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Let Children Play

A gravel path led to a fifteen-foot waterfall and a pool of water, only inches deep with big smooth rocks. My two Grands leaped from rock to rock and waded in the water to the falls.  They walked behind the falls, but didn’t get wet.

            They played follow the leader and created paths across the pool stepping only on rocks.  Then they explored: one following a path up a small grassy hill, the other cupped her hands under a six-inch water fall. 

            And then, using their hands, they both dug into the silt, made a ball, and put it at the top of the miniature waterfall.  When it quickly washed away, Lucy said, “Let’s make a bigger ball!” Annabel dug up two hands full of silt and squeezed the water from it.  Just as she started to put it on the rock ledge, Lucy shouted, “Wait! Let me do mine too.  We’ll see which one dissolves first.”

            Each girl gently placed a mud ball near the edge of this tiny waterfall and they counted, “Three, two, one!” and dropped the ball.  “Gran! Did you see how fast that mudball washed away?” Lucy asked.

            Standing a few feet away on the dry bank, I nodded and gave two thumbs up. “We’ll do it again! Watch!” Annabel said as she scooped her hands under the ankle-deep water. 

            I watched, applauded, and took in the moment.  These two Grands are 9 and 11, and I was so glad they like to play in mud.  They made big mud balls and little ones to compare how much faster little ones washed away.  They found slightly smaller and slower waterfalls, only two inches tall. 

            These Grands have always played in dirt.  When Annabel was six, I sat outside watching her and her two younger siblings play.  Annabel offered me a drink. “I’m making chocolate milk with soap and mud.  Do you want to taste it?” she asked.  I grimaced and shook my head.  “I did and it’s disgusting,” she said. “Now I’m going to make a pancake with chocolate sauce and it’ll be delicious!”   A flat rock covered with thick muddy water looked similar to a giant pancake and maple syrup.

            According to authorities, playing in mud is not just fun.  Science shows that today’s sanitized world can increase levels of childhood allergies, but exposure to dirt strengthens a child’s immune level to prevent allergies.

            Serotonin, an endorphin that regulates mood, is released for a calming, happy feeling.  And playing in mud provides a connection to nature, an appreciation for the environment.  Mud, cheap and always available, is nature’s play dough. 

           Thinking skills are improved while playing in dirt because unstructured outdoor play leads to critical thinking.  I listened as my Grands casually stated their hypothesis.  They tested, analyzed, compared, counted, and came up with conclusions. They created their own science lesson.          When Annabel, Lucy, and I visited City Lake Park, I just wanted some outside time, some calming time.  And we got that and more – all three of us.