Mud play for children really is something that they absoloutley adore. And it is really no wonder why….it’s messy! Think about it. It’s squishy, it’s dry, it’d hard, it’s soft, it’s runny and sticky. There are so many different textures for a child to explore with mud play.
Believe it or not, there is a lot that a child can learn from mud play and it is often overlooked as a learning tool amongst schools and parents alike. As a parent myself, I can quite understand that having a child come into the house covered in mud is not really what I want to have to deal with. However, I shouldn’t forget the experiences that they have had in caping themselves in mud and walking through the door and proclaiming “look what I’ve done”!
Sometimes, we need to forget about the mess that they have just created and think about the fun they that they have just had creating it! There would have been lots!
Well, contrary to popular belief, there are actually a number of things that children actually learn from mud play – and that’s not just how to get muddy. There are actually some skills that can help them develop as individuals and also help them in other elements of their life.
Sensory skills are in there plenty when playing with mud. Mud can take so many forms depending on what you want to do with it. And also there are many different types of mud that your child can play with. Here’s some examples of how you can create different sensory experiences with mud:
Depending on what type of compost you purchase or whether you make your own, will almost certainly change the sensory experience that you will get. For example, J Arthur Bowers traditional compost comes as quite a woody compost. However, if you opt for a brand such as Jack’s Magic, this compost is a lot finer and when dry can almost feel like sand.
Clearly this is where the magic happens. Adding water to any kind of mud changes the game! This is how we make the cakes, the biscuits, pasta… you name it, mud can make. Oh, and also make a fine mess too! Consider getting a small watering can, one that won’t be too heavy to carry when full.
Top soil takes many years to make. It is said that it takes approximately 100 years to make an inch of it. When making a mud patch for your child to play in, top soil is the best candidate. Its texture and versatility is great for making anything with mud and is a good consistency when wet.
Stones are also great when playing with mud, especially when your children are cooking with it. It certainly makes a good texture when mixing mud together. Softer round pebbles are best – not the ones with sharp edges. Just be mindful of the children that are going to be playing with the stones as they could be a choking hazard.
Who could believe that mud would ever offer creativity? Well, you really couldn’t get much better. It very much depends on the quality of the soil that is in the garden but there are so many different things that you can make from mud. Personally, any kind of mud pit that we have, we fill it with a premium grade top soil. It is available from most garden centres. The beauty with top soil over a compost is that it is fine and then when wet, you can make a lot of things with it.
It happens quite often out in the garden when I am busy doing some chores that I am greeted with a tupperware pot full of mud and stones – normally this is the finest of chocolate pies and often involved a “that’s £2 please”. Personally, I just love this because i have seen him making this wonderful concoction for quite some time and he is really proud of handing this delicacy to Daddy who is busy planting and weeding.
We’ve all seen it and to some extent believe it. Those children that you see always covered in mud, are quite often the ones that don’t get ill. WebMD has highlighted some great benefits of ‘dirty play’ and how children that don’t get out into the great outdoors can suffer more with allergies and general colds. I believe that it is fair to say that playing in mud is safe but as a parent, knowing your mud is also important. If you have created a play area, you know that it is going to be safe, in the same way as you would as a sand pit. Although if you are on a public beach, sometimes you don’t know what is lurking beneath the surface; the same applies to mud.
Take precautions to ensure that there is no animal dirt in the area that your child is going to play in, especially if you live in an area where there are cats around – they have a tendency to like mud patches, as do foxes. Checking the area every now and again should help to keep the area safe for your little one to play in.
A bond with the earth
There is no doubt about it, playing in the mud is just about as earthly as you are going to get. As an adult, the smell of mud is actually quite a nice one. If you think about when we have a long hot summer and then we get a day of rain, that smell is just unmistakeable. It’s pleasant. When children are playing with mud, this is a smell that they will experience almost all of the time and will, without knowing it, associate it with mud play at this time of their lives.
It’s said that mud actually releases serotonin, which is an endorphin that calms and relaxes us. This is why gardening is often said to help those that are suffering with anxiety or stress. So there we are, who would have guessed that making mud pies can actually make you happier! Perhaps it is one for the adults too.
Playing with mud is also a great introduction to gardening. After all, mud makes up all gardens and to be able to garden, you are going to need to get your hands dirty. Even now, other than when I am dealing with weeds, I tend not to wear gardening gloves for that very reason, I like the feel of it. Perhaps that is because I had a childhood where mud play was most definitely ok!
Similar to creative play, children also get to be imaginative when playing in the mud. It’s well worth looking for some toys that are purley for the mud patch and you really don’t have to go overboard. Tractors are always a good choice, especially ones that have a digger on the front. We’ve also found that tupperware and pots are a great hit as the mud is moved from one to the other. Plant pots are also good as they have holes in the bottom, fun when you pour water in the top and watch is pour through.
As well as simply having a mud patch for children to do as they please, a mud kitchen is certainly a good addition to any mud garden. It will literally put the imagination on steroids because it opens up a whole new world of activities that children will be able to do. If getting a mud kitchen, it is worth getting some cheaper kitchen tools to compliment any imaginative play. We have found visiting shops such as Pound Land will enable you to kit out the kitchen for very little cost.
You will often find that children are happy playing in mud without the need of guidance from parents (although some doesn’t hurt for encouragement). Our mud patch is not far away from where we sit outside and it really is great to watch just how happy mud can make them. Sometimes, he can be so engrossed in the play he forgets that anyone else is around and is quite happy playing for around an hour. Compared to other toys that he has, it is almost like he loses himself in imagination and it makes such a difference to his behaviour for the rest of the day.
Fine and gross motor skills
Playing in the mud requires many skills above imagination and creativity. To be able to sieve mud, dig mud, fork mud, break down mud & putting mud in containers, your child is going to use a vast array of their motor skills.
How to develop Fine Motor Skills playing with mud
If you want your child to develop their fine motor skills, you will want to ensure that your mud patch or kitchen is equipped with play equipment such as utensils for the kitchen. These could include spatulas, mashers, small measuring spoons (for adding small amounts of water).
How to develop Gross Motor Skills playing in mud
To help with the development of gross motor skills, you will want to ensure that there are some large saucepans available, alongside heavy buckets and pots. Moving around large containers of mud, will certainly help with gross motor skills.
Problems Solving Skills
You can add in some more complex challenges when playing in mud, especially when it comes to water. Adding in some spent water bottles in different sizes such as 2L, 1L & some of the smaller ones such as 500ml. This will give children a sense of volume and pouring the water from one bottle to other will almost certainly add a layer of complexity to the play which will in turn help with some problem solving skills.
Communication & Social Skills
If played with friends or siblings, mud play is great for building communication and social skills. Children will often talk to each other and share equipment in the play area as they make their own enjoyment. Sometimes, they can cover each other in mud and this is all part of their social interactions. As there is literally so much to do when playing with mud, children will often do things at a level that they are comfortable with. An example of this is a younger child might only fill up containers. Older children might make mud cakes with a host of ingredients. By mixing up the ages, the children will learn from each other through communication.
How parents can support mud play
In order for children to get the best of their mud play experience, parents can help support them when they are in this exploratory phase. For some parents, the aftermath of mud play can be a little distressing but what is important to understand is that it is only mud. Here’s some great ways that you can be supportive of your little ones out in the mud:
Add new tools and challenges
As a parent, equipping your child to get the best out of mud play is extremely important. Ensure that they have the right tools and equipment to make the experience as creative as you can. Consider getting some of the following:
- Pots and pans
- Cooking utensils such as mashers
- Plastic plates
- Plastic pots
Contrary to popular belief, some children don’t actually like the mud and would rather steer away from such play. That’s not to say that they won’t come around to liking it in the future. By equipping children with the right clothing, this can be a big step towards them getting comfortable with it. Painting aprons can be great for such play, especially if using a mud kitchen.
You may also want to encourage children to clean up after themselves. After all, this probably isn’t a job that you will want to do on your own all of the time.
I know you probably wouldn’t want to get as dirty as the children but don’t be afraid to get involved in mud play. Seeing their parents also getting as mucky and enjoying the creative play, really will make a huge difference to the experience that a child gets from getting out in the mud. Here are some great ways to encourage mud play:
- Baking cakes
- Making mud biscuits
- Mud towers
- Showing them how to sieve mud
- Hide some treasure in the mud (stones) and see who can find the most.
After all, mud play really is the start of something that can be quite spectacular for children. Not only does it teach them a variety of skills, it also sets them up to be budding gardeners in the future. Most importantly, it will also make your child healthier as they will be exposed to more bacteria and can also help with allergies.
A bond with nature at a young age will pay dividends in the future. Our world is forever changing and the skills that this will teach children will help them respect their environment and other environments around them so much more.