Many kids are having far too much screen and device time. This means
they miss out on other things like playing, talking to people, social
interactions, homework, and outdoors to name a few.
What are the alternatives?
I have chosen to focus on unstructured play as this is an incredibly
valuable activity for children which is often minimised and underrated.
Unstructured play is the way children make sense of the world. It gives
children opportunities to be in control of what is happening. They
can act out their experiences and thus make sense of them.
Through play children can express their feelings and work
out their confusions.
Children who are playing are being active and have the
freedom to be unstructured which means they tend to exercise their
creativity and imaginations.
Play gives children the opportunity for children to try
out their ideas and to problem solve.
When children play with others they have opportunities to
co-operate, take turns, share, discuss, negotiate and socialise.
These things don’t happen when children are on screens.
So what about playing in the mud?
In my therapeutic work with children I offer clay as a creative
medium. Without fail children’s faces light up when a lump of clay is
offered for them to use as they wish. I observe children expressing
their emotions, especially anger, and then relaxing and calming down
when they play with clay. Without fail they love it.
This prompted me to research the benefits of playing in mud, and
messy play in general. Slime is the current fad among our youngsters.
But mud is what nature provides for our children so why not use it. Also
mud is free: Mud pies, dams, creative constuctions, mud sculptures and
generally having a squelchy time.
The value of outdoor play
Playing outdoors in the mud is more than just having fun:
It helps children build a connection to nature and the earth.
It builds long-lasting childhood memories because it is such a
rich experience that engages all the senses.
Mud play stimulates creativity and imaginative play.
Children visibly calm down and relax when playing with mud.
New research has shown that exposure to friendly soil bacteria
stimulates the immune system and causes the brain to release
serotonin which is the endorphin that regulates moods and makes
people feel happier.
Mud play improves children’s brain activity and their learning
because all their senses are engaged which results in a highly
stimulated and active brain.
Playing in the mud with other children is a wonderful social
experience. Children are observed to communicate, cooperate, and
negotiate. It puts them in a good mood and they love the freedom and
unstructured nature of the play.
Adults can have a great time playing in the mud with their kids.
Why not all have fun together - it helps builds strong connections
with your child based around creativity, nature and having fun.
To summarise unstructured play is intrinsically a natural part of
children’s everyday lives. It is vital that play is not squeezed out of
their daily activities. This means screen time needs to be balanced with
play time and active outdoor activities. If your children learn to
achieve a healthy balance when they are young then they are more likely
to continue to be balanced in use of screens as teenagers and adults.