Playing in mud and dirt has many benefits.
Since the beginning of time children have been playing in dirt and mud. As the world continues to advance children are spending less and less time getting down and dirty. This extra clean and sanitized world is contributing to the increase in childhood allergies and asthma. Exposing children to dirt and germs helps build their immune system to prevent some of those allergies.
Open ended Activity
Playing in the mud is an open ended activity that is inclusive to all developmental levels of children. Younger or less skilled children may focus on sensory, feeling and smelling the dirt and mud as they hold it in their hands and squish it between their fingers. Older children may have a goal in mind. Maybe they want to make a mud ball, so they have to work out the right ratio of water to dirt.
Playing in mud gives opportunity for everyone to play, experience, and learn.
Like all undirected free play, and the developmental benefits that go along with it, playing in the mud is no different.
While children are playing and experimenting they learn things like cooperation and sharing as they play together to create their masterpiece. They develop their language and communication as they talk and work out their plan. Like all social situations children need to use their problem solving skills in order for all parties to be happy and continue the play.
Math and Science
When children play in the mud they experiment with consistency and measurements as they mix different amounts of water and dirt to make mud balls, mud pies, cookies and other imaginative meals. They test out water displacement as they pour dirt into a bucket of water and watch the water level rise and spill over the top. They compare the before and after as the mix everything up.
Caring for the environment
With everyone, especially children, spending less and less time in nature we can see how it is affecting them. When children are able to get out and play in nature it allows them to have an appreciation for the earth. As our industrial and technological world continues to grow we need more people fighting for our green spaces. Children are the future and if we don’t want our world to continue to get worse we need to let them experience it so as they get older they can fight for Mother Nature.
Children and Nature Network talk about Nature-Deficit disorder and state “An expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play. Nonetheless, we believe that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed.”
Mycobacterium Vaccae is the microscopic bacteria in dirt. It has been proven to increase serotonin in the brain which makes us happy, relaxed, and calm. So in other words dirt is a natural antidepressant.
It’s Healthy for Adults Too
As we get older playing the mud can look a lot different. It’s not often adults will go into the yard by themselves and start making mud pies. So how do we expose ourselves to those bacteria?
From talking with other adults, playing in the mud looks a little different. When my husband and I were in Australia we worked on a strawberry farm and on the first day we noticed everyone else was going barefoot, didn’t know why, until we started working. Very quickly as we walked along the rows planting strawberries the mud would get deeper and was soon spilling over the top into my hiking boots. The next day we went barefoot and my goodness did it feel good. The mud was part sand part dirt; there were no rocks just soft, squishy, wet mud. I know for most adults that’s not their cup of tea and that’s okay there are other ways to get down and dirty.
Some examples are:
- Mud races – there are often obstacle courses that have you go through the mud to get to the finish line
- Playing sports in the rain tends to make a lot of mud
- Gardening is the most common, but take off those gardening gloves and put your hands in the soil
- Go play with your children. Get dirty for a short while and make mud pies with them
- Go barefoot outside, if you don’t like your hands getting dirty let your feet get dirty. It’s still exposing yourself to the bacteria.
- Construction or outdoor projects
- Dirt Biking and Off-Roading – but you need to get out of vehicle and into the mud
Bringing Mud to Your Yard
- Play in a mud puddle after the rain
- Paint with mud
- Build something – use sticks or other things as a base and pack mud onto it to build a structure
- Mix up dirt and water and experiment with different consistencies
- Mud balls
- Build a mud kitchen
- Make mud pies, cookies, cakes, soup, etc.
Embrace the Mess
When I was working in childcare we would often tell parents that the mess all over them was evidence of a good day. We would tell them not to send good clothes as we would encourage the children to get fully emerged in the activity and not to worry about the mess.
When you start worrying about being messy and dirty your limiting their experience and in turn limiting the chance for additional development. We need to stop trying to keep our children so clean all the time. They are not meant to be clean, they are meant to explore, experiment, and get dirty like all our ancestors once did.
How to Keep the Mess Contained
There are a lot of parents out there that don’t like dealing with messy kids. They don’t want it all over their house, or themselves. So how do you give them the experience of mud play while still containing the mess?
Set up a washing station. Get a bucket of clean water and an old towel. When the kids are done in the mud and wanting to go to another activity have them wash up in the water you set up. If they are dirty from head to toe and its hot outside set up a sprinkler or let them spray themselves with the hose. If it’s not a particularly hot day then wash them as best you can and then go put them into the tub, if necessary.
Muddy Buddies are also a good way of keeping the mess contained. Once they are done playing you can remove the muddy buddies and they will be all clean underneath.
There is no excuse to not let your children (or yourself) play in the mud and dirt. Let go of your fears and let them get dirty and messy