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Parents who are paranoid about hygiene are not doing their children any favours. Exposure to dirt and germs is essential for building a child’s immunity.

It’s official: depriving your children of physical contact with the ‘Dirty, Outside World’ is bad for their health! A certain exposure to germs is essential for building a child’s immunity and overall development. Pure exposure to various micro-organisms and other environmental factors leads to pure immune resistance, which means that the child will be less susceptible to disease later in life.

fewer allergies

In Western, urban societies, there’s been a growing prevalence of allergies in the last 15 years. Experts say  it’s because of an obsession with cleanliness. One of those at the forefront of the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ is Dr Dennis Ownby, chief of allergy and immunology at the Medical College of Georgia. Among other things, his studies found that babies in households with multiple pets have fewer allergies at age six or seven. And, not just to animals, but also ragweed, grass and dust mites.

But more than that, it seems that parents’ paranoia about their children getting dirty contributes to what has been coined ‘play malnourishment’ by Doug Cole, Chairman of the UK-based International Play Association.

Read more about outdoor play and child development

unstructured play

According to Cole, there is no such thing as ‘bad’ play. However, it’s important to ensure rounded skill acquisition and development by allowing children to experience a balance of different types of play. This includes some unstructured play where they feel they are allowed to get messy.

His findings reveal:
  • 33% of children avoid playing outside to keep cherished clothes and trainers clean.
  • Almost three-quarters (72%) of the children claimed they regularly avoid messy indoor and outdoor play because they worry about getting told off by their parents for getting their clothes dirty.
  • Nearly two-thirds of parents admitted to worrying about being branded a bad parent if their child is seen wearing dirty clothes.
  • 88% admitted they regularly made their children change out of clothes that they deemed less than perfectly clean.

Read our article on gardening with children.

Ideas for Foul Play

  • Puddle hopping
  • Build a sandcastle
  • Bake a cake
  • Roll down a muddy bank on your side
  • Collect tadpoles
  • Find some worms
  • Make an obstacle course in the garden
  • Get dirty gardening.


Laura Twiggs