There really is a day for everything and as it so happens, today is International Mud Day!
As you can imagine, here at The Outdoors Group, we are big on mud. To be honest, when there’s so much of it around, if the choice is to moan about it or to embrace it, we’d always go for the latter.
Admittedly, it feels a little bittersweet writing about a day to celebrate mud during a time when our forest schools are still closed. However, I thought we could dive in and have a look at what it is about mud that irresistibly attracts children of all ages. It’s a washing machine’s most dreaded invitation to play!
The main reason I think kids are drawn to mud (even when it’s the only patch in a 5 acre wood!), is simply for the sensory experience. They love jumping into it, the squelching sound of wading through it, the feeling of it between their hands as they made mud pies. They love it when it’s wet and almost liquid, when it’s mouldable like clay, when it’s warm from the summer sun or cool in the spring and autumn months. They love breaking the ice in winter to reveal the mud underneath and the edges of small brooks and streams, surrounded by the delicious stuff. If you can get over your desire to stay clean and join in, I think you’ll be surprised by how enjoyable you find the sensations as well!
The science between mud
And luckily for kids, playing in mud is actually good for them! Scientists have shown that ‘dirt contains microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae which stimulates the immune system and increases the levels of serotonin in our brains…scientists say regular exposure to the bacteria may help reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression’ (1). So whilst you might shudder inside as your child approaches that muddy puddle, they’re actually seeking out something that will make them happier!
Additionally, there is an argument that in our over-sanitised world, a lack of exposure to germs can be detrimental to children’s health, contributing to the rise in allergies and asthma that children often suffer from. By exposing children to dirt and mud, we could be keeping their immune systems stronger and healthier (just don’t forget to make them wash their hands before they eat).
The great thing about mud is that the potential for play is enormous. One of the most popular areas of all our Forest School sites is the mud kitchen. These don’t have to be fancy, painted and beautifully crafted stations. You can make one yourselves with some discarded pallets or old furniture in your back garden. Add in some pots and pans that have lost their non-stick coating or that you’ve sourced from the charity shop and you’re ready to go. Toddlers in particular are prone to spending hours creating you the most elaborate mud-based meals you’ll ever have the good fortune to dine on!
Older children often like using mud to express their creativity, whether that’s painting with the sloppiest stuff or using the drier mud to sculpt amazing models. You’ll be amazed at what they can create when given a free rein.
Mud really is full of open-ended possibilities when it comes to play, roll it into balls to throw (not at people!), add some trucks and make a building site, introduce toy animals and other woodland materials to make dens…the list goes on and on.
Some tips on dealing with the aftermath
However, even though I logically know the benefits of letting my kids go hell for leather when it comes to playing in my mud, I won’t lie. My heart does sink when they come stomping out of the forest, covered head to toe (including, quite often, deliberate mud war paint on their cheeks and in their hair) in wet, slimy mud. Over 6 years of Forest School attendance, I’ve finally picked up a few tips on how best to leave the mud in the woods when you leave.
- Line your boot with a waterproof liner (or a tarp) or keep a couple of big reusable shopping bags at all times so you can simply strip the kids in the car park. I also sometimes make them sit on blankets on their car seats to try and minimise mud in the main bit of the car
- Don’t shove the waterproofs straight in your washing machine – it’s a good way to clog the filter with missed leaves and big clods. I tend to hose mine down in the garden and leave them on the line to dry first or if it’s wet out, let them soak in the bath to get the worst off before putting them through the machine.
- Machine wash waterproofs as little as possible, the waterproof lining doesn’t like it
- Buy dungarees, not waterproof trousers – otherwise they’ll always end up with a strip of mud on their lower back
- Go for sturdy wellies from farm shops if possible, the comic-book character adorned supermarket variety won’t last a winter in proper mud
- Finally, relax and try and embrace the mud – even if you’re not diving in yourself!
Happy International Mud Day folks – we’ve had some rain recently so why not suit up and find a patch to celebrate in today!
Author: Hannah Durdin
Date: Monday 29th June 2020