Updated: May 12, 2020
Do you remember what it feels like to squelch mud through your toes? For many of us adults it has been a long time since we've last done that. Yet this grubby, gooey substance seems to cast a magic spell on our children. With mud you can create anything. Mud can be anything you want it to be. Soups, magic potions, muffins and cakes can be created in a pinch by just combining dirt and water. Got some thicker mixture? Watch it turn into a sculpture, a magic creature, a hungry monster.
But as it turns out, playing in the mud is not only fun. Research shows that children have an inbuilt need to play in mud and that this type of play has many physical, psychological and emotional benefits. Here are some.*
THE SCIENCE OF MUD PLAY
MUD MAKES YOU HAPPY – And not just because you're doing something fun. Exposure to friendly soil bacteria (Mycobacterium Vaccae) stimulates the immune system causing the brain to release serotonin, the endorphin used to regulate mood. Scientists say that regular exposure to mud can reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.
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 ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA SYMPTOMS – There is increasing evidence that today’s society obsession with cleanliness 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 can help them reaching those important developmental milestones such as fine and gross motor skills, sensory awareness, balance and coordination. Mud play also creates opportunities to practice social skills and help children to make sense of the world.
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 ADVENTUROUS 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. It is so important is that we provide opportunities for them to do it – and give them permission to get dirty!
We always encourage and support mud play at both our nature playgroups and forest school. It's fun, affordable and it's one of the best ways to get a group of children to play together and get to know each other.
Need some inspiration? Check out our Instagram account for more mud play ideas that go beyond mud kitchen (although we LOOOVE making mud pies!). A song to accompany your mud adventures? Here's one I have made up for our children.
Soup, soup we're making mud soup
with grass, and stones and dirt, one scoop!
a sprinkle of flowers, a spoonful of sand
we stir it with a stick 'till it's nice and thick!
* Research made available by Nature Play QLD.