crawl through airports with their noses to the ground, and even take their diapers off and eat their own feces when they were babies. This may make your parental, care-giving heart want to spring out with an antibacterial wipe, but when it comes to your kids’ noses and lips getting down and filthy with nature, the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.


2. Don’t Be A Bottle Boiler – Sure, you’ll want to remove fluid and food residue from bottles (or pacifiers) from time to time by boiling or washing them, but you don’t have to be the parent who nukes the pacifier every time it hits the carpet or boils the bottle nipple after the dog sniffs it. Your youngsters can (and should) sometimes eat or drink from somewhat germ-infested surfaces.

3. Avoid Antibacterial Soaps — When I pick up my kids from the YMCA health club’s child care, other parents occasionally give me funny glances because I go out of my way to encourage them not to use antibacterial hand soap. We may not only be unknowingly limiting immunological development in our children, but we may also be producing “superbugs” or developing bacterial resistance to pharmaceutical and natural antibiotics in certain germs by using antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers all the time. So stick to regular old soap and water, and even if you use these substances, don’t wash your hands too often.

4. Avoid Antibiotics — If your child gets the flu or comes down with a bad virus, don’t run out and get a Z-Pack, an antiviral drug, or give them antibiotics. This may lead to bacterial resistance difficulties similar to those caused by antibacterial soaps. On the other hand, if your kid is very ill with the flu, you should be concerned about possible complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinusitis. In this scenario, I propose using tinctures of astragalus, oregano, echinacea, goldenseal, and elderberry to enhance white blood cell count or to add natural antiviral or antibacterial chemicals. (Read one of the greatest articles on natural immune boosters I’ve ever read.)

5. Go to Farms and Get Pets — You don’t have to go to Asia to expose your children to helpful worms and bacteria. Instead, take a field trip to your neighborhood farm every now and then to touch the sheep or feed the horses. Cats, dogs, gerbils, guinea pigs, and even fish may expose children to germs, bacteria, and other live creatures that they would not otherwise come into contact with. Consider being the parent who instead constructs a backyard chicken coop or visits the pet shop for the odd birthday present in this current age of virtual pets.

6. Spend More Time With Other Kids – We homeschooled our twin sons for the first few years of school, but we also went out of our way to enroll them in gymnastics, where they could tumble about on a little filthy floor or mat surrounded by other kids. We also made sure they went to the gym’s child care on a regular basis, as well as participating in basketball, tennis, and soccer. We also sent them to music camps, ski school, and a variety of extracurricular activities where they were exposed to the sniffles, skin, and perspiration of other children.

7. Eat a Variety of Cultured Foods – I’ve been telling my wife for years that she has to create a cookbook called Dirty Kitchen (a nice name, eh?) because of how much lactofermentation and bacterial cultures she uses in her food prep. This term appeals to me since it relates to the vast range of bacteria found in foods such as natto, kimchi, kefir, pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, rakfisk, poi, kombucha, and even chocolate. It’s vital to remember that diversity is key, and giving your kid the same probiotic tablet every day is unlikely to provide enough stimulation for their immune system.


Vintage little girl playing in dirt digging hole.

source of image

8. Get Outside – I wish this suggestion didn’t have to be said, but the sad reality is that many kids spend more time inside playing Wii, PlayStation, and Xbox than they do outside getting filthy. We let our kids out into the backyard on any lovely day to explore, and they’ve always returned with dirt under their fingernails, muck around their noses and lips, and weeds and wild grasses trapped in their clothing since they were little babies. All of these benefits to the immune system significantly exceed the discomfort of having to bathe unclean youngsters. Of course, our kids have experienced the wrath of itchy poison ivy (pro tip: learn how to identify poison ivy), the sharp stings of a hornet nest, and road rash from tricycle tricks and bike crashes, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take pride in a dirty, cut-up kid sitting down to dinner at the dining room table. That brings me to my next point…

9. Don’t Shower/Bath Every Day – It might be tempting to give our children a daily warm bath, followed by a flawless hairdo and a color-coordinated clothing from The Gap, in our post-Victorian, cleanliness-obsessed world. However, there are occasions when it’s OK to let the filth to fester on your kid. Our sons regularly spend two or three days in the summer getting filthy and playing outdoors without seeing a bar of soap – and although they become a little smelly and soiled, it’s a fantastic stimulant for their immune system. Allow those soil-based organisms to flourish on your child’s skin!

10. Avoid Doing Excessive Laundry – Clothing is a breeding ground for germs, filth, and bacteria. You could have been tempted to interpret this as a message to do a daily load of washing for any of your child’s soiled clothes before reading this article. While you shouldn’t bring your kid to sports, school, or social activities stinking or looking like a pig, it’s OK to give garments a few good wears before washing them, just as you don’t need to boil bottles and pacifiers all the time. It’s acceptable for kids to smell a little like…kids most of the time.


While this list of filthy methods to get your kids is by no means exhaustive, it should start you thinking about exposing your kids to pathogenic organisms including bacteria, worms, parasites, germs, fungi, viruses, and even other ill kids or dirty animals. This might be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your children, and you’ll almost certainly be giving them an edge later in life, particularly when compared to children who grew up in a bubble. And who knows, maybe your immune system may improve as well, and you’ll have one less cause to be disgusted when your child sneezes in your face, coughs at the table, or tracks dirt into the home!


While this list of filthy methods to get your kids is by no means exhaustive, it should start you thinking about exposing your kids to pathogenic organisms including bacteria, worms, parasites, germs, fungi, viruses, and even other ill kids or dirty animals. This might be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your children, and you’ll almost certainly be giving them an edge later in life, particularly when compared to children who grew up in a bubble. And who knows, maybe your immune system may improve as well, and you’ll have one less cause to be disgusted when your child sneezes in your face, coughs at the table, or tracks dirt into the home!

Ben Greenfield is a former bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, Spartan racer, coach, speaker, and author of Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health, and Life, which was named a New York Times Best Seller. Ben was nominated NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the Year in 2008, and Greatist named him one of the top 100 most influential people in the health and fitness industry in 2013. Ben Greenfield lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife and twin sons, and writes and podcasts at www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com.



The “sensory stations in schools” are a way to introduce sensory play into the classroom. These stations help kids learn how to be more independent and creative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I let my child make a mess?

A: If a child is old enough to use the potty, then they are old enough to clean up their own mess.

Why getting dirty is good?

A: Cleanliness is next to godliness, but dirt and grime is a good thing. You can always find new insights when you are dirty.

At what age should kids clean up?

A: Your child can start cleaning up when they are old enough to understand that it is their job. Children as young as 6 or 7 should be able to clean up after themselves and older children can help out with bigger tasks like sweeping. However, starting for the first time at a younger age will teach kids how important living in a neat space is by how much effort they put into perfecting it.

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