By Angelina Hart
Did you know that dirt holds a plethora of health and mental benefits? In a study by Bristol University, Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was shown to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin. This enhances feelings of well-being, much in the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise.
Unfortunately, most preschools these days have completely eradicated dirt from the children’s experiences. The new norm in modern playgrounds is a blue, cushioned floor and a climbing structure under shade. There is not a single piece of nature to interact with when they are outdoors. And when brought inside, they are faced with harsh overhead lighting, non-degrading plastics, and the residue of harsh chemical cleaning agents.
In “The Healthy Home” (Conran), Gina Lazenby writes: “The use of synthetic materials increases the level of positively charged ions in an interior, therefore producing high static electricity. This, in turn, affects the serotonin content of the blood of those who spend time there, which can be linked to headaches and lethargic behavior.”
Enter the alternative: Organic Beginnings Preschool, which uses a nature-based curriculum. We take the best of Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia approaches and wrap them up in an all-natural, organic package.
At Organic Beginnings the children greet each day with plenty of dirt. From helping to dig and plant in the garden to making mud pies, the connection to the earth is abundant in many of the everyday activities at school, and the joy on the students faces tells us just how special this time spent getting dirty is to them.
A notable study from Johns Hopkins University cites that “kids who were completely free of allergies were also most likely to grow up in homes with the highest amount of allergens and bacteria in them. In contrast, only 8% of kids with both allergies and asthma were exposed to the substances by the time they were 1.”
The benefits don’t end with the dirt, however. When children assist in the garden, they are offered the opportunity to participate in the process of growing, tending and harvesting the fruits of their labor. This teaches a good work ethic, builds stamina, and most importantly enhances the ability to delay gratification, which is the number one trackable success predictor in children.
The students at Organic Beginnings preschool are encouraged to interact with the natural environment as much as possible. Open-ended imaginative play in nature is a crucial piece in creating healthy development in children. It allows for the stretching of their minds, hearts and bodies into the physical and ethereal realm in a way that structured play just can’t mimic. The incorporation of natural elements such as wooden toys, fibers such as silk and wool, and the edible and living world around them provides a space in which they can really dive into the wholeness of the world and reflect that connection in themselves.
Human beings share a remarkable amount of DNA with the living world around them, from the trees to the soil to the bacteria, so when given more opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with the natural environment, we are in essence also engaging more meaningfully with a part of ourselves.
Organic Beginnings Preschool is a place where children can easily fall into themselves and their rhythm. It is a space where they are encouraged to play hard, get dirty, and then come into themselves to integrate their experiences with stories and snacks they’ve cultivated from their morning adventures.
What can you do at home:
- Let your kids help with housework — but use natural cleaners!
- Plant a garden and let them dig, hold worms, find bugs and eat what they pick.
- Build a compost in the backyard and watch food scraps decompose and turn back into soil.
- Ferment some veggies or beverages in your kitchen to increase your beneficial bacteria load.
- Use grey water for your garden and let your children fill up the buckets of dirty dishwater from the sink or bathtub.
Angelina Hart, MA has been in the preschool field for over 30 years. She is an avid environmentalist as well as a child development specialist. Her two great loves in life are married in this school — nature and kids. Find out more at organicbeginningspreschool.com.