“Children generally don’t take a second mouthful of sand.”
Ha. Ha. Ha.
This was my advice to a nervous parent while I was giving a nature play workshop last year in Singapore. She would love to give her baby time to play in nature, she said, but what was my opinion on the fact that her daughter was notorious for putting everything in reach into her mouth, and when would playing in nature stop looking like this for her baby.
I told her that I thought she surely wouldn’t do it for long; that once she realised leaves and twigs and sand felt unpleasant in your mouth, she would quit it.
I told her that I thought her daughter was exploring the world the best way she knew how – with her mouth. That if it were me, I would not stop her, but just be there to watch that she was exploring safely.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Our youngest child must have been listening from inside my belly at the time. Listening, and plotting ways to prove me wrong.
She has taken a second, third, fourth, and even fifth mouthful of sand. She uses her mouth to explore every outdoor surface she sits upon. Leaves, sticks, bark, seed pods, grass – they all go into her mouth for a good roll around. She doesn’t just lick them. She chews them, hiding them in the folds of her cheeks and mulling them over. She gums them and rolls them from one side of her mouth to the other. Often, she gags. Never, does she spit it out of her own accord. Things can be in there for ages.
So far, I have dealt with this with hawk-like observation. I am aware that every time I set her down on the ground, she will explore with her mouth the things that she finds. I do a little playworker-site-safety-check when we arrive, to move her away from any rubbish or other nasties. I try to support her in her explorations by offering something I am happier with her chewing in the great outdoors (say, a slightly larger, smoother twig that doesn’t look like a dog peed on it).
The wise words of Angela Hanscom come to mind, who says in her book, Balanced and Barefoot, that “Babies are very oral. They use the oral sense to learn more about an object’s size, texture, temperature, and taste.”
I’ve just got to trust that her little body knows what it needs and she is following an instinctive drive. I’ve got to believe that she is mouthing everything for her own reasons and in her own way, and that it is my role to support her in doing so safely.