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Car Wash

  • Age: 0 to 5
  • Time: 1 hour+
  • Materials: dirt, water, toy trucks or cars, cloth, sponge and/or paintbrush, liquid dish soap

What kid doesn't love the car wash! In this activity, we take a simple, compelling play context—construction and trucks—and move it outdoors! Combining mud and water play with toy trucks is a magical recipe for play that gives kids the chance to use their imaginations while repeating the satisfying process of getting dirty and then washing it all away with water and bubbles.

The Guide

Gather materials: Gather a few cleaning tools (sponge, washcloth, paintbrush) and a bin or bowl with soapy water and set to the side. Gather a few toy trucks and/or cars and take them outside.

Invite Play: Ask kids: “Have your trucks ever played outside? What will happen if the trucks play with us outdoors? in the mud? with the rocks? What could our trucks help us build/move/make out here?”

Make some mud: Have water available to kids, rough up the earth in an area with open dirt -- then, just add water.

Trucks in the mud: Start to get your truck into the dirt, mud, and other elements. Make noise -- rev your engine and screech as you turn, beep when you back up. Fill the dump truck with rocks, dig up the ground with the excavator. Then, step back and let them at it!

Set up a car wash: Once mud play is underway, notice aloud that these trucks are getting super dirty as they work. Say, “Do you think we could make a car wash for the trucks?” Offer the bin of sudsy water and cleaning tools and invite your child to set up their car wash. Support or model play as needed, but keep kids in the lead.

Support Play: Welcome kids to repeat the process of washing, driving through the mud and then washing again. If kids become more interested in exploring the bubbles and cleaning tools in the water than in truck play, welcome that, too. It is so satisfying to soak up and release water!

Extend the play: Invite your child to use sticks, rocks or other nature treasures to build the outline of a road that trucks can drive on up to the car wash. Offer a cookie sheet or other flat surface for kids to make a ramp so that cars and trucks can drive up to the top of the water bin. If you have more than one kid at home, each child can have their own station at the car wash- one for scrubbing, rinsing, drying, etc.

Why is this activity great for kids?

There’s just something about trucks. Transportation play creates a context of pretend that even very young kids can connect to, which allows them to develop their imagination and a chance to push communication skills. The outdoor setting offers multiple opportunities to use super-sensory natural materials, especially gooey, sticky mud followed by a sudsy, soapy car wash. Kids also love to “clean,” simulating adult work and feeling like they can “help” around the house- a terrific way to promote confidence and self-help skills. So keep on truckin’ -- you’ll be heading in the right direction.

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