“When the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful*” or, celebrating International Mud Day

in Theory and Ideas

Playing in mud“When the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” E. E. Cummings

The fact that it is International Mud Day 2012 this month got me to thinking about the role that mud plays in outdoor learning, play and Forest School sessions I deliver.

Sometimes it is a barrier. A group of older boys I was working with brought their best trainers to wear at sessions. They are allowed to wear their own clothes to the woods, their need to show their personalities has not yet overcome their dismay and the urge to clean their trainers afterwards. At our first really muddy session I was glad that this didn’t stop most of them from really getting stuck in (in one case literally), though they did spend a lot of time and effort getting rid of the mud from their shoes afterwards.

I had a four year old girl coming to sessions last year who had been told so many times that she wasn’t allowed to get dirty that even with a full waterproof suit and boots to protect her, she couldn’t sit or touch or be near anything dirty. She gradually acclimatised and, with sleeves rolled up is the first one to get stuck in to all sorts of messy play. In a survey of 7-11 year olds 25% didn’t like getting themselves or their clothes dirty. 57% worried they would be told off for getting dirty and two thirds of parents worried that being seen with a child with dirty clothes would make them appear to be a bad parent.*

But more often than not, rather than a barrier, mud is a key resource for our learning and play. The most solid and tangible of the four elements it is easily accessible and easily manipulated. It is right there under our feet. Helping children overcome those barriers allows them to explore a fantastic resource. I often find role modelling is a good way to encourage the children who are averse to dirt. I’m the first with my hands in and I also show these children what I have brought to get my hands clean again. Sometimes the language I use and comparisons help. There are children I know who will play with play dough and clay indoors but won’t touch soil or dirt outdoors. Digging up our own ‘clay’ can be the first step for some children to make contact with mud. I love the approach taken by Stuart Lester and Martin Maudsley that dirt, stains and smells can be treated like ‘badges of honour’, ‘evidence of successful outdoor play’ and learning**

More often we need to overcome the pressure, be it real or perceived, that comes from parents. Giving them advance warning of what to expect, helping them prepare their children with appropriate clothes works with most parents. As can highlighting the benefits, describing and telling stories of what the child has done and achieved. Showing them photos, journals or learning stories of their child. Some parents find it helpful to see the comparison with sports like rugby or football where the children get muddy. There is also the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, a growing body of evidence which holds that exposure to germs during early childhood primes the body against allergies. Research in recent studies indicate that treatment with specific soil bacterium, improves moods, makes the brain more receptive to learning, and reduces inflammation of the skin.

So really what more reason can there be to celebrate with a mud day?

Birch Leaf Mud Print

Birch Leaf Mud Print

A trickling hose or bucket of water should give you all the access to mud that you need, even better it might rain and the mud will make itself. Mould it, sculpt it, build with it, cook with it, (mud pie anyone?) paddle in it, slide on it, find worms in it, squelch and squerch in it. Look at it with a microscope, make space for it in your garden, track animals through it,  print with it, paint with it, bathe in it, dig it, probe it with sticks, bury treasure in it, and bury seeds in it. Check out these photos for more inspiration and celebrate mud in whatever way you can!

*From the ‘Positively Dirty’ report, Persil 2005 www.dirtisgood.com
** Lester and Muudsley 2006. Play, Naturally. www.playengland.org.uk/media/130593/play-naturally.pdf

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