Ever since I first heard about International Mud Day, I’ve wanted to gather children together for muddy play. This year, I was determined to make it a reality.
My ever-supportive husband and I agreed to turn a corner of our yard into a mud pit, I gathered resources, and invited some dirt-loving friends to come and play.
We had a wonderful day – full of joy, challenges, new discoveries and friendship. But as well as being an incredible day for our children, it was a great day for me and my own learning about how to support children’s play.
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about supporting children’s play in mud.
I wanted our day to be focused on children’s play, so I had to allow for:
Flexibility (parts to mix with, sit in, tip out, collect, stand on). I also prepared water play options for those who didn’t want to get muddy.
Unpredictability. Accepting that the way I would play in the mud is not the way everyone would want to play in mud.
Security for kids to play freely. We had only 2 rules for the day- be kind to each other, and keep the play in the yard, away from the balcony (marked by paper streamers). I had already made the decision to accept whatever mess transpired, to be completely honest when I said they could play in the mud anyway they wanted to.
2. While muddy play is often social, it is deeply personal.
We all have varying degrees of comfort with mess and varying sensorial needs. Some children got stuck straight in, giggling as they tried to get mud over as much of their body as possible. Others kept to the edges, reaching for a tool to poke around in the mud from a distance.
Yet once everyone had figured out their comfort level, and the comfort level of everyone else, the play calmed into a kind of harmonious social enterprise. Everyone was contributing in a way they felt safe and happy with. Small groups gathered around pots or buckets, sharing in the stirring and creating. Cooperative bands of kids formed, working for some kind of fleeting common purpose – cooking lunch, filling a pot up to the brim, transferring from one bucket to another.
3. Wars will be fought over water.
The world’s most precious resource, and a great source of tension for our players. I used Jack Lambert’s tool theory – give them free reign, let them experience a shortage, then slowly introduce some more. I had two large plastic tubs already filled with water, which I refilled twice, then stopped. Fights ensued, then cooperation. Children became very creative with ways to reuse it or find it once I stopped supplying.
4. Children are easy to wash.
We had two tubs of water at a “washing station”, plus sponges, soap and a hose. Besides under their fingernails, most children went home sparkling. I had been upfront with parents about the aim of the day, so everybody wore clothes to get muddy in.
5. The clean up was almost as much fun as the muddy play.
Sliding around in the mud to retrieve drowning utensils, filling up our biggest bucket with dishwashing soap to make a giant’s sink, discovering artefacts of play I hadn’t even seen happening. I loved finding evidence of the unpredictable ways mud had been played with!
6. The set-up and clean-up took longer than the actual muddy play.
Supporting and promoting children’s play takes time and preparation. I should know this, as a teacher who spent hours planning lessons that would only take 30 mins to teach, but I had forgotten.
It took me a while to gather resources I thought the children would see as having value in their play (even though I was prepared to be surprised by the way they might use them!). I marked areas of our house and front balcony with signs and streamers so everyone knew where they were free to play. I sourced topsoil, covered drains, found old bedsheets to spread underneath the water play area to make the tiles less of a slip hazard.
7. The rhythm of play is easily interrupted by things like clean clothes.
For some children, their muddy play cycle lasted hours. Some children were ready to move onto something else quite quickly, and were keen to get cleaned up and play another way. Changing them into clean clothes prevented them from starting another session of muddy play when they were ready. Makes me wonder – what other ways could I have extended/sustained their muddy play?
8. Giving children time, space and permission to play is its own reward.
Doing so makes me more playful (did I get into that mud and love the oozing between my toes? Absolutely!). It started conversations with my neighbours and other play advocates here in Singapore. It brought children together to play, and opened up our yard as a place that offers possibilities.
As the International Mud Day founders said, “…we can all explore the sensory landscape which the earth brings. The experience challenges us, delights us, it allows us to overcome fear and yet brings joy and wonder. But by far the most important thing about Mud Day is that we take the time from our busy lives to play together.”
Would I do it again? Yes! I would love to find a bigger space next year, to be able to offer more children the time, space and permission to play in mud!
A last word on our mud:
We don’t use chemicals on our garden. I bought a few bags of topsoil from our local plant nursery, who very much wanted to talk me out of the idea. I was warned of small stones, and even small pieces of glass (!) inside their bags of mixed soil. When pressed on this, they accepted that this soil should be safe as it contained no pesticides or other nasties. (Though they still thought I was mad for wanting to provide mud for children to play in.)
No child attempted to eat the mud, even though plenty of chicken rice and cakes were cooked in their play and offered around.
Yes, our grass might take a while to regrow. But what a small price to pay for giving children the challenge and delight of muddy play!
Read more about muddy play: