One of the best things you can do to help your child develop a healthy body and mind is let him play in dirt, say Japanese scientists studying child’s play.

“By using all five senses to experience the outdoors, children are able to feel that they are a part of nature,” says Michio Kawasaki, a professor of developmental psychology at Takada Junior College. “Humans are a part of nature. I think through being connected to nature, we can be surprised or moved, comforted or soothed.”

Early childhood researcher Hiroyuki Kasama says the sandbox may be the perfect play area for young children. It contributes to sensory and emotional growth, motor skills, and socialization. Getting dirty is also good for kids’ immune systems and overall health.

Many parents worry about how dirty sandboxes are, and playgrounds have stopped including them, reports The Mainichi, a Japanese daily newspaper. But early childhood experts say parents would do better to let their kids play in the dirt and do their best to keep it covered outside of playtime.

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