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Make Mud

For many adults, making mud is not a clear winner. It's so common (and understandable) to ask, "Making mud? Is it really worth the mess?" 

The simple act of making mud is a universally powerful pastime for young people (and not bad for us big kids, either). Yes, kids get messy. But, with few exceptions, kids get completely absorbed in mud play. The great news for parents is you can do this virtually anywhere too. With the most basic of materials (water + dirt!) and armed with a few tips, parents can help unleash the rich learning potential in mud. Play in the mud along with your kids, and you’ll inspire immediate smiles as well as a lifelong comfort, even pleasure, in mucking around. That kind freedom spawns unbridled creativity and joy that’s just plain good for the soul. So let them go for it -- bath time will follow.

This activity is featured in our June Activity Calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy of the calendar, get it here.

The Guide

  1. Prepare yourself for mud play: We get it. Messy mud play is not always a grown up's dream. No matter how you and your kids feel about mud, you can still get all the goodness. It's just a matter of finding out your way to do mud play. Watch this humorous video from our Just Between Us Grown-Ups series about how to make mud play work on your terms. Once you've picked a time and a place that works for you, follow the steps below.
  2. Pack a few materials: Unless you’re near a water source, you’ll need to bring it with you. We like to have around ½ a gallon of water per kid so they can play and experiment for a while (less if it's rained recently). Bring a small pail or container for each child so they can transport and pour water as they see fit. 
  3. Clear your spot: If you’re in a high-traffic area, check to make sure that there are no obvious hazards (e.g., broken glass, metal, dog doo, trash) where you’ll be making your mud. As you scan the ground, grab some sticks for stirring and mushing mud. If it's dry, rough up the earth a bit so water collects and the soil is easier to work with.
  4. Pour a little water. Then, let them do the pouring: Trickle a small amount of water on the ground, and discover together what happens to the dirt. You can take a stick and even do a little mixing. Then hand a bucket to your kids, inviting them to transport water and see what happens when they add it to dirt. Stand back, and watch them get to work.
  5. Dole out the water as you go: Allow (or help) kids to fill up their pails or cups and dump water as often as they like. Playing with water is, in and of itself, a highly engaging sensory experience. We have the best luck filling a large container (e.g. 5 gallon bucket or large pot) and letting kids serve themselves.
  6. Play and “oooooo” alongside them: Let them continue to pour, mix and make mud on their own, but do the same alongside them. Every now and again, “Oooo” or “Ahhh” at the mud puddles, rivers and piles you make. Ask kids if they notice a difference between their mud and yours, giving an opportunity to describe the different muds using words such as soupy, thick, chunky, dry, wet, or sticky. Such a gripping sensory experience is a great opportunity to build language.
  7. Let kids go as "deep" as they want: Each child has their own threshold for sensory stimulation, and if we trust the to lead their play, they will manage that quite nicely.
  8. Make something: If kids appear ready for more, simply start to build alongside them. Make a mud pie by forming a fistful of mud into a patty and plopping it down somewhere. Start to combine mud and sticks to make a structure of some kind. Gather nature treasures to decorate the mud. Kids will likely get intrigued by what you are doing and want to try it too. Want more mud play ideas? Try our Mud Faces for Trees DIY, make Mud Art or cook up a feast in the Mud Kitchen.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Playing and experimenting with ooey, gooey mud helps children to strengthen their sense of touch -- and we know that the better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more effectively they can learn. Once kids know how to make and manipulate mud, they have a tool for play and building with virtually unlimited uses. When kids transform the shape, texture, or nature of materials (in this case, turning dirt and water into mud), they also engage in a universal behavior pattern called the transforming schema, which supports brain development. Best of all, when you let kids lose themselves in play and give them room to mess around, you offer them the openness and freedom they'll need to develop true creativity down the line. If all this isn’t compelling enough, research also indicates that playing in the dirt is just plain good for kids' health. So go on, get dirty!

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