Dirt: An Essential Ingredient for Childhood
1. Did you know dirt is good for our brains? Certain types of bacteria that are naturally found in soil can activate the neurons that produce serotonin, a key natural anti-depressant. In other words, dirt can actually help make us—and our kids—feel happy.
2. A little bit of dirt can boost the immune system, especially in children. Recent studies indicate that early exposure to the naturally occurring microbes in soil help build stronger, more disease-resistant children. These findings may explain the rising rates of autoimmune and allergic diseases in sterile, antibiotic-saturated countries like the U.S.
3. If you’ve read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, you’re familiar with the term “nature-deficit disorder.” In our technology-driven world, kids are opting for screen time instead of outdoor play, a trend that has been linked to attention disorders, depression, and obesity.
4. Children who play outside laugh more—up to 20 percent more—which lowers their blood pressure and stress levels.
5. Outside play develops important character traits. Kids who spend time outside are more adventurous, self-motivated, self-aware, and cooperative, and they are better able to understand and assess risk.
You bring the kids, we’ll provide the dirt!
Ollie Owl’s NaturePlayGround is the newest edition to our ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township, Chester County. Like walking into a secret garden, an interactive trail leads kids to a forest playground with a log bridge, tee-pees made of branches, shallow streams perfect for splashing, tree stumps to climb and jump on, a wooden see-saw, and more. Loud, silly, messy, creative, and “unstructured” play is encouraged!
The NaturePlayGround is open daily, dawn to dusk. Stop by to explore with your kids anytime, or register for one of our upcoming Nature Play Days. These open-house-style events include a story and craft based on the book we’ll read, as well as light refreshments. Natural Lands Trust staff and volunteers will be on hand to welcome you to the play area and guide activities.
(Photos clockwise from top left: Dan Barringer, Molly Smyrl, Pete Smyrl, Steve Eisenhauer, Oliver Bass, Pete Smyrl, Steve Eisenhauer, Molly Smyrl)