“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” e. e. cummings
I have decided to write this post as a bit of a photo essay combining "mud-luscious" pictures I have taken of my kids with child development research I have been doing.
I have heard from people I have encountered about their varying opinions on dirt and getting dirty and the hygiene concerns, especially for children. I am currently reading a book called ‘Balanced and Barefoot: How unrestricted outdoor play makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children’ by Angela J. Hanscom a Pediatric Occupational Therapist that explains that it's not only OK for kids to get dirty but necessary!
What does the expert say?
Angela believes that many of the modern childhood disorders including sensory intergration, attention problems, low immune systems, clumsiness, aggressiveness, anxiety, poor posture etc are due to lack of outdoor free play.
“The sensations of getting dirty and messy in real mud offer children an invaluable rich and tactile experience.
“The tactile system is flexible, and through exposure to various tactile experiences, children increase their tolerance to different touch sensations.
"Childhood is a state of mind which ends the moment a PUDDLE is first viewed as an OBSTACLE instead of an OPPORTUNITY" -Kathy Williams
“Not only does getting dirty and muddy outdoors increase tolerance of touch experiences, but it also improves the immune system.
“Mud. Wet and sticky mud. Most children can’t resist it. Getting dirty and even sampling a little bit of dirt doesn’t hurt. In fact, it can be downright healthy for your child. Exposure to dirt, animals, and germs from an early age on can actually improve the immune system
“According to the hygiene hypothesis, the problem with extremely clean environments is that they fail to provide the necessary exposure to germs that strengthens the immune system so it can protect us from infectious organisms. Instead, its defense responses become so inadequate that they actually contribute to the development of asthma and allergies
“Therefore, in order to develop a strong and healthy immune system, it is essential for children to be exposed to the outdoors—especially if that exposure involves getting dirty.
Other things I've noticed that my children learn when they get "down and dirty" are things like working together: collaborating to achieve a goal whether it be to make the most "delicious-looking" mud soup, biggest mud pie, or creating rivers and dams.
Speaking of rivers and dams, there are science and engineering, logic and problem-solving skills that they are learning through practical experience. They see first hand how water causes soil erosion, creates rivers and can create problems when too much water goes the "wrong way" where they quickly try redirect/block the water's path with rocks. I've also noticed that there is normally less quarreling when they are playing with sticks, stones and dirt as opposed to the world war 3 that occurs when they play with toys.
Cultivating outdoor play
"And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling." -Shanti
“The answer is really quite straightforward: active free play—ideally outdoors—is essential for your child’s sensory and motor development. Allowing your children time and space to play outdoors on a daily basis can significantly improve and encourage healthy development.”
I highly recommend reading 'Balanced and Barefoot: How unrestricted outdoor play makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children’ by Angela J. Hanscom.
She also talks about other ways to encourage healthy outdoor playtime not only in nature but also in your small home garden, as well as at schools.
A quick mama tip: keep some old clothes and shoes that the kids can get dirty in and not have to worry about keeping undamaged.
Let me know how you feel about your kids getting dirty? How do you encourage them to get outside and play?
All images were taken by myself, and all block quotes are by Angela J. Hanscom