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St Mary's
Church of England Primary School

A learning community dedicated to building
respectful and responsible citizens and empowering all learners.

Getting Muddy for Mental Health

How getting muddy supports children’s mental health

Our Early Years Training and Development Lead, Ali Aspin, explores the benefits of getting muddy for Children’s Mental Health Week.


As mental health challenges among children and young people reach unprecedented levels, it becomes more and more important that we create a solid foundation for good mental health and wellbeing in the early years. Connecting children with nature is not only crucial for helping them to develop a lifelong relationship with the natural world, thereby empowering them to protect it, but it’s also an important way we can support children’s mental health in the early years of their development.


We know that playing and learning outdoors benefits children’s mental health, but we also know that educators face a number of barriers to taking children outside — including rainy days! However, bad weather needn’t be an obstacle, especially when we take into consideration the fact that there’s no mud without rain! In this post, our Early Years Training and Development Lead, Ali Aspin, explores how mud play can support children’s mental health in the early years, including ten activities to try ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week.



How mud supports mental health in the early years

Often misinterpreted as the bad guy, mud is sometimes seen as an inconvenience in educational settings. We might stop children running on grass because it’s too mucky, guide children towards the sink when they eagerly show us their mud clad hands, or worry we’ll be burdened with a barrage of parent complaints if we send our little explorers home in dirty clothing.


However, time and time again, research on mud shows that exposure to healthy soil and a diverse range of plants in early childhood can have a profound influence on a child’s growth and development — from boosting the immune system to improving physical and mental health. The years between birth and the start of primary school represent a window for improving life chances and helping all children reach their developmental potential, and getting muddy is a crucial part of this chapter!


Nature serves as a multi-sensory playground for children, engaging their senses in ways that indoor environments often cannot. The sights, sounds, and textures of the natural world contribute to the development of neural pathways, promoting sensory integration and motor skills. Within this early exposure lays the foundation for enhanced cognitive abilities later in life.


Day to day, we can observe the calming effect that nature has on young minds. Time outdoors provides a reprieve from the overstimulation of modern life, reducing stress levels and enhancing emotional wellbeing. Time spent outdoors has been linked to lower rates of anxiety and improved ADHD symptoms in children, highlighting the importance of incorporating nature into early childhood experiences.


Incorporating nature into your practice at your early years setting is crucial for providing children with a holistic developmental experience. Settings with outdoor classrooms or nature-based learning report improvements in academic performance, attention span, and emotional regulation. By integrating nature and soil into early learning environments, you can create a foundation for positive mental health!