Dirt Doesn’t Hurt: Why Children Need Outdoor Exploration

Samantha Briggs, IWLA Save Our Streams Coordinator
kids playing in stream_300x300

kids stream monitoringRecently, I had the pleasure of leading a Save Our Streams training in Paint Branch, a stream that drains into the Anacostia River. Because the stream is located in a highly populated area with a lot of impervious surfaces (roads, sidewalks, rooftops), we were expecting a low water quality rating. Although the stream rated as “unacceptable,” I was very encouraged that we found some mayflies, a few water pennies, and even a micro casemaker caddisfly! These stream critters are sensitive to pollution, so finding these means our stream may be improving. Volunteers will be tracking this stream over time to make note of its progress toward better water quality.

As we were talking about what we found, a woman and a young child arrived at the stream and began to play in the water – a sight that warmed my heart (given my former career as a nature preschool teacher). However, one of the training attendees asked warily, “Should she really allow that child to play in the water considering the results we found?”

With one question, that attendee got me started on a topic I feel really passionate about.

Children need nature.

micro casemaker caddisflyExposure to microbes (“germs”) is vital to strengthening children’s immune systems. Kids who spend quality time outdoors are less likely to develop autoimmune diseases such as asthma and allergies, and get sick less often, than kids raised in a more sterile environment (think hand sanitizer and computer screens). Time spent outdoors also reduces stress, promotes creativity, and builds confidence while teaching responsibility. A child who spends time outside has a better chance of succeeding in whatever career path he or she chooses later in life – not just environmental or nature-focused careers.

Stream monitoring is the perfect way to introduce children to outdoor exploration and environmental stewardship. Kids love finding life in their streams, and teaching them early in life to be interested in water quality and macroinvertebrates will encourage them to be confident in the outdoors for the rest of their lives. Stream monitoring can be your next family activity! It is also great for schools, summer camps, afterschool clubs, and scout troops.

Visit our Creek Freaks website to learn more about getting kids involved in water quality monitoring, and visit our Clean Water Challenge web page to learn how you can help get us to our goal of monitoring 100,000 stream sites by the League’s 100th anniversary.