Mucking about is a good prescription for health and happiness.
Kids love mud – it’s just a fact. Whether it’s the batter for fresh muffins, or the building material for mini dams and roadways, or just the satisfying squish between toes, a young child seems drawn to the stuff as if by design.
Parents, on the other hand, may be less enthusiastic about mud. For one thing, mud is dirty. But there are still plenty of good reasons to let your kids play in it. The report, “The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids” notes that, “The things small children want to do outside, like building mud castles, splashing around in puddles and rolling down hills…may, in fact, be a grubby little prescription for health and happiness.”
Here’s more on the benefits of getting muddy.
Physical health. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that early contact with some of the infectious microbes found in soil can result in a lower risk of heart disease later in life. Other studies have linked the overuse of sanitizers and sterilizing products to a higher incidence of allergies and autoimmune disorders.
Mental health. Look at a child’s face as she splashes in a muddy puddle, and you know she just feels good. Studies suggest that this feeling of well-being may result, at least in part, from a child’s contact with the soil. A bacterium found in dirt (M. vaccae) has actually been linked to increased levels of serotonin, a compound in the brain related to feelings of happiness. Physical play outdoors can also result in gains in independence and creativity.
Educational benefits. Young children learn by engaging in hands-on activities with real objects. Put simply, children learn by getting their hands dirty. Unstructured play (that is, play initiated by the child and not led by an adult) is an important part of their education; it has been shown to promote cognitive growth and to positively influence social interactions. Yet today, a child’s schedule is often packed with hours of directed activities in school, sports, or aftercare programs. Free time is spent in front of one screen or another. There seems to be less and less time to “just muck about.” During unstructured play children plan, make decisions, and see the results on their own.
Connection with nature. Many experts agree that today’s children are quickly losing any connection to the natural world. Chrissy Larson, an outdoor educator and preschool teacher, has seen her young students blossom as they follow raccoon tracks in the mud, and learn to recognize the trees that provide good rain shelter. She says, “I truly believe all that time spent digging in the dirt, playing on the dirt, sliding down the dirt, and sitting for snacks and stories in the dirt literally roots them to the earth…They begin to gain an understanding of the simplest and most complex parts of nature.”
Today our children have more on their plates than ever before. We tend to lead over-scheduled, yet sedentary lives. But it seems that playing in the dirt and mud, whether in the backyard or hiking along a creek bed, might be the perfect antidote. Couldn’t your kids use a little mud medicine?