When the summer heat ramps up, do as pigs do and get relief with mud play! Mud retains cold and you can sculpt it to cover what needs cooling. With just a few simple materials, kids can turn ordinary stones into pig friends and help their pigs (and themselves) stay cool as they play.
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Invite your child to help you use a permanent marker or acrylic paint to turn stones into pigs. Then, say, “Do you know how pigs stay cool when it is hot outside? They play in the mud! Do you think we can help our pig friends stay cool?”
Mud play for pig friends.
Offer a container of water and invite your child to make some mud for pig friends to play. Then, step back and let the pretend play begin. Wonder aloud how the pig friends like to play. Do they like to roll in the mud? Jump into the mud? Invite kids to use sticks or other objects from nature to make a mud play pen or a habitat for their pig friends. Offer a container of sudsy water so pigs (and kids) can wash off when they need a change in play.
Do as pigs do.
To explore the cooling properties of mud, invite your child to spread a bit of mud on their skin and notice how it feels. If your child likes the sensation, invite them to bury toes or feet in the mud. You can even offer a paintbrush to “paint” mud on their skin. If your child is embracing the immersive mud play, fill a kiddie pool or container (large enough for your child to get inside) full of mud and have at it! To extend the play, hide pig friends or other objects inside the mud and invite your child to discover them. If you don’t have a pool but do have a patch of dirt, add water and let kids get muddy! Offer a container of sudsy water and some towels and make clean-up part of the cooling play.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Plants and animals employ all kinds of strategies to stay cool; we humans don’t have to be different. And, for young kids, this is the time in life to solidify attitudes about the natural world. If we can give kids ways to keep in control of their own coolness, they can develop self-reliance and resilience. Mud play is also a super way to help kids engage and develop their senses. And, as they think about what pigs need to stay cool and how they like to play, kids develop their imaginations and empathy for other creatures.
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Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
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?