Talking with kids about who is in your family is a wonderful way to help them develop a sense of belonging—the roots that let them feel grounded in the world. You can also use this super sensory, creative activity to help kids learn about and celebrate the beautiful diversity in all families.
This activity is featured in our June Activity Calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy, get it here.
Step 1: Talk about your family.
Start by asking kids who is in their family. This is a chance to help kids think about the people most important to them and the ways in which their family is unique.
Which family members live in your child’s house? Which family members live farther away?
Who are the neighbors, caregivers or friends who are a part of your family’s extended community?
If you can, look at photos of family members together to spark discussion. What makes each person special? What are your child’s favorite memories or things to do with each family member?
Step 2: Launch the activity.
Grab a container of water and head outside to a tree or a flat surface on the ground. Ask kids, “Do you think we could make a mud face for each of our family members?” Prompt imagining and planning by asking things like: What would the mud faces look like? What features would they each need? What objects could we use for the features? Want to see this activity in action? Watch our "How to Make Mud Faces" video.
Step 3: Gather materials for faces.
Send kids off to gather objects to use for the various features of their family faces. Offer a container (e.g. a small cup, a bindle, yogurt container, small bag) to collect and carry objects.
Step 4: Make and plop mud patties.
All dirt is different, so add water gradually until your mixture thickens to the right consistency (think thick brownie batter). For each face, make a softball-sized mud patty, flatten it a bit, then give it a good plop onto the bark of a tree or on the ground, giving it a few finger pushes around the edge to help it really stick.
Step 5: Guide as they create.
While kids work, remain available to help them if they ask, but let them do as much as they can. If kids' faces fall apart, help them collect the mud, repack and re-plop. Celebrate your mud family! Invite kids to tell you as much as they can about each face and which family member it represents. If you can, invite family members to come see the mud faces or take photos and send them to family members. Loved ones will feel celebrated knowing your child was thinking of them as they played.
Extend the Play
Celebrate family diversity. Talking about families and love is a marvelous way to naturally help kids see, celebrate and internalize the beautiful diversity among all families. Each family is unique, and when we base the definition of family in love and care instead of any particular family constellation, we prepare kids to recognize and understand the concept of "family" that includes all families—families that look like the families in most TV shows and families who have: grandparents, older siblings or other guardians at the helm; parents of the same gender or no gender; families formed by adoption; large extended families; small, strong single-parent families; blended families; and more. Talk with kids about the diversity within your own family and within families that your child knows.
Make a family that looks different from yours: Make some more mud (or just grab art supplies) and keep making families, real or imagined—and include families that are different from yours. What other families do we know who are different from our family? What families did we see or read about in the books we read? Enjoy talking, making or even just slowing down to notice how wonderfully different families are. There may be no better way to prepare kids to love and respect all humans!
Why is this activity great for kids?
Every family is unique. Whether your family’s definition of family includes kin and/or those who hold special significance in your lives, helping kids identify who is a part of their family gives them a sense of belonging and pride in their own unique family makeup. Making faces is also a super way to help kids tune in to facial expressions and emotions. And, 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.
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!