Moving and exploring

Why it’s good for kids to get outdoors and get dirty

Key takeaways

  • Dirt can be your toddler’s friend
  • The great outdoors brings with it vitamin D, mental health benefits and new cognitive functions, and cultivates creativity
  • Read about how to bring the benefits of the outdoors into your child’s play

Less than one quarter of children spend the recommended 60 minutes a day participating in physical activity.1 Would a bit more time in the fresh air work wonders for our kids? If the research is anything to go by, then it’s a firm ‘yes’.

The benefits of dirt on their immune system

The hygiene hypothesis2 claims that, over time, western civilisation has become much cleaner and focused on removing harmful bacteria from our environment. However, as a consequence of this over-cleaning, we’re no longer exposing children to enough dirt, grime and germs to kick-start a well-functioning immune system.The precise things we think will do our little ones harm are, in fact, the things that may strengthen their resilience against things like asthma3 and allergies4. It works in a similar way to immunisation. Some germs can actually stimulate the immune system of your child, without being harmful. By introducing your child to certain strains of Mother Nature’s bacteria and viruses at a young age, the body is able to practise appropriate responses and begin building its defence system accordingly. Without exposure to dirt and germs in early life, the immune system doesn’t learn how to control its reaction to every day invaders such as dust and pollen.

The benefits of just getting outside!

Reams of research confirms time spent exploring nature is essential for establishing the foundations of social, emotional and academic learning, as well as physical development.

It helps with vitamin D production

Vitamin D plays an important role in the development of strong bones and teeth. In addition, it supports the immune system and a normal muscle function.5Exposure to sunlight is needed to stimulate the body’s production of Vitamin D3 and there’s nowhere better to catch some rays than the great outdoors.

It helps with mental health

Being out and about in nature is amazing for kids’ state of mind, with research6 showing it has a capacity to reduce aggression, stress, depressive symptoms and anti-social behaviour.

It helps form their executive function

A well-developed executive function enables kids to plan, prioritise, self-regulate, adapt and multi-task. Outdoor play gives kids the freedom to enjoy unstructured time7 where they can practise all of these skills with minimal restrictions.

It cultivates creativity

By age 5, 98% of children score at the creative genius level. But by age 10 that drops to just 30%8, as play time turns to more technology-focused activities and ultimately decreases. Outdoor play has the capacity to reignite kids’ imaginations with a stick that becomes a cooking utensil, a magic wand or a sword. Or a challenging tree climb that presents an opportunity to take new risks.

It reduces the risk of poor vision

Sounds unlikely? Well, one study found just an extra 45 minutes a day outside reduced the risk of short-sightednessby 10%.

It sparks cognitive development

Interacting with natural surroundings has been found to improve memory10. Plus, when combined with the opportunity of real play (the kind that’s active, physical and self-directed), results in better concentration skills11 post-play, too.

Bringing the outside into play

Dr Justin Coulson has partnered with us to help develop The Resilience Building Bucket List. He has shared lots of fun activities where your child can enjoy outside time, reaping the benefits we’ve mentioned above.Discover the benefits of:


  2. Timmins, B. (2017). This is why it’s important to let your kids be exposed to germs. [online] The Independent. Available at:
  3. Mutius, E. and Vercelli, D. (2010). Farm living: effects on childhood asthma and allergy.
  4. Pacifier Cleaning Practices and Risk of Allergy Development. (2013). PEDIATRICS, 131(6), pp.X31-X31.
  6. The Conversation. (2018). Five ways kids can benefit from being outside this summer break. [online] Available at:
  7. McCarthy, C. (2018). 6 reasons children need to play outside – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at:
  8. digv2. (2018). Stories. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Aug. 2018].
  9. Children, M. (2018). More Time Outside Tied to Less Nearsightedness in Children. [online] Scientific American. Available at:
  10. Dadvand, P., Nieuwenhuijsen, M., Esnaola, M., Forns, J., Basagaña, X., Alvarez-Pedrerol, M., Rivas, I., López-Vicente, M., De Castro Pascual, M., Su, J., Jerrett, M., Querol, X. and Sunyer, J. (2015). Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(26), pp.7937-7942
  11. Jenkin, M. (2016). Wild things: how ditching the classroom boosts children’s mental health. [online] the Guardian. Available at:
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