Thursday, March 4, 2010

7 tips for mud play at preschool

Once upon a time I stopped children from playing in the mud.  I'm sorry kids.

Mud play is not only fun - it has as much potential for learning as sand play and water play. 

mud play on a bushwalk at preschool

Nowadays I embrace the mud. 

walking in the mud on a preschool bushwalk

How can we bring mud play into our early childhood programs?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Mud patches

This one is for the truly committed amongst us.  If you have the room and the resources creating a permanent digging patch works well (12 square metres is a good size).  You can buy the dirt from a nursery, your local council or a building supplier.  Mix in approximately 1/3 sand to 2/3 soil to provide a more friable and diggable mix.

Props for the mud patch are limited only by your imagination.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Cooking appliance—old range or box made into an oven
  • Tree stumps or tree cookies to use as table surfaces
  • Pots, pans, cooking tins
  • Large metal or plastic bowls
  • Cooking utensils 
  • Recycled containers 
  • squeeze bottles
  • funnels
  • trucks
  • animals / dinosaurs
  • natural materials
  • sifters / colanders
  • moulds
  • gardening tools
2.  Mud Puddles

Does your playground have a patch of ground that gets muddy after the rain?  Why not embrace the mud and give the children some time and space to make mudpies, dig trenches or create roadways?

Assemble a mud bucket or tub with materials such as :
  • Old containers
  • Large wooden or metal spoons
  • Old measuring cups
  • Plastic scoops, like those found in coffee cans
  • old pots, pans, or cake pans
  • moulds
  • Natural materials such as pebbles, sticks and seeds
This way you are always prepared for mud play and when the puddles appear you are good to go!

3.  Mud in the sensory tub

Don’t have a supply of dirt in your backyard?   Why not take a couple of buckets to your nursery and buy some clean fill, black dirt, and sand. The investment is very small, and the joy your kids will have are worth it!  You could add:

  • child sized gardening tools
  • an array of containers
  • flower pots
  • rocks, seed pods, sticks
  • plastic insect or dinosaur models

This image is from the marvellous blog Irresistable Ideas for Play Based Learning.  Their post on mud play is full of inspiration for introducing mud into the preschool.

4.  Mud in baking trays

Create personal mud patches in baking trays or shallow containers.

5.  Mud and dramatic play

In the short article The Mud Centre: Recapturing Childhood one preschool tells how they made the decision to provide mud play every day through the creation of a mud center combining dramatic play and mud play.  

6.  Mud in the art/craft area
  • Make mud prints. Place your mud-covered hands and feet on a clean sheet of paper to make an impression. Concrete floor or wooden pallets are good substitutes for paper.
  • Take an old table outside.  Instead of paint, fill your paint tubs with mud and let the children explore with brushes or their fingers to make marvellous mud paintings.
  • Add a small quantity of white glue to mud for a different finger painting experience.

7.  Here are some of our favorite things to do in the mud:
  • Make mud pies and cakes.  This is an oldie but a goodie.   Use old containers to “bake” in and decorate with small pebbles, flowers, or leaves.
  • Make mud houses using sticks for supports. Include tunnels, secret rooms, and even a moat.
  • Make mud balls by shaping mud into balls by rolling the “dough” in your hands. Decorate the balls with flowers, leaves, rocks, or small twigs. Stack the mud balls on top of each other to create a unique sculpture.
  • Make rivers and dams. Dig a river in the dirt and add water. Build a dam to form a small puddle.
  • Construction zone: bring in the trucks, the hard hats and the shovels.
I'd love to hear some of your own ideas.

You might also enjoy:


  1. As you know, we've recently reclaimed our garden area by installing a full-body sand pit. We have water flowing into the sand, but you're right that wet sand isn't the same as mud.

    The garden used to be our mud area, but now that we're actually planting things there, we don't really have a proper mud zone. Thanks for the reminder that we can still have mud in or sensory table and as an art project. I feel better now!

  2. Great reminder that messy isn't necessarily bad. I appreciate all the variations on mud play that you gave.

  3. I WANT to come play!!! Please~ I'll bring my kids too! What great ideas. Right now our backyard is a mudpie... we've been playing all week! Yeah!

  4. I've recently subscribed by RSS but wanted to pop over and say how much I am loving your posts. Mud, mud, glorious mud! I too have told children off in the past for playing in mud - but honestly, when else in life can we experience it and squelch it between fingers and toes? That's what being a kid is about.

  5. Thanks for posting about mud! My girls love to play in the mud in the backyard. They have dug a huge hole right in the middle of everything. They come in totally covered and need a bath right away. My two year old is highly sensitive and loves to lay and roll in different textures. So she rolls in the mud or whatever is around. I am glad I am not the only one who lets her kids get dirty!

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone :)

  7. Mud is the absolute best!... Make it really wet and use it instead of finger paint too ... delicious fun for those children who aren't so sure about the whole 'getting really dirty' thing!

    Sherry and Donna

  8. With all the rain we've been getting over the past week and a half, we have pockets of mud throughout our yard. You have inspired me to not be reluctant about enjoying and embracing this resource. Mud pies here we come!!

    Thank you for fixing the links for your nature post. I have accessed them and it is always wonderful to learn new ways to incorpoate the great outdoors into our play.

  9. I love the idea of mud in the sensory table. I had a grandmother that used to give my brother and I spoons and plastic margarine tubs for playing in the mud in her garden & those are such fantastic memories. All children should get to mud experiences!

  10. Don't get me wrong, I still inwardly stress about the mess and dirt (and the endless clothing changes -oh the endless clothing changes!). Enjoy the mud Elise :)

  11. Can I ask where you are - and can you please move to my area and set up a kindy here : )

  12. This is a great reminder that a childhood well-lived is very messy! It's so hard to allow the mud play but it's well worth it in the end. I always tell my kids that any day that ends with them being filthy is a good day!

  13. I really appreciate your comments - we are in Sydney Australia and I teach at a small progressive community school / preschool. It is parent-managed so a joy to teach in because parents value play in all its forms as much as we do and don't stress about muddy clothes or paint in the hair - I agree, a sign of a good day is a messy child :)

  14. Wow, this is fantastic! And to think we are begging our school admins to let us plant an edible garden...yikes!This post is an inspiration.

  15. i absolutely love your posting choice, very charming,
    don't give up and keep writing for the simple reason that it just good worth to look through it.
    impatient to look at much of your own articles, good bye :)

  16. Have you ever tried "Clean Mud". It's not quite the same as out in the mud puddle or bog but fun all the same. Take a whole role or two of toilet paper and have the children rip it up into the sensory table, then with supervision for the older children or just yourself grate a bar of unscented soap (I use glycerin) onto the paper. Supply containers of water and let the children start mucking! All the usual supplies for mud play are great and it feels very slippery. Want more add more paper or soap of water... Lots of fun and prune fingers at the end!

  17. This is SUCH a good idea!
    I grew up on a farm, and would play in our gravel and dirt driveway after the rain, all day long!
    Moats, rivers, and ponds, lined with twig houses, rock cars, and bugs we'd find crawling nearby; we'd build and make a mess to our hearts' content!
    Now I live in a new subdivision near a big city, and my kids don't have the luxury of mud...I guess I have another reason to find some! Thanks!

  18. I like the idea and my son would be thrilled if our neighbour would let us make a mudpond (he's ok with sandbox but mudpond I don't think would pass - he's a bit oldfashioned - "kids need discipline not mud"kinda guy;).
    As we (parents) are both biologists we never really prohibited getting dirty, messy or wet. We like nature and so do our kids - getting dirty is just normal when you're outside doing something.

    But there is always a but... our 7yo firstborn doesn't like mud! The younger-two are quite happy getting dirty in it but she was trully disgusted yesterday when she steped kneehigh into a mud. She did not enjoy the way back home (we were in the middle of the forest) until she finally forgot about it but still she couldn't wait back home to take her dirty shoes and socks off. It is true that she was not well equiped - she wore girly shoes as we went straight from school and that was what she was wearing... But she never enjoyed jumping the puddles as much as the youngsters (we were both inviting her to jump in them and showing her the big "good" ones) but she didn't care that much for them. She hates getting wet although she loves water, swimming and all water related play ideas.

    I see that your kids walk in mud in forest - how do they handle way home (all muddy and wet)? It's kind of difficult to carry clothes and shoes for all three of them to every outing into the nature... Any tips? Do they walk barefoot home? My girls would get cold... (the toddler not at all but girls are a freezy type like their mom;). It's ok in the summer but now it's getting cold here...

  19. Thank you so much! Finally found what I was searching the internet for - how to "make" mud! Just needed advice on the best type of soil/dirt for making our mud since we don't have a naturally muddy spot in our yard. Every other site gives you recipes for "mud" - i.e. cornstarch and pudding or something else ridiculous! We are hosting a Mud Pie Play Date with a large group of kids, so I'll mix up a toddler pool of actual mud for them!!! Loved playing in the mud as a kid, but my 6 year old daughter (who clearly takes after her daddy in this regard) does not like the idea of getting dirty. I'm determined to convert her!! haha!