6 ways muddy play, dirt & germs could transform your child into a healthy genius !

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No you can’t have an Xbox, get outside and play in the mud!

Good or bad?

“No you can’t have an Xbox” I shout to my 7 year old child, “but all my friends are getting one”, replies Harry. “No”, I respond “they are a waste of money”. You need to get outside more and play. Jump in some puddles , roll around in the mud ! Then the guilt sets in…I don’t want Harry to miss out, to be the only child without an Xbox,  to be that sad child in a corner all on his own. Of course I’m being dramatic. However, my husband comes from a poor family and he missed out on lots of things and still hasn’t recovered from having to wear NHS glasses when he was at school. Apparently it wasn’t a good look and he was nicknamed Jo 90 (whoever that is or was) . 

My child deserves the best!

As a parent you do find yourself wanting to always do the best for your kids, but what is the best? What does that look like? This is a very different world than the one I grew up. Between computer games, YouTube channels, and Instagram influencers, children at such young ages are struggling to cope with what’s being  bombarded at them. Social media , pressure at school with test after test, negative self image, mental health, sexuality and material possessions. Our son from age 0 seemed to be obsessed with fast cars & Gucci clothes (where did he get that from?) and the list goes on. We don’t want our/your child to get sucked into this world, so perhaps we all need to start a gentle revolution and try getting everybody outside more, playing, getting covered in mud, leaves and water from dirty puddles.

Why muddy play is important!

I found it fascinating researching the benefits of play, mud and dirt etc. I didn’t need someone to tell me it was good for children to play. However it was really interesting learning about the scientific evidence that supports our children getting dirty! We need to escape the gaming and hand sanitisers. Run away from the television – sorry Teletubbies & Mr Maker (all depends on the age of your child to which one is relevant!) and embrace mud, dirt and germs.Its time to start cooking those mud pie recipes! We need to start doing more things together, getting outside, being more creative. Having a small allotment has been amazing for our family in terms of having interesting activities to do together. We have learnt about bugs and plants. Discovered weird looking vegetables and even started cooking together, something I never thought I would see. Harry has become a dab hand at pancakes. In the article below I am going to explore why you absolutely need mud, germs and perhaps a mud kitchen (even if you make your own) in your child’s life, and the good news is that getting covered in mud and germs is something you can do for free!

The FIRST way muddy play could transform your child into a healthy genius is by EATING MUD!

Stop cleaning, put away all those horrible anti-bacterial wipes and that chemical-filled spray. It is not doing your child any good at all and could be causing them harm! Fire the cleaner because dirt is good! Over the last few years there has been some interesting research /books published on yes, would you believe, mud and dirt. I am no scientist, but if nothing else it makes for some really interesting reading. I thought I would just draw out some of the key points from an article published in the Belfast telegraph. In the article Professor Brett Finlay and Dr Marie-Claire Arrieta, (Let Them Eat Dirt book fame) suggest there is now firm evidence that shows early exposure to microbes is beneficial to our childrens’ wellbeing. They believe that microbiota (the microbes that live in and on humans) are great for our health. If you want to expand your knowledge on microbes this is a good article.

“In our quest to clean up our world and get rid of infectious diseases, we have become too clean and we need to rethink our quest for cleanliness,

Professor Brett Finlay

“We don’t directly advocate ‘eating dirt’, but we now realise kids, especially early in life, depend on abundant microbial exposure that’s needed to develop normally. Without this exposure, they are at a much increased risk of the ‘Western’ diseases such as allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. later in life

Professor Brett Finlay

The Professors also believe the huge rise in the number of children with food allergies is because youngsters are “microbially deprived”, so their immune system doesn’t develop normally and shifts to allergies. If this is true then it is really powerful stuff!

“Letting a kid play in the dirt isn’t necessarily bad – this is how human children evolved, and living in an extremely clean environment is not how we have evolved as a species.”

Professor Finlay and Dr Arrieta

The SECOND way muddy play could transform your child into a healthy genius is by eating food that has been DROPPED ON THE FLOOR!

Would you eat this baked bean?

Scientist Professor Jack Gilbert, in an article for the Independent newspaper promoting his book Dirt is Good: ‘The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System’ he says, it’s okay to eat food thats been dropped on the floor . We have been doing this for years. Anything cake related that drops on our floor is gone in seconds . However he does point out that its important to use our common sense, so perhaps avoid picking things up that have been on the toilet floor.

The THIRD way playing outside could transform your child into a healthy genius is getting a DOG and LETTING IT LICK YOU!

Apparently we should be encouraging our children to have more contact with animals and that having a dog lick your child’s face is beneficial for their immune system! Unfortunately we only have a cat and he definitely dosen’t lick our faces. Perhaps we need to try and persuade him!

The FOURTH way is to go and LIVE ON A FARM

Beautiful calves and cows from Mawley Town Farm

Having grown up on a farm myself, there is nothing more wonderful than having freedom to explore, and lots of animals around. If we had the money, I would love this option again and would buy a farm need Croyde in North Devon (to drop in a spot of surfing too!!). Apparently children that are brought up on farms have certain immune advantages over those of us who live in cities or are more urban. According to Professor Gilbert a study done in 2016 looking at Amish children who lived on small farms found significant lower rates of asthma. If like us you can’t afford to buy a farm, then maybe the best solution is to get a dog, let it lick you and roll around in your local fields.

The FIFTH way is to GO OUTSIDE!

Whats Harry looking for?

A new advice sheet issued by the Department of Education (Ireland) highlights the benefits of outdoor activities in keeping those germs at bay! They are urging parents to let their kids get dirty, according to the Irishnews.com website.

“Just as a baby’s brain needs stimulation and interaction to develop normally; the young immune system needs to be strengthened by some exposure to everyday germs – helping children to become less susceptible to illnesses later in life.

Department of Education Ireland

Point SIX, how does my child actually become a genius?

We have covered the healthy part. So, how does your child actually become a genius? The answer is you need to follow the recommended advice of the Department of Education in Ireland who believe playing with mud will help your child develop in their maths and science skills. So, if you have hopes that your child is going to invent the next ‘big’ thing, then get them playing with mud and using their imaginations!

It is clear that children love mud. They love being outside. There is something about water, mud and snow that brings children alive. Maybe it’s somehow being in touch with the earth’s elements. Thinking of Harry and his friends and how they played when they were growing up is quite revealing. In the summer, give them water pistols and off they went for hours soaking each other and of course everybody else that got in the way. If it snowed, it didn’t matter how cold it was. We all had to be outside making snowmen or snow angels and of course having the obligatory snow ball fight. If we take him to the woods with his friends they explore for hours collecting leaves, twigs and all manner of strange things in their Tesco bags. It’s brilliant watching them build dens and crawl into them convinced that nobody can see them. Near where we live there is an area called Woodbury Common. The Marines often do some exercises up there, and at times you stumble across their dens (hideouts). No matter what the weather, when Harry was younger he would try and camouflage himself and crawl into them and see if we could spot him, which of course we could.

How do I get my child outside rolling around in mud?

According to the Independent newspaper, a survey of 2000 parents of children between 2 and 16 showed it’s not exactly plain sailing getting our UK based children outside. Children are not that keen on going out in the rain and cold. However when you dig deeper the report seems to suggest although the elements can put people off going outside, if parents get involved then children are much keener to go and get wet! What also comes out from the research is how tired mums and dads are, and we actually encourage our own children to stay inside because we are too exhausted to go out with them (ring any bells?). Thinking about my own family, the word that springs to mind again and again is being intentional. The weather in the UK is not the best at times, but planning on a Friday what we are going to do on the weekend really makes a difference, because then we get up on Saturday morning knowing what the activity is for the day. I appreciate we live in a more rural setting in Exeter with the coast and countryside on our doorstep which does perhaps offer more choice of activity then if we lived in a city. However, the message is clear and I think from my own experience its true; ‘Doing’ with our families creates memories, forms bonds and I think at the end of the day that’s all we have. That’s what makes life worth living. Life seems to go by so quickly. Harry is becoming more and more independent. I don’t want him to grow up. I wish at times (selfishly) that I could turn back the clock and he is 4 again, running across the nursery garden, jumping into my arms because he is so happy to hear mummy’s voice. However hard it is, however rainy, however tired we are, we have to try and grab those moments.

In Conclusion

I don’t think our cat’s going to lick us!

If you have made it to the end of this post (well done), you should now be armed with some reasons why a muddy play will transform your child into a healthy genius. However, I have to finish with a quote from Professor Gilbert who I think sums up perfectly what it will take to morph our kids into long living healthy version of a cross between Bill Gates and Deborah Meaden!

“Rescue a dog, let them eat food off the floor, play in the soil, dirt is Good!”

Professor Gilbert

More to explore

Blog post picture about imaginative play

The importance of imaginative play!

Today I will be superman, no I will be a Tinkerbell from Peter Pan, no I think I will be a Roman solider. Encouraging Imaginative play for our children is so important. Lets play!