Does mud play for kids have benefits? Absolutely! We’re firm believers that every kid needs some mud play. My husband, Cade, is chiming in today with a memory from his own childhood and thoughts on the simple joy of dirt and water. Take it away, Cade!
Mud Play For Kids Is Classic
Kids have an innate desire to explore and push limits. To get their hands dirty, and to experience cause and effect.
Living in a little duplex in the city of Tucson does not afford a lot of space for outdoor exploration, but kids will find ways to entertain themselves!
At the age of 5, my sister (age 6) and I discovered that mixing water with the dirt in the backyard created… mud! A lot of mud. What can two kids do with mud? Jump in it, build with it. How about cover yourself head to toe? We did all of this mud play… and then discovered more.
The neighbor’s stucco wall was only a short throwing distance from our yard. After expertly forming our muddy mixture into aerodynamic mud clods, we launched them at the wall. It was so satisfying to hear a “thump” and see our creation stick perfectly to the side of the wall!
In no time, the wall was covered in muddy dark brown splats… and the neighbor had come out to investigate the thumping noise on the side of her house. We were discovered! We ran and hid in the exterior laundry room, until found by our mom. We were then marched next door where we apologized and began the work of cleaning our art from the wall.
Mud Play Redeemed – Making Intentional Space For Mud Play
Now I’m the parent. We make it a priority to take our kids to open, natural spaces often. This is the absolute best way to give kids the time and space to play their hearts out, get dirty, and have play that isn’t distracted. Recently our family was enjoying Catalina State Park in Southern AZ (an absolutely beautiful place, by the way) after some good rain and snow in the mountains.
There was plenty of water, which is a very seasonal occurrence here in Tucson, and the kids were set loose to play in the water that we rarely get. Your first inclination may be to hold the kids back from the mud play.. Not to let them get too wet or too dirty. We say, let them loose!
I thought back to my mudslinging days and started a mud clod fight with my boys. We threw mud and dirt clods for hours until we were all dirty and I was exhausted. With me admitting defeat the boys turned to throwing mud at a large rock near the water.
My heart was so happy to see my boys, age 7 and 5, experiencing the same joy and satisfaction of sticking mud on the side of a wall. The best part? They were able to do it in the welcoming great outdoors, where I could look on their mess with a smile – and no apologies would be necessary for this mess.
Buzzy’s going to finish out this post with some of the benefits of mud play as well as tips to help make it a reality for your family, so read on!
Benefits of Mud Play
Cade and I love letting the kids get dirty – in circumstances where it’s appropriate! There is definitely a time and a place for mud play, and it has proven to be a valuable part of childhood for our kids.
In general, we encourage a LOT of sensory play for young kids (and our older ones too for that matter). Sensory play engages most of the senses at once which creates all sorts of wonderful symphonies in the developing brain. Yes, sensory play is essential to healthy brain development – this kind of play is how brains develop proper sensory processing capabilities.
Furthermore, sensory play is usually very open-ended which means they’ll be using plenty of creativity and imagination. We mentioned this before, but there’s a lot of opportunity to experience cause-and-effect with sensory play too. “What happens if I add more water?” “What happens if I throw it at the rock?”
In our home, this means we play with homemade play dough, a water table, store bought modeling clay or beeswax, and water beads, but most importantly it means playing in nature! Notice how there’s no affiliate link to that? You can’t buy nature. It’s free and it’s for everyone!
Aside from being an incredible sensory activity, mud play connects kids to nature. Studies like this one and also this one are just a few that highlight the importance of direct contact with the surface of Earth.. aka dirt. Rocks work too! There’s a crunchy-sounding name for the practice of having skin-to-earth contact: “earthing.” Shoes, asphalt, concrete, etc. all separate us from natural materials, but mud play welcomes them!
Tips For Successful Mud Play
- If it’s going to be at your house, set up clear parameters of where it’s okay to make a mess. For example, putting mud on the neighbor’s house is prohibited.
- If you’re heading to an open, natural space, pack well. This includes sun protection, snacks, and water.
- Expect the unexpected. Worms, bugs, sharp thorns, etc. I stepped on a bee once while we were playing in mud and water in a wash. It hurt! I sat out for a few minutes, pulled out the stinger, and was back playing in no time. I accepted a long time ago we would get hurt sometimes playing outside, but it’s worth it.
- Have a plan for cleaning up when mud play is done. At home, this can be as simple as hosing off outside and heading straight to the tub. Out in the wild, we recommend having a change of clothes back at the car so that less mud gets on seats/carpets/etc.
- Keep mud out of eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible, just to be safe. Our kids have all eaten dirt and been okay, but I don’t encourage it because… it’s dirt.
Don’t be afraid to get muddy too, parents. It’s a whole lot of fun and it’s just as beneficial to grown-ups as it is for our kids!
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