The benefits of playing with mud

3 February 2016

Today’s weather looked a lot like winter was on its way, and as adults we often get wrapped up in how inconvenient the rain, mud and wet weather is.

Have you ever wondered what a child sees when it rains?

When I arrived this morning to say ‘Good morning’ to the children in our Winyu Sky room, they had pulled all of their chairs up to the windows and were curiously watching the rain.Children playing in mud

“It’s thundering and lightning”, “Yesterday it was spitting and now it’s raining”, “The clouds are dark”

The children showed a genuine interest in what was happening outside which led the Educators and I to ponder the questions ‘Can we go outside, barefoot in the mud? Can we get every Educator and child outside today to experience what that feels like?’

At YWCA Canberra, our Early Childhood team strongly identify with socio-cultural development theory. We are always reading up on the associated research* and we work each day to ensure it’s embedded in the decisions we make.

We know there are lots of benefits to experiencing every element of nature for children, so we wanted to share with you our process of risk-benefit analysis and the research on MUD play!

When we were doing our analysis we considered:

  • Clothes for the children to go outside in (so everyone has something to play in and to change into afterwards)
  • Involving every Educator to enhance supervision
  • Providing information about the benefits of play, even when it’s raining!
  • Making sure the children were warm enough
  • Encouraging and inviting the children to participate, not forcing them
  • Having ponchos on hand, so that children unfamiliar or unsure about getting wet were able to still participate comfortably.

Five great reasons why children should be able to go outside and play in the mud:Child on slide at Winyu

  1. Playing in the mud has been scientifically proven to make you happy! Recent research has found that dirt contains microscopic bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae, which increases the levels of serotonin in our brains, helping us to relax. Mud actively soothes and calms children.
  2. Playing with mud connects us to nature.  We all know teaching children about the sustainability of our planet is critical to their future. It’s hard to care about something you don’t know much about. Whenever children are outside, in nature, feeling and getting to know each amazing element, it significantly improves their ability to be a caretaker of the planet we all live on.
  3. Playing in mud can make you healthier. Step away from the antibacterial hand wipes! Research has actually shown that childhood is best spent building up a resilient immune system, preventing many contagious conditions later. Research has also shown that playing in dirt, including very wet dirt is great for children’s immunity levels. Wooh!
  4. Playing in mud can make you smarter. Remember those serotonin-inducing bacteria found in mud? They have been shown to increase cognitive function and development.
  5. Playing in mud encourages creative thinking. None of us know for sure what the future holds for our Winyu children, but we do know that innovation will be a prized skill. Children who are flexible, adaptable and innovative are also often resilient and great communicators. We all want children to be happy, healthy and passionate for life. Encouraging creative thinking opportunities directly fosters  new skills, changing the world we live in for the better!

So, with all of this in mind, our Winyu children began a MUDTASTIC adventure! We had mud pits, a slip-n-slide and lots of fun.

I’m sure you can see just as I can by the looks on their faces that so much learning and joy happened that day.Children playing in mud at Winyu

YWCA Canberra’s early childhood team are passionate about ensuring our children experience everything life has to offer, not just in preparation for school and not just so they can sing ‘ABC’. Our Educators develop in every child a sense of curiosity that will make them learners for life.

*If you would like to access the research that I’m talking about, pop me an email (Louise.Billman@ywca-canberra.org.au) and I’ll forward it to you.

We’ve created Facebook and Twitter pages for you to keep up with the latest on YWCA Canberra’s early childhood services – check it out!

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