Properties of Mud

A Very Muddy Story

One summer a long time ago, when I was a little girl, my parents planted a hedge of large cedar trees. The trees had very big root balls and needed to be planted in very big holes. My parents dug holes for those trees for a week and my sister and I were allowed to jump in and out of them. The holes were so big that my 9 year old self could barely climb back out on my own. When I was in the bottom of one it came up to my chest. My little sister could hardly see out the top of them.

They were deep and dirty and the most fun we had ever had. Until planting day…..

Before you plant a tree you are supposed to water the hole it is going to go in. So those holes that my sister and I had played in all week now were being filled with water. Because we had jumped in them so much the soil was compacted and drained fairly slowly so we had several of the biggest mud puddles you have ever seen in your life to jump in. And oh did we jump in them!

Now that they were wet and slippery we couldn’t get out at all without my Dad lifting us. So my sister and I each jumped into a hole and that’s where he left us to play until we’d had our fill of fun. My parents planted the rest of their trees while we jumped and splashed and scooped and slopped and made a thick gooey mess in the bottom of our holes.

Eventually our parents were ready to finish their tree planting project and my dad hauled first my sister and then me out of our holes and replaced them with a tree. We had a sprinkler that sprayed tiny straight lines in a long strip into the air, my dad rolled it out along near the newly planted hedge for us to run through and rinse ourselves off.

Each time we came onto the deck to come inside he would come to the patio door and inspect us for mud. We had to run back and forth many times before we were clean enough to be allowed back in the house. Once we were inside, my Mom made us a tasty snack of grilled cheese and watermelon and my Dad sat down at the table with us so he could give us a stern talking to about the trees.

We had our fun and the trees were planted. We were not allowed to play in the mud around the trees anymore or they would die and my father would be very upset. He did however, leave us a pile of dirt in a corner of the yard that we were allowed to play with.

That week, playing in those muddy holes was so much fun that I think about it often, even as a grown up.

If you ask your grown up I’ll bet they have a very muddy story about that they could tell you.

Do you have a very muddy story?

What makes mud? What are the ingredients?

Project 1

I’d like you to go on a hunt and collect different types of soil so that we can learn about what kind of dirt makes the best mud and how we can make mud on our own.

You will need:

  • 3 clear containers with lids
  • A shovel or scoop
  • A stick to stir
  • A bit of water to mix

With your containers we are going to wander around your yard or neighbourhood and see if we can find three different kinds of dirt. Try to find more than one kind of dirt. Different types to look for include:

  • dry, hard-packed dirt
  • loose soil
  • gravel
  • silt
  • sand
  • clay
  • dirt collected from under a tree (in the leaf litter)

Mini Project 2

We are going to bring our samples home and fill our jars half full of water.

Give them a stir and then leave them for at least a couple hours.

Now you’re gonna come back to them and have a look.

  • What do you notice?
  • Are there layers?
  • Is the water clear or muddy?
  • Which one do you think will be the best mud?
  • Which would be best for growing plants?

Let’s go test it out in your backyard mud pit.

To the Grownup:

If you are really into this, as your child collects the dirt, encourage them to discuss what they observe.
The following questions come from Gwen at Preschool Science who also helped with the layout for this activity.

  • How does dirt differ from place to place?
  • Where is the ground hard?
  • Where is it soft?
  • If the dirt is hard-packed, what’s the best way to loosen it?
  • Is the dirt dry or moist?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What does it smell like?
  • How is dirt collected from under a tree different from the dirt collected elsewhere?
  • Do you see any leaves? Bugs? Twigs? Seeds? Clues that animals have been here?

If you have a child interested in gardening you can extend this into a seed sprouting experiment.

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