Mud, mud glorious mud

Published on Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Last updated on Thursday, 22 October 2020

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International Mud Day 2017 happens on Thursday 29 June and is a great way to celebrate the wonderful sensory experience of… you guessed it MUD. Luckily for us in Australia, International Mud Day happens slap bang in the middle of winter so there is usually plenty of water around which makes it easy to mix up a batch of the good stuff.

International Mud Day traces its origins to the 2009 World Forum for Early Childhood Care and Education in Belfast when two members of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children, Gillian McAuliffe from Western Australia and Bishnu Bhatta from Nepal discussed the challenges children faced when playing in mud in each other's context.

Gillian reflected on the lack of mud as Perth is situated on a sandy plain and also the reluctance of Australian culture to 'get dirty.' Bishnu on the other hand had lots of mud but many children did not have enough clothes to be able to get them dirty or soap to wash them.

On her return to Australia, Gillian who is Founder of Bold Park Community School, told this story to a group of seven and eight year olds, who decided they would send clothes to the children in Nepal so that they could play in the mud. They raised $1000 in three weeks and sent it to Bishnu to buy clothes for the children. Since then the children celebrate their special bond, by playing in the mud together albeit in different parts of the world!

International Mud Day is an excellent excuse to get down and dirty in some lovely thick mud, but Mary Rivkin an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Maryland says mud kitchens should be a permanent fixture in early childhood services. She says the rich and diverse experiences of cooking in a mud kitchen offer a world of sensory and learning experiences for children.

According to Mary, some of the learning opportunities that mud kitchens provide for children include:

  • Creative expression and invention - mud can become anything!
  • Problem solving opportunities - for example how to make soup thin or thick, how to make mud meatballs stick together.
  • Cooperative play possibilities - let's cook dinner, let's make a restaurant, let's feed the baby - you be the baby!
  • Stress reduction - being outdoors in nature helps children relax.
  • Building stronger immune systems - research indicates that some exposure to dirt helps build resistance to bad bacteria.
  • Growing affection for the stuff on our earth - soil, stones, sand, and growing plants - leading to care and appreciation for our planet.

Understandably the chaos and mess of a mud kitchen may make it less appealing to some services, or the sort of activity which is offered occasionally rather than as part of the permanent curriculum. However, American child care teacher Beth Grant recently installed a permanent mud kitchen in her service and offers the following advice:

Work with your team

Some educators and carers are initially resistant to the idea of a mud kitchen, but with guidance, and after seeing one being enjoyed by children, they embrace it. Mud play provides so many opportunities for learning! Textures abound, descriptive language is impossible to avoid, measuring skills are honed, and cause and effect happens right before the children's eyes and in their hands. It is a fun experience that has learning happening the best way possible - through play! Teachers may need to be reminded to continue the mud kitchen inside the classroom, referencing it and drawing upon it as it relates to other topics or by having the children create journal entries about the experience. Teachers should be encouraged to remember their own childhood mud experiences and they should feel free to join in the fun with the children.

Communicate with the families

Families are often dubious about the idea of mud play. They need to be educated about the benefits and learning opportunities it allows and often need to be reminded that skin is waterproof and that dirt washes off. Families should be encouraged to donate supplies such as pots and pans, cupcake tins, colanders and other durable items for kitchen play. Bags of topsoil are cheap and always in demand once mud kitchen season starts. Loose parts for ingredients are always welcome, whether it is birdseed, pebbles, sawdust, or a bag of beans. Families should have an open invitation to come see the mud kitchen in use or to cook up a treat of their own! Photos can be sent home to those who cannot witness mud play in action and could be accompanied by a note explaining what is going on in the picture and listing the skills being used. An added benefit of this is that the children will have tangible reminder of their experience and a keepsake for the years to come.

Set sensible expectations for the children

Like all interest areas, mud kitchens have some ground rules. In addition to the basics - share, be kind, take turns - a mud kitchen adds: "mud is not for throwing" and "do not eat mud." The rules should be kept to a minimum and need to be explained before opening the kitchen. Children should be encouraged to leave the kitchen in good condition for the next group of chefs and be shown how to replenish the loose parts and "wash" the dishes in a tub of water - an activity that is almost as fun as the cooking.

For more information and plenty of inspiration watch this video or visit Gillian McAuliffe’s Practical Wisdom website. You can also follow the International Mud Day Facebook page for activity suggestions.

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