Why playing in the mud is more than just fun
BY HYAHNO MOSER - Nature Play QLD
As a child, I was drawn to MUD. Some of my fondest childhood memories saw me covered in the stuff, head to toe.
Dirt and water… 2 very simple and basic ingredients have and continue to be the source of so much activity, creativity, joy, and sensory fun for children and adults.
Do you remember what it felt like to squelch mud through your toes? Do you remember standing on the edge of the mud pit, looking in with hesitation, repulsion, wonder and awe.
Mud is amazing, how it can conjure up such polarizing feelings, how this simple substance can make us feel disgusted and revolted at the same time so joyous, inspired and alive. Amazing.
This grubby, gooey, sticky substance always seemed to have magical powers on me as a child. In its presence, so much is possible. Simply standing in it fires up my imagination! I become inspired.
Even when I am holding mud in my hands today, I still feel as though I can create anything. I am transported very quickly into a playful child-like state of mind. And there is no greater pleasure than giving yourself permission to get dirty!
Now that I am a grown up, and a parent, I realised that I no longer played in the mud. But I am changing that.
Over the past few years I have rediscovered my love for playing in the mud and the Nature Play QLD Team has been on a mission to bring Mud Play back! Nature Play QLD has run many Mud Events over the past 3 years and learnt so much from children about the art of mud play. Thank you kids, you have been very inspiring…. Mud play is about fun, it engages all the senses, and should be a normal part of outdoor play. I’ve also discovered these days it may take a little longer to convince our kids to get dirty – possibly a side effect of our cleanness obsessed world – but when they do, kids just love it! They begin with 1 toe dipped in the mud and I watch with huge satisfaction as they work towards being total immersed. Covered from head to toe and using it in so many ways. Mud play is about fun, it engages all the senses, and should be a normal part of outdoor play. And, those childhood feelings I had about mud having magical powers? Turns out they were correct! Playing in the mud is not only fun, it’s good for kids too! I have been researching mud play, and have uncovered some surprising facts behind this magical material, as well as some amazing and interesting statistics related to why our kids need to get their hands dirty. THE SCIENCE OF MUD PLAY There is a growing body of research into why kids have an inbuilt need to play in mud. There is evidence suggesting that mud play is a basic biological need, and this type of play has many physical, psychological and emotional benefits for children. MUD MAKES YOU HAPPY – New research has shown that exposure to friendly soil bacteria (Mycobacterium Vaccae) stimulates the immune system causing the brain to release serotonin, the endorphin used to regulate mood. MUD INCREASES BRAIN ACTIVITY – When children play with mud they use all of their senses, resulting in a highly stimulated and active brain. MUD INCREASES PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – When children play outdoors, and in mud, the incidental movement and physical activity increases, helping children maintain a healthy lifestyle and develop their physical literacy. MUD REDUCES YOUR SUSCEPTABILITY TO DEPRESSION – Given the link of the friendly bacteria in mud and its ability to make you happy, scientists say that regular exposure to mud will reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression. MUD REDUCES ALLERGIES & ASTHMA SYMPTOMS – There is increasing evidence that today’s society is “too clean”, and that this is a contributor to increased levels of childhood illnesses, including immune disorders and allergies. MUD PLAY BUILDS CREATIVITY – The open-ended nature of mud play is perfect for the developing brain. There is no end to the creations, ideas and games children will invent. During this type of unstructured, outdoor play, children are not only exercising but are building their ability to form ideas, problem solve, and think critically, as well as be innovative and inventive. KEY DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONES ACHIEVED THROUGH MUD PLAY – As children grow through their formative years, mud play will help them achieve many key developmental milestones, such as fine and gross motor skills, sensory awareness, balance and coordination. Mud play will also create opportunities to practice social skills and help children to make sense of the world. FOUNDATIONAL LEARNING THROUGH MUD PLAY – While playing with mud, children are learning and testing theories, as well as developing foundational understanding of maths and literacy. MUD PLAY CAN REDUCE CHILDHOOD ANXIETY AND STRESS – There is now scientific evidence linking the restorative effects of outdoor play, which can reduce levels of anxiety and stress in children. MUD PLAY CREATES CHILDHOOD MEMORIES – Positive childhood experiences while playing outdoors will help to create and strengthen kids’ concept of the outdoors, and reinforce the intrinsic benefits and interest in playing outdoors and being active. BUILDING AN ADVENTUREOUS SPIRIT THROUGH MUD PLAY – While kids are braving the mud, sloshing and squelching around, they are challenging themselves, expanding their experiences and in turn, their world. Instilling and nurturing this constructive foundational style of critical thinking and risk assessment in children builds and strengthens their values and attitudes toward adventure, and develops important skills that can be carried through to adulthood. MUD BUILDS A CONNECTION WITH NATURE – Playing with mud is a foundational activity that could lead to children further developing a strong and empathetic connection with the natural environment. MUD IS FUN! For most children, mud play is intrinsically fun, plain and simple. While adults like to understand the full sphere of why mud play is so good for our children, kids will just instinctively play in it. Especially when their parents encourage them to! Children don’t need to understand why this type of play is important to their development. What’s important is that we provide opportunities for them to do it – and give them permission to get dirty! Parents and carers know that how our children play is important. We all know we need to find ways to get our kids moving. Nature Play QLD is all about providing programs to get kids off the couch, encouraging them to put down their devices and go back outside to have fun with unstructured, active, outdoor play. MUD PLAY is amazing, not only it delivers a great play experience for our kids, but it’s easy and affordable to get involved. You might have some extra washing…but your kids are going to love it! And don’t be surprised if you enjoy making mud pies as much as they do!