Why Mud Play is More Than Just Fun
On June 29th, we celebrated International Mud Day, an initiative of the World Forum Foundation that encourages reconnecting with nature and the great outdoors. We seized the opportunity to design several different kinds of mud play activities for our children, and the outcome was even more delightful than we had expected!
Our youngest learners of Play Group and the Parent-Toddler program approached the dirt with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. While some children cried out in excitement as they sunk their hands into the mud and watched it cling to their fingers, others wrinkled their noses and held out their arms, uttering words that likely could have been “dirty!”
Parents sportingly joined in to encourage their little ones to experience and explore the gooey goodness. One mother plonked her toddler into a pile of mud where he promptly discovered that jumping around made fun squelchy sounds that he quite enjoyed. As children became more comfortable with the substance, it was a joy to watch them curiously feel it, smell it, shape it into lumps, and attempt to throw it at the ‘dirt wall’. The looks of fascination and delight on their faces validated that sand is an endlessly fascinating, essential and versatile learning tool. Young learners engage with it much more than they ever would with a new toy!
This was even more evident in how older kindergarteners got right to work with a plethora of pretend play activities. In the sandpit, they worked together, using plastic toys to dig, scoop and shape sand as they created varied structures including a house, a castle and even a dinosaur!
“I’m scared of the dinosaur,” said one boy even as he worked with his fingers to help form the long, ridged back of the sculpture.
One little girl had a field day blanketing herself with sand from neck to feet. “Ah, it’s good!” she cried when asked how it felt.
In the popular Mud Cafe, children cooked up quite a storm, creating a menu of everything from mud pies and cupcakes to dirt-shakes and dirt chocolate. They added water to change the consistency as they liked and used leaves, twigs and toys for decoration. Some children got so engrossed in this imaginative play that they were keen on eating their grubby creations too! But of course, teachers were there to guide them back towards play.
In the porch, children dug in piles of dirt and gave free rein to their imagination as they painted with it. One group was eager to get the teachers just as grubby too. “Let’s play!” they hollered, picking up fistfuls of dirt and putting it all over their teachers.
To add an extra flourish to the celebrations, we had invited a potter to help children make their own pots. He guided them to place their hands on the pottery wheel as it spun to mould the pot into a hollow shape. “Look!” exclaimed children one after another as they showed off their earthen creations and delicately laid them to dry in the sun.
After all the excitement came time for washing up and children turned this into a party of its own, what with jumping and splashing about in the little pool we had set up for them. They drenched themselves and each other, squealing and giggling all the time, unwilling to let the celebration end.
While mud play may on the face of it seem merely like a whole lot of fun and a mess to match, a growing body of research points to how it is so much more than that. To start with, it helps children reconnect with nature in the simplest of ways, taking them back to an organic way of growing up, without the overbearing, ever-present pressure and influences of modern-day technology and screens.
Further, did you know the babies have a natural desire to play in the dirt and put dirty objects in their mouth? And it turns out that this could have an important immune developing purpose. In the book ‘Why Dirt is Good’, microbiologist and immunology instructor Mary Ruebush writes that exposing babies to dirt allows their as-yet-immature systems to ‘practice’ immune responses, and to learn which responses are best ignored.
“Children nowadays are not given ample opportunity to play in the mud. They either play indoors or are sent to different classes which means they grow up increasingly disconnected from the earth and nature,” says our Events Coordinator, Naini Naik. “We really want to change that, so we organised Mud Day celebrations to create a space which is inviting for children and can allow them to have fun outdoors and create memories for life,” she explains.
Professor and educator Michelle Rupiper of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln writes that the rich, engaging sensory play children partake in while playing with mud allows them to express their creativity while enhancing their fine motor skills. It’s also a great opportunity to practice emergent math and science skills as children make comparisons, solve problems, test theories, and measure and count ingredients in the mud kitchen.
“Playing in the mud is good for the simplest of reasons – it makes children HAPPY! Moreover, it’s another medium that allows them to give life to their imagination, which makes mud a natural ‘makerspace’ of its own kind,” shares Neeta Desai, the Head of School at Todden Ahmedabad.
“Play by itself forms a very important component of our curriculum. And the sand pit, as well as the grass patches provide children with an opportunity to explore and play outdoors everyday. Celebrating nature and everything natural is integral to our values and belief,” she adds.
Naini Naik plans to up the scale of Mud Day celebrations in the future. “Next year, I’d love to have a full-fledged Mud Festival for both children and parents,” she concludes.