With the constant stream of news telling us the dangers of bacteria and the many anti-bacterial cleaners that we are made to feel that we need, it is no surprise that children are leading more and more sterile lives. They are often deterred from playing outside and getting mucky because of this. More often than not busy work schedules and urban living mean that the opportunity to get grubby is not in the reach of many youngsters anyway.
However, a study conducted by Lowry et al may start to change the tide, bringing a more relaxed attitude towards kids and dirt. This article explores the top 5 reasons that you should encourage your youngsters to get stuck into a pile of mud!
1. It can make you happier and healthier
Friendly soil bacteria can give your immune system a real boost, in fact a study has suggested that it could be as effective as antidepressant drugs!
The study was conducted by exposing mice to a harmless microbe found in soil, known as Mycobacterium vaccae. Once exposed the mice were required to perform the kind of task generally used to measure the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Specifically, the rodents were put into a container of water and observed to see how long they would continue swimming and trying to escape before giving up. Those that had been exposed to the bacteria were more likely to continue swimming for longer.
The leader of the Bristol based study, Chris Lowry made the following comment: “At the risk of anthropomorphizing, you could say the [bacteria-exposed] mice had a more active coping style”
A medical trial was conducted a few years ago, where cancer patients were treated with this same bacteria. It was found that they showed increases to the quality of their life. It did not however show any sign of prolonging life, so is not being tested further as a cancer treatment. Scientists were very interested in what it was in the M. vaccae that improved the mood.
It appears that the microbes somehow affect the brain causing a release of chemicals from immune cells. This started a reaction that resulted in a flood of seratonin, the feel good hormone. Lack of seratonin is thought to be linked to depression, so playing in mud could boost the immune system plus our susceptibility to depression.
“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health,” said Chris Lowry. “They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”
In a further study by Professor Gallo, published in Nature Medicine, scientists appear to have found a link between bacteria on the skin and the healing of small wounds. The bugs on the skin’s surface may actually play a role in reducing inflammation, as they calm overactive immune responses.
In addition, exposure to germs during early years can help a child to build a strong immune system. Over zealous parents may have contributed to the growing numbers of children that are suffering from allergies and eczema. Gallo stated: ”The exciting implication of the work is that it provides a molecular basis to understand the hygiene hypothesis and has uncovered elements of the wound repair response that were previously unknown. This may help us devise new therapeutic approaches for inflammatory skin diseases.”
2. It can reconnect you to nature
Getting down and dirty in mud gives you and your children an opportunity to get grounded. Kids can explore and create memories while playing. They can also learn so much about the world at their finger tips, the mini beasts as well as the components of soil and it’s changing textures. So get outside and reap the benefits!
3. Playing in the mud helps learning and development
Sensory play has been hailed for it’s many benefits. Getting hands on in soil provides stimulation on the finger tips as well as a telltale scent that aids in memory formation. Strong brain connections are forged when children are engaged in this type of activity. The fact that it allows them to openly create with no set agenda is also wonderful for development of imagination.
Fine motor skills are refined and language use is enhanced as the children follow a mental running commentary of what they are doing as they are doing it.
On a scientific level the seratonin that is released, as mentioned above has also been linked to improved cognitive function.
4. It can help to build a positive frame of mind
Mud play offers children a much needed chance for retreat. They can play alone or together in a team. This offers the chance to communicate and share, which are a vital skills to learn. It is accessible to children of varying needs and ages, as the play is led by the individuals. An older child could make a complex building using mud bricks, while a younger child may be happy stirring a mud blob with a stick for example.
5. Mud is a free and abundant fantastic art medium
The possibilities of play with mud are almost endless. It can be used wet, sloppy, dry or crumbly. It can be used to create sculptures or pictures on rocks, floors or even on a face as war paint.
Playing in mud is wonderful and natural. It is a great fun, stress free way to allow children to learn….and on top of all of that there appears to be scientifically proven medical benefits. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make a mud pie!
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