Teagan gets acquainted with a garden hose.
Teagan gets acquainted with a garden hose. Kerry Richardson Klar

Muddy days keep doctor away

GROWING up in the west comes with its fair share of frolicking in the mud.

And now scientists have found that playing in the dirt is as important for children's mental health as it is for building up immunity.

For the Morton family, who own the Ridgelands property 32km northwest of Wallumbilla, outdoor play is all in a day's work.

The Morton family.
The Morton family. Jessica Morton

"I grew up on the land with my parents Leon and Ree, two younger sisters Ash and Annie, and younger brother Brandon,” mum Jessica Morton said.

"We had the best childhood anyone could ever have asked for. We experienced the freedom to play and explore the great outdoors, with weekends and school holidays being spent on a horse, either mustering cattle or for fun.

"There wasn't a mobile phone, iPad or computer game in sight.”

Mrs Morton said an outdoor lifestyle kept her four children healthy and happy.

"Our kids love playing outside every day too. Their favourite things include riding their ponies and bikes, climbing trees, playing in the sandpit, making cubbies and having picnics.

"Their favourite time of the year is when it rains because this means jumping in muddy puddles.

"We grew up knowing that dirt built up the immune system. Whether it was an old wives' tale or not, we believed it, and now there have been studies to suggest this.

"Our kids are usually happy and healthy all year round and I believe the combination of eating well, getting adequate sleep and being outdoors in the dirt all play a big role in this.”

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that children raised in a rural environment, surrounded by animals and bacteria, grow up to have more stress-resilient immune systems and will likely be at lower risk of mental illness than pet-free city dwellers.

Samuel Johnston and Liberty Davis have fun in the sand pit.
Samuel Johnston and Liberty Davis have fun in the sand pit. Alexia Austin

Roma Goodstart Early Learning Centre director Tabatha Lippert said outdoor play was also important for physical development.

"It's important for children to be exposed to physical movement opportunities from an early age,” Ms Lippert said.

"We can learn everything from our natural world. Being outdoors you are exposed to sensory elements, such as a puddle of mud or some gritty sand, and it's naturally building the immune system as well as strengthening cognitive function.

"The fresh air is important too.”


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