Mud can be good for the kids

Let your children get their hands muddy, writes St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell . Beth takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald


My daughter once forgot her school bag at home and, marshmallow that I am, I couldn’t leave her lunch-less or book-less, so postponed a meeting, skipped tea and schlepped back to campus.

Our school is on a farm, which makes it a bit of a brag fest for nature-lovin’ parents. It’s also a lot like Splashy Fen, the wet and wild live music festival, when there’s been rain. If you’re a dodgy driver, like me, or don’t own a 4×4, there’s every chance you’ll get stuck in a river of mud at drop-off or pick-up.

Still, that’s half the fun – and an excuse to buy plaas-look wellies in winter. Besides the free-roaming chickens and cows, as well as happy, relaxed teachers, the school has one big gold star that few institutions can match: the mud.

I’ve always suspected that besides the necessity of normal free play – climbing trees, dodging duiweltjie thorns, rolling down hills – the most important thing that we can do is to get our hands dirty.

At a school like ours, this is easy – and encouraged. Better yet, science verifies why tossing your children into a mound of wet soil or sand is an exceptionally responsible thing to do.

When I rolled up at school, avoiding the post-rains muddy bit in the parking lot, I spotted daughter and classmates outside the tractor barn, finger-deep in making clay from the grubby, wet tyre tracks left by a dozen wheel-revving mothers over the past week.

Overseeing this deeply educational, merry mess was one of my favourite people, Annie Carpenter – teacher, thespian and general creative goddess.

Annie loves mud. She knows mud and understands why it can be applied to several subjects – even long division.

“There’s too much technology these days,” she said to me, as I watched the kids make turtles, retro-style faces and bowls.

“Children don’t know how to play anymore – how to play with nothing. When they’re out here, with nothing but mud, they learn what’s important: they create form out of nothing.”

If you’re worried about your hair and nails, or the kids’ clothes, don’t be, honestly. Science has spoken; there are several reasons why you should feel absolutely guiltless about dirt.

Apart from fostering artistic creation and utilising the five senses, dirt contains a microscopic bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae, which stimulates the feel-good hormone serotonin in our brains – instant de-stressing and relaxation.

And here’s a kicker – mud makes you brainier and healthy, too.

It not only improves the immune system, but increases cognitive function, thanks to the same bacteria.
All the more reason to consider mud wrestling, if mud pies aren’t your thing.

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