For many parents, “dirt” is a four-letter word. Don’t track it in the house. Don’t pick it up. Don’t eat with it on your hands. Yuck!

What if we were to tell you dirt, mud, grime, and germs were good for your child’s health? It sure would make spring a much more bearable — and enjoyable — season! Fortunately, there is scientific proof that playing in the mud is a healthy childhood activity.

Get Outside Already!

The average child spends at least seven hours a day inside. Over the last 20 years, the amount of time that children spend outside has steadily decreased. In those same two decades, the prevalence of major health issues has increased.

Dr. Mary Ruebush, author of "Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends,recently quipped, “Relax. Mother Nature has built children in order to absorb germs in the environment. The human species has not been on this planet for as long as it has without having an unbelievable, miraculous immune response.”

Dr. Ruebush continued: If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job.” Nature, mud, and time in the great outdoors is a prerequisite for a well-developed child.

Mud is Good for Our Immune System

Isn’t it ironic to learn exposure to bacteria and germs actually improves the immune system’s ability to keep us healthy? In reality, being clean inhibits our body’s resilience. If we limit a child’s exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses, issues like asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease can be expected in adulthood.

Mud is Good for Our Mental Health

You can actually witness mental clarity happening the moment a child steps outside. Stress, demands, and expectations all melt away. Children are instantly calm, stress-free, and relaxed.

A recent study examined two million children, all under the age of 18. During those four years, the use of antidepressants rose steadily. Which age group was most dependent on medication? Preschoolers.

Another study revealed M. vaccae, a “good” bacteria found in dirt, can increase the brain’s production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical that increases the feeling of well-being. Playing outside might be the cheapest, most effective, chemical-free mood booster available!

How to Play in the Mud

Sadly, many of us might need some instructions on how to administer the recommended doses of mud. Here are some play-in-the-mud suggestions.

  1. Grab a stick and practice writing letters or drawing shapes in the mud.
  2. Make mud prints (hands and feet) on the sidewalk.
  3. Jump in mud puddles.
  4. Make mudmen, similar to snowmen but dirtier!
  5. Build a mud castle.
  6. Dig a trench, add water, and turn it into a river. You could even add a dam and give a little educational lesson too.
  7. Dig for worms.
  8. Make mud pies. Take old pots and pans outside to make it more realistic.
  9. Make stone soup. Don’t forget to season it with acorns, grass, twigs, and a pinch of sand. Check the recipe in the book "Stone Soup."
  10. Plant flowers or start a garden.

Rather than spend the next several months trying to keep your kids clean, embrace the mud. Let them get as dirty as possible.