WATCHING my daughter Becca (8) rescue earthworms while I dug the garden got me thinking about the benefits of allowing children to get mucky.
As she scrambled around to protect the worms from our hens, Becca was being exposed to what I consider healthy bugs. She was running her own conservation mission while chatting to me about why she loved earthworms.
An appreciation of earthworms
Becca’s fervour for saving earthworms, particularly those lovely big, fat fellas, was partly because she had just finished reading Simone Lia’s lovely book They didn’t teach THIS in worm school!. It’s all about the friendship and adventures of a worm and a bird.
While helping me dig a patch for first early spuds (behind schedule this year, as usual) Becca started collecting any big worms we dug up and covering them with earth.
She was hiding them from our 3 hens and 1 duck, who still managed to get plenty of smaller ones.
Both Becca, and her sister Ava (11), have had an appreciation for earthworms since they were toddlers, when I would have encouraged them not to be afraid of holding these wriggly creatures.
They have learned that earthworms are a sign that the soil is healthy and help our plants by breaking up the soil. So, from Becca’s point of view, earthworms “are our friends”.
I’m just happy to see the girls enjoying getting their hands mucky and developing an appreciation for the Nature’s ‘grassroots’ residents.
Let Them Eat Dirt
Watching Becca on her mission got me thinking about a series of newspaper articles I’d recently read concerning a parenting book that supported the notion that kids need to get dirty.
Let Them Eat Dirty: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World, by Dr Brett Finlay and Dr Marie-Claire Arrieta, encourages the belief that it is good for children to be around pets, play outdoors and get their hands dirty.
In fact, by keeping their children too clean, parents are preventing them from being exposed to microbes that help strengthen their immune systems, and potentially helping them to avoid developing asthma, allergies and other common childhood conditions.
“In the 150 years since we discovered that microbes cause infectious diseases, we’ve battled to keep them at bay. But a recent explosion of scientific knowledge has led to undeniable evidence that early exposure to these organisms is beneficial to our children’s well-being. It turns out that our current emphasis on hyper-cleanliness is taking a toll on our children’s lifelong health.” Let Them Eat Dirt
Getting kids outdoors
You don’t have to be a hardcore outdoorsy parent or have a garden to find ways to get your children grubby and connect with Nature.
Coillte has detailed lists of amenities and activities on its properties across Ireland on a county by county basis. You can access its website to find out more simply by clicking here. Similarly, Outdoors NI has plenty of options for younger residents and visitors to Northern Ireland.
But one of my favourites websites is the Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives, which provides easy-to-follow guides for children interested in finding out more about the flora and fauna in their gardens, parks and forests. The site has downloadable activity sheets that encourage children to get investigating, exploring and discovering!
My family has a well-established list of our favourite rambling spots, but I’ve just added to our must-see places for 2017.
I was recently sent details of the launch of the Ballyhoura Nature Trail in Co Limerick, at an event organised by Ballyhoura Development, Ballyhoura Failte & Ballyhoura Heritage & Environment.
The 45-minute route runs alongside the Ballyhoura mountain bike trails and is a 5km exploration of all the hidden creatures that live in the woods. A new brochure which marks all the hidden creatures can be ticked off as children traverse the trail, a clever idea that is designed to keep them interested and learning.
“This is a lovely amenity for young families to get out and get active and keep children engaged on their walks through the forest.”
The Nature Trail brochure as well as details on all the other family activities in the Ballyhoura region can be found here. I’m already looking forward to heading off with our daughters some weekend to discover how they fare on the Nature Trail!
Every time parents encourage their children to play outside they are not only encouraging them to be physically and mentally active, but also helping to bolster their immune systems.
And of course, they are helping to nurture the explorers, conservationists and scientists of tomorrow.
And please visit my blog www.go-green-environment.com to learn more about my families foraging activities and recipes over the past year. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.