Words and images: Jason Tyndall, Nature Play SA
If I were to say it out loud, what would be the first words that come to mind?
Based on the above, your over-riding conclusion about mud play may be that it’s just not worth the hassle…
Let’s rewind back to your childhood. You are confronted with mud. What would be the first few words that come to mind?
For our kids, maybe it is worth the hassle.
The benefits of mud play
Firstly, it is important to understand the sensory issues of our current generation. In her book Balanced and Barefoot, leading US paediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom notes that sensory issues for children have rapidly increased. She believes a lack of exposure to a variety of sensory experiences, such as playing in the mud, has contributed to the increase.
The sensations of getting dirty and messy in real mud offer children an invaluable rich and tactile experience.” Informed by her work, she believes it is vital not to just expose children to sensory opportunities but to do so in an outdoor environment where they can increase their sensory tolerance to a range of tactile objects.
Further to Angela’s observations, research highlights many benefits of mud play for children:
Happiness and wellbeing
Not only is mud a source of childhood joy but research has demonstrated that exposure to friendly bacteria in soil can assist the brain to release serotonin, the endorphin used to regulate mood. The more serotonin we have – the happier we are. Mud literally makes us happy.
Immunity and overall health
Studies are now indicating that the cleanliness of our society is reducing exposure to important bacteria, resulting in increased levels of immune disorders and allergies (known as the Hygiene Hypothesis). Whilst it is important to wash our hands and maintain good hygiene – a little bit of dirt from outside is a valuable thing for our immune systems.
Critical thinking and problem solving
Mud has no prescribed use, providing children with full creative power. Whether determining texture, consistency, quantities, what to mould, how to decorate, what to create, what language to use to describe the properties of mud, there are many opportunities that encourage problem solving and critical thinking. In addition, sensory awareness, fine motor skills, resourcefulness, inventiveness, and other lifelong skills can be associated with mud play.
Connection with nature
There is something profound about the benefits nature provides to every human being. Whether it is listening to the wind in the trees, watching the clouds drift across the sky, or recognising the familiar smell of dirt after rain, and the gritty feel of mud between our fingers and toes, we all feel a connection. Nurturing this connection in children is vital as it builds values associated with empathy, nurture, love, and a broader sense of belonging. Mud provides an ideal platform for children to immerse themselves in one of nature’s finest elements and in doing so build a life-long connection to the natural world.
If you are stuck for ideas on how to use mud in fun and creative ways try some of these ideas:
- Build a mud kitchen from pallets or other recycled materials and source second-hand pots, pans, and muffin trays – then have a mud bake off
- As a family make mud pies with flowers, grass, stones, bark, and find your own secret ingredients
- Create a mud recipe book with quantities and ingredients
- Using mud as your paint – create a masterpiece on paper, the ground or on a tree
- Create a temporary mud pit using hay bales as edging with a tarp as the lining or invent your own
- Identify a permanent mud play area and provide kitchen utensils and small digging tools
- Create a mud face on a tree and use natural things for its eyes, nose and mouth
- Using mud and other natural things – build a village or kingdom for small creatures (maybe from you imagination)
- Build a birds nest from mud and dried natural material
- Take your shoes off and find a muddy path and walk along it as if you were walking on the beach
For more inspiring resources:
10 ingredients to collect for mud play by Nature Play SA
5 tips for family Mud Play by Nature Play SA
The Magic of Mud Toolkit with 50 learning inspired activities to explore mud by Nature Play SA