We’ve had record rainfall this year in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun outside. Mud--yes, mud--offers endless opportunities for sensory exploration and dramatic play. Or, as one source put it, “Mud is a versatile and under-rated material.”
In Kinder Nature Camp at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, we have a whole day dedicated to dirt! Campers spend the day learning what dirt is made of, what lives in it, and engage in various dirt related activities, the best of which involve mud.
For years, our Kinder Camp director wanted to find a way to help kids really immerse in mud play. This year, a plastic wading pool filled with soft topsoil provided the solution. Our youngest campers, ages 3-5, can take off their shoes, squish the mud between their toes (or fingers), and step out onto paper to make footprints, handprints, and more. Once kids get in the pool, other possibilities arise. One group built a mud “snowperson!”
An exciting part of Dirt Day is the “Mud Kitchen.” In fact, kids consistently say the Mud Kitchen is their favorite activity of the entire week of camp. In the mud kitchen, our youngest campers mix soil and water in an array of vessels using whisks, spoons, and sticks. The kids come up with their own ideas when it comes to using the space, including utilizing the area under the bench as their “oven.” They work together, share the tools and materials, get messy, and have a great time!
Mud play offers opportunities for sensory exploration, fine and gross motor skill coordination, cooperative and imaginative play, creative expression, and more. And, of course, it’s free! When we did a web search on “mud kitchen,” we were dismayed to find an array of products – with price tags up to $600! (You’ll notice we did not include a link.) The most important ingredients (dirt and water) are free, and containers can be anything from beach buckets to plastic take-out containers to old muffin tins. (If you’re really into this, check your local thrift store for playable second-hand kitchenware.)
It’s also possible to integrate some learning goals into the mud kitchen. PNC Grow Up Great offers some tips for helping children make observations, predictions, and measurements into the experience.
Feeling artistic? Add paper and paint brushes (or fingers!), and the mud kitchen becomes an art studio.
If your soil has a lot of clay, you can do some mud sculpture or pot-making. Thinking beyond the dirt introduces ideas of making paint with leaves or petals, or studding your mud creations with sticks, stones and seeds. Making art with natural materials connects us to more than 40,000 years of human history.
This resource for creativity is all around us. You don’t need to go much further than just outside your door step to get creative with mud, so get out there, and get muddy!