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If you had a childhood that included digging for colorful rocks and other “treasures,” or burying your very own time capsule in the dirt, you’re very fortunate!

Mud play is not only a way to make precious childhood memories, it’s also a great way for children to learn, relax, and let out their creativity.

Medical research shows that it can also be good for your child’s physical and emotional health. And you can’t start too early — even babies can benefit from mud play!

Here’s more on why making mud pies and other kinds of mud play are great activities for a healthy child, plus details on how to make sure it’s safe.

The very word “mud” might make your skin crawl. Whether it’s a park, playground, or in your own backyard, a muddy mess is probably what you want your child to stay away from. But a mess is what washing machines are for.

Mud play is like playing in a sandbox or on a beach, except it’s an activity with mud, which is just wet or damp dirt.

Children can squish, dig, pile, or push mud around. They can also jump, splash, and slide in mud or even throw it against a wall! One really good thing about mud is that it’s free and readily available.

If you’re concerned that germs in mud might affect your child’s health, the Mayo Clinic confirms that playing in the mud can be healthy for your little one in more ways than one. Benefits of mud play for children include:

Healthier immune system

The germs found in mud may help strengthen your child’s immune system. In fact, living (and playing) in an environment that is too clean may increase the risk of illnesses such as allergies and asthma.

This is more reason to start mud play for your child early! Up to 50 percent of children may have illnesses that cause wheezing and other problems during the first 3 years of childhood.

Research from 2014 on young children living in urban environments reported that those who were exposed to household germs like pet dander, dust, and other specific allergens before the age of 1 year had a lower risk of developing allergies and recurring wheezing later in childhood.

Mud play is one way to expose your little one to these beneficial germs.

Another small study from 2016 found that children who were raised on nonindustrial farms were less likely to develop asthma than those who were not.

Gut health

Mud play may help increase the diversity of friendly bacteria in the body.

A medical study in Finland found that children in day care who played in yards with soil and vegetation had more types of gut bacteria than children in day cares with yards that had less natural space.

Emotional health and creativity

Mud play allows children to connect and interact with the natural world around them. It helps children develop tactile skills with sensory play. Mud play and other outdoor activities not only get them away from screens, but give children fresh air, exercise, and sunlight.

Mud play is also a teaching tool that can help children boost creativity, imagination, independent learning, and teamwork. It can also help develop construction, building, and problem-solving skills.

Some environmental advocates have also suggested mud-playing as an important teaching tool that can even address the complexities of gender and class.

Providing mud-playing opportunities for your child can be as simple as taking them out after a rainy day to explore muddy puddles.

Or if you prefer to keep the mud a little more controlled, let your child play with mud in a shallow bucket or a large bowl on a porch or in the bath.

A few other tips:

  • Always keep an eye on babies and smaller children during mud play. While they may get some in their mouth or on their face, avoid letting them eat mud or get it in their eyes while they squish and explore. The rest is fair game!
  • Let them take the lead. Some children may love the glorious mess of mud, while others might prefer to keep it cleaner. Let your child decide how messy they want to get.
  • Set mud rules. These should be basics like no throwing mud at other children (or at you).
  • Dress for the mess. Make sure your child knows that they should only wear shoes and clothing that they are allowed to get muddy during mud play.
  • Provide some tools. Kitchen implements like plastic containers or spoons are great, as are small plastic cars or animals.

Activities with mud play are just about endless! Here are some ideas:

  • Mold mud into pretend muffins, donuts, and cookies.
  • Make mud bricks to build a dollhouse or mini fort.
  • Make mud castles and buildings.
  • Paint and write with mud using a large paintbrush on the sidewalk.
  • Make a mud digging and construction site for toy trucks.
  • Make a mud racetrack or roads for toy cars.
  • Throw mud balls against a wall or cardboard target.

Mud play can be healthy and beneficial for children and even babies under the age of 1 year! Squishing and patting mud is a great way for your child to get tactile and develop learning skills with sensory play.

It also helps children get used to their natural environment and playing outdoors (and away from screens).

Don’t worry that mud is “dirty.” Exposure to some germs and good bacteria in early childhood may create healthier immune systems that are less vulnerable to allergies and certain diseases.

Doctors suggest starting mud play early, so take your baby outside and let them play with mud. As long as they don’t eat too much mud and avoid getting it in their eyes, nose or ears, mud play is generally safe and healthy.