As more and more early childhood services understand the need for young children to engage with nature and natural environments, many services are introducing ‘mud play’ to their curriculum.
We only need to watch children after a heavy shower of rain to see their delight in the puddle on the grass where ‘mud making’ often begins.
Mud provides a fantastic sensory experience and many children are naturally drawn to it, as it provides endless opportunities for discovery and experimentation. The possibilities in mud play for young children are open-ended and provide them with many play options as the mud can vary from wet to dry and crumbly to rough, soft and smooth. It allows children to be creative as they mould it any way they wish. They like to ‘cook’ with it, bathe in it, smear their bodies with it and draw with it.
Mud play also supports children’s physical development, both their large motor skills as they learn to ‘slip and slide’ in the mud and fine motor skills as they manipulate the mud with their hands. Children’s social play can be enhanced through mud play as they cooperate, have fun and create together.
In fact in 2007, the University of Bristol found that ‘friendly’ bacteria in soil could actually be responsible for activating a group of neurons that produce serotonin, the chemical responsible for raising our mood.
So playing with mud not only makes us happy but also helps to build children’s immune systems. Research tells us that ‘getting dirty’ earlier in life can often lead to less allergies and a body that can cope and fight off germs. Mud connects children directly with nature and the plants and living creatures that inhabit that world. Mud play supports children to be more curious about the world, with many children finding fascination with creatures such as worms.
International Mud Day may be the impetus for your early learning environment to think about how to can provide these experiences for young children.
International Mud Day began in 2008 in Nepal and Australia and is now celebrated worldwide on 29 June each year.
Possibilities to consider
- Will it be a ‘one-off’ experience or more regular?
- Will we take advantage of natural mud places, say after the rain, or will we dedicate a space in the yard?
- Will we provide clothing for mud play such as boots and smocks or will we ask parents to send several changes of clothes?
- Will we, as an educator team, need to reflect on how we feel about mud and rethink this based on new insights and the needs of the children?
- How might we need to ‘sell’ this idea to families?
- Is the middle of winter the best time to initiate mud play?
As they say in Let the children play, ‘The marks on children’s clothes, the pockets filled with sand, the paint in the hair—these are the indicators of architects, artists, and scientists in training. If we worry too much about wet or dirty clothing we can place a real damper on the spirit of learning and self-discovery’.
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