Why Playing in the Mud is Important

A while ago we visited friends in Hartebeespoort Dam and spent the weekend relaxing by the pool, watching sport, having braais and generally relaxing. There were ducks to feed, bikes to ride and gardens to explore but the highlight for Rachel was splashing around in a muddy puddle.

After a typical Highveld thunderstorm we all headed out for a walk and I could see my squeaky clean blonde angel making a beeline for the gloopiest, muddiest, stinkiest looking puddle I’ve ever seen. My heart sank a little because we hadn’t brought a change of clothes with us on the walk and the wind was still a bit icy. So we tried our hardest to divert her attention: “Ooooh look at Daddy throwing the frisbee, look at the doggy, look at the the jungle gyms near by!”. But nothing we did could dissuade her, all she wanted to do was take her clothes off and stamp her little feet around that puddle.

So we left her. And what a jol she had. Stomp stomp stomp, round and round, as she squealed with delight. Eventually we took off her shirt and she proceeded to take huge handfuls of mud and smear them all over her chest and arms. Something about the texture of the slippery cold mud must have appealed to her because I’ve never seen her happier. Eventually she slipped and fell and then started actually rolling around in it – this was our cue to go home.

It got me thinking about how our generation have become increasingly sanitary in our child-rearing, and I’m no exception. I’m always trying to wipe off dirt on her face, change her stained shirt or brush the tangle out of her hair. I remember things being a bit different when I was growing up. I had permanently scarred knees, a haircut like a pudding bowl and used to suck on dirty stones until they were clean (really not sure why but I think I found it comforting). We may have looked pretty on special occasions but most of the time we looked a little wild, and as though we spent a lot of time outdoors (which we did).

Last Child in the Woods is a wonderful book I heard about when working at Penguin. It shows how our children are becoming increasingly alienated from nature and the negative impact this is having on all of us. There should be more climbing trees, picking flowers and collecting bugs – and getting dirty is a natural result of all of these essential activities.

So from now on I’m going to make a conscious effort to encourage more outdoor messy play and I’m going to worry less about Rachel’s dirty clothes or that she may get a sniffle afterwards. She reminded me so much of myself when I saw her in that puddle and I realised that although my family may have sold our farm a few years ago, those farming genes (which aren’t afraid of a little dirt) have certainly been passed down! Watching her play in the mud will remain one of my treasured memories of her for years to come – and I’m sure she’ll remember it too.

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