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Friday, 28 March 2008

Let children play in the mud.

It never hurt us 40somethings when young and it sure as Hell won't hurt todays siblings either.

Yes, I mean it literally. The majority of todays children are cocooned from danger, dirt and hurt.

This was never more clearly driven home to me as I watched my 10 and 9 year old boys playing with their friends of similar ages in our back garden. Our back garden is at this time all mud and little grass. This is due to recent rainfall levels, a bout of snow and the fact that since we moved in here we have not yet had enough dry days to do the work on it we have planned. That said, we still allow our children to play in it just as my wife, who is 9 years younger than I, and I had done at their ages years before. Notice I said 'in it' rather than 'on it'? I shall explain why later. Present in this little play group was our two boys, five other boys and 4 girls all of similar ages and all went to the same school. All of their parents had been informed prior that we intended to let the children do as they wanted within the confines of the 5ft garden gate. They would of course be supervised. This supervision was done by my wife, 2 of the children's parents and 3 of my mates plus myself. The adults had access to beer and BBQ food which is I reckon why they agreed to monitor the children's activities. Anyway, none got drunk.

As there is nothing but mud and a little grass in our back garden I laid plans of what I had hoped the childern would enjoy playing both with and on a few days prior. Two of my friends had erected an ad-hoc wooden frame that I had designed for the children to play on. Also there was a largish paddling pool and the children had access to a water hose. Dotted about were footballs and other such equipment. On the stone patio type area we put a long table where sandwiches, drinks and such like would be laid on for the children. This was partitioned off from the play area by means of some plasterboard which was not a permanent structure but served the purpose we intended it for and that was as a means to keeping the food area away from the more messy play area.

You now, hopefully, have a mental image of the scene.

As I had asked each parent of 1 or more children present on the day to provide their child with an alternative set of clothing they in turn asked what had I got planned for their child and my own. I told them exactly what I had planned. A day playing in the mud with side events such as the paddling pool and climbing frame thrown in and some food for late afternoon. Some looked puzzled, others looked concerned, yet more seemed vaugely perplexed. None objected. So, the afternoon arrived and each child had brought with them some alternative clothing. We directed each child separately to a bedroom where they could put their alternative clothing for later.

Now we had a gaggle of children all stood in our living room. I simply said "Go play. Get muddy. Do whatever you want to do within the confines of the garden and most importantly of all enjoy yourselves." And Off they went out into the mud. There we a total of 11 children. Of those 11, 8 ventured onto the mud while the other 3 stood at the plasterboard surrounded entrance.

Some played in and out of the paddling pool. The climbing frame we had made was a huge success. While the 8 were playing I asked the 3 stood watching why they were not joining in. They replied "My mother has always said that playing in mud is dirty and lead to all sorts of diseases." I stood back and thought a minute then said "What if I told you that when your mother was younger she was the worsed kind of tomboy and always played in the mud and always went home with her clothes dirty as she always played with the boys who always got dirty." They looked at me with that look that only a disbelieving child can give. I rang their mother who promptly came and said to her children, 1 boy, 1 girl, that it was okay to play in this mud and to go and enjoy themselves. They immediately joined their friends who by now where covered in mud from head to toe and also very wet from someone pointing the hose at them.

After about 2 hours of continuous play it was time to call them all in for eats. But, before they could eat they must be cleaned up and have their alternative clothes on. Now we had a problem. We could not each child one by one trudged upstairs to the bathroom so what could we do? We adults got our heads together and eventually one came up with a solution. We made sure the water from the hose was warm then we lined the children up and dosed them with water while they stood there and turned on the spot. The kids absolutely loved it. Shortly, all the mud was off the kids and one by one they moved from the now heavily water and mud area to another area close by where they where blown with warm air from a huge fan one of the adults has got from his garage then from there up the stairs to change clothes. After around 40 minutes all the kids where changed ready to attack the food table already prepared. Whilst eating the chattered constantly about what they had done during the afternoon.

The end of the afternoon had arrived and each child's parent came to collect them. As they waved an excited goodbye to their friends they all, without exception, looked at me and thanked me for a "brill day". Each parent, especially those who gave their time to supervise, all said how much the children had so obviously enjoyed themselves.

Who would have thought it. Todays children in todays world of "Don't do that" actually doing something all children should be allowed to do and better yet all of them enjoying themselves whilst playing in watery mud. No child has developed any mysterious diseases since that afternoon.

I put my two fingers up at those politically correct fools.

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