Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries
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By engaging in a risk-benefit assessment, we can better determine whether an activity is worth the risk if we conclude that the benefits outweigh the possible detriments.
(If you're not familiar with risk-benefit assessments, check out this document.
Well, I'm wondering if it's worth applying the same logic to mud... specifically to children playing in mud. But instead of a risk-benefit assessment, I propose we conduct a mess-benefit assessment. I make this suggestion as a direct reaction to a trend I've observed whilst working with children in the outdoors when its rainy and the mud is out in all its glory.
This is what I've observed:
When we reach a muddy area, here are some things children say:
- “Oh no, are we going through that?! But it's muddy!”
- “Ewwwwww! It's getting all over my shoes!”
- And my personal favourite.... “Ugh! These wellies are brand new!” (I felt my eye twitch slightly when I heard this one. I had to refrain from shouting in exasperation, “But that's what wellies are for!!”)
So what's causing these children to fear the mud? I decided to conduct a little research to find out. So I asked children this simple question, “How do you feel about mud?”
This is what they said:
- “Good! I like mud.”
- “It's fun!”
- “I don't mind it.”
- “Raawrrghh!” (Boy holds up his muddy hands like lion claws with a big smile on his face)
Not one child said they disliked mud...Ok, so that's confusing isn't it? The same children who wished to avoid the mud also stated that they actually like it. So what's truly going on here?! After further investigation and observation I began to unravel this mystery. The number one reason why children choose to avoid mud seems to be… because of how they think their parents or the adults looking after them will react if they return covered in mud.
One particular conversation with a child at the end of a session really stood out to me. The boy said to me, “I had fun, but it would have been better if there hadn't been any mud.” I replied, “What didn't you like about the mud?” He said, “That my shoes got all dirty and I have to go in my mum's car. She's gonna kill me.” So I asked, “If you didn't have to worry about your mum's car, how would you feel about mud then?” He said, “Fine, I don't mind it. It's fun.”
This boy's experience is not unusual. Most of the children I've discussed mud with have said something similar. It's usually the fear that they will upset their parents by getting their clothes, shoes, or the car messy. To avoid upsetting their parents they decide it's best to avoid the mud.
So, yes, mud causes a mess. An absolute horrific mess. It gets all over shoes, all over trousers, on hands, and sometimes even faces and hair (not to mention everything the child touches too, including the seat of the car!). It has the tendency to get everywhere. It's a pain to clean up and sometimes even means laundering something twice! What a hassle. But before we conclude that it's best to just avoid mud entirely, we must complete our mess-benefit assessment. So what are the benefits to children playing in mud?
So, now that we've completed a mess-benefit assessment, what would you decide? Should we teach children to love mud or fear it?
Moser, H (2015) Why Playing in the Mud is More Than Just Fun, http://www.natureplayqld.org.au/article/why-playing-in-the-mud-is-more-than-just-fun, 22/06/2016.