What my daughter taught me while playing in the dirt

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood  of Chicago with Professor Foster (his “Brown Mom” wife), and their daughter Viva, who really digs dirt.

A recent report in the journal Neuroscience suggest that inoffensive soil bacteria called m. vaccae release chemicals called cytokines, which increase your brain receptors’ activity, boost serotonin levels and behave almost identically to antidepressants.

In other words, playing in the dirt makes you happy.

This might be news to researchers, but it’s obvious to my 3-year-old, who has been playing in the dirt since long before she knew not to put in her mouth, on top of her head and all over her clothing.

Gardening season is well under way, and a trip to a community garden with Viva last weekend gave her a chance to teach me just what a groovy soil sister she is, while I attempted to assemble planters.

Here are some of the things I learned.

The building blocks of life

“Daddy! Daddy!”


“Plants need soil, water and sunlight to grown.”

“You're right! They do need soil, water and sunlight!”

“Just like I need cheese sticks, juice and cartoons.”

Just like that.

Roly poly was a rolling stone

“Daddy! Daddy!”


“The dirt is full of bugs.”

“Yes it is.”

“There are roly polies in here that turn into a ball when I touch them.”

“Yep, that’s what they do.”

“Not all of them, though. Some of them don’t roll up.”

“Why is that, do you suppose?”

“Some roly polies just need to keep it moving.”

Mulch castle? I’d list it.



“I can make a soil castle just like a sand castle.”

“Yes, you can.”

“I made a mulch castle, but it fell down.”

“I'm sorry.”

“A mulch castle wouldn’t be a very good place for a princess.”

You can’t argue with science.

“Daddy! Daddy!”


“My friend says there is poison ivy in this dirt!”

“She did?”

“Is it really poison?”

“Well, it can make you itch.”

“I think it isn’t poison because I touched the leaves, and I didn’t itch.”

“Remind me to bathe you in hydrocortison when we get home.”

Thanks for the heads up, kid.

“Daddy! Daddy!”


“Black ants are OK, but red ants will bite you. I don’t like red ants, but I like black ants, except when I saw them under your napkin at a restaurant.”

“There were black ants under my napkin?”

“Yes, but it’s OK. You didn’t eat them.”

I appreciate your support.

“Daddy, your hands are very dirty.”

“They are.”

“Probably because you are a hairy boy. But we can clean you off.”

Red ants are bad. Roly polies have places to be. Boys are hairy. Mulch makes bad castles. Poison ivy is no big deal. Cartoons are essential.

There is so much to learn from playing in the dirt.

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