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.

Mud Zone

Here it is. The week you’ve all been anxiously anticipating.
The week where I tell you grown ups to stand facing your backyard and find somewhere you are willing to dedicate to mud.

The time I let all the children
paint themselves with mud.

I waited until week 9 to filter out all the less committed families. You’ve stuck with me this long so I know you are committed to your child’s freedom in playful exploration. You don’t need me to explain the benefits of mud play, you already know them. So….without further ado here we go.

First thing you are going to want to do (after you have picked an area) is to build a tippy tap. If you don’t know what a tippy tap is pause for a moment to feel grateful for never having experienced what life would be like without running water.

One…….two…..three…..we are so so fortunate to live in such an abundant place.

My daughter 12 years ago

Ok. Now head on over to these instructions and start gathering some supplies. They are pretty simple ones that you can probably find relatively easily.

The reason you want to build the tippy tap is two fold:

  1. Mud play is more fun with water and they will stay engaged longer.
  2. Your child can wash their hands BEFORE coming into your house.

Why build the tippy tap instead of just providing a bucked with water in it?
Because a bucket can get dumped. It will be contaminated with dirt almost immediately and unless you want to give your child access to your yard hose (which I DON’T recommend) you are going to be filling bucket after bucket of water for them.

So! Save yourself the headache and make one of these. They are awesome and you’ll love them. Camping in the forest will be forever changed. If you’d like feel free to watch one of my favorite Forest School teachers, Lee Cook show us how it’s done in his backyard.

So far we have:

  1. Chosen an area to be dedicated to MUD.
  2. Built a Tippy Tap.

Last thing we need to do is add some supplies.

After over a decade of playing with kids in the dirt here are my absolute favorite mud/sand/dirt play tools. Right now all of these things can be found at Surplus Herby’s for around $50.

  • Stainless Steel Buckets
  • Stainless Steel Bowls
  • Muffin Tins
  • Cake Tins
  • Ice Cream Scoops
  • Bulk Bin Scoops

Now as the pictures show, you really don’t need to add anything.

Dirt + water = mud = messy fun

In your kits this week are some muddy recipes for your children to be inspired to play with. I even laminated them so they will hold up for a little while longer outdoors.


Once upon a time two little foxes were playing in the forest on a cloudy and kind of grey looking day. The foxes were having obstacle course races running across the field, jumping over logs, climbing over rocks and diving under branches as fast as they could. At first they couldn’t go very fast but after a few tries they got really good at rolling, running and jumping all around the field.

They were starting to get tired and decided to have one last race before they headed back to their burrow for a snack. Ready…set….go! They ran off together crawled under a bush and only one of them came out the other side. Noticing she’d lost her friend the little fox ran back to the bush to see what had happened.

The other little fox had gotten caught on a branch and gave himself a big scrape all down his side. He was sitting under the bush and tending to his wound.

“I know what to do!” the little fox said. “I’ll find some golden rod or yarrow to help heal your cut.” She ran off in search of the special plants. Before long she returned with a sprig of goldenrod in her teeth.

Now foxes don’t have hands, or tools or pots and so they can’t really make a salve or a tincture like people can but they do have teeth. The little fox chewed up that goldenrod flower and instead of swallowing she licked her friends wound spreading the mushed up flower all over it.

He was feeling a little better, having rested for a while, and the two of them got up and trotted back to their den where they hoped to find some tasty treats for a snack.


Did you like that story?

Do you know about the plants the foxes used in the story? Goldenrod and Yarrow.
They both grow in Peterson Creek park.

Do you have those plants in your yard? Another plant that can be used to heal cuts is called Calendula. It’s kind of like a marigold but less fluffy. Maybe you grow calendula in your yard? Here is what the plants look like. Have you seen them before?

I wonder if you can make a healing potion like the fox did?
Maybe you can use a jar like I did instead of chewing it up in your teeth.

For my potion I used dandelions and they turned my water yellow.

I can make several potions that all do different things and mix them all together for a super charged healing potion! What kind of creation can you make?

To the grownup:

All of the plants mentioned here are non-toxic and so if your child were to drink it there would be no harm. However many yards and landscapes do contain poisonous plants that could be harmful if ingested.
It’s important to have ongoing conversations with your child about not eating plants they don’t know the name of 110%.

On the same token it is also important to value and nourish your child’s emerging identification skills. If they can ID it confidently it’s time to challenge them to keep them humble and on their toes. Also from keeping over confidence from harming them. There are many many look alikes out there in the natural world. Your challenge is to find one and see if you and your child can spot the differences. It will teach them caution and to look closely at the details of a plant.

I often share a very true story of my own children’s journey with plant identification….

Years ago when they were in Grade 1 and 4 they went to a new school. This school had a restored wetland and school garden boxes! Wonderful. My daughter, then 9 years old and a skilled plant identifier, discovered a large patch of mint growing outside one of the classrooms in the garden box. She and her brother then proceeded to share their knowledge with their school yard friends and soon many children were foraging for mint and talking excitedly about what other plants they might find that they could eat.

These children clearly recognized that there were some plants that were edible and some….not so much.

A few days later parent wandered onto the school yard and saw the children eating the mint. She panicked and marched herself to the office to express her concern for the children’s well-being.

By the following day the mint patch was gone and all that remained in the school garden boxes was dirt.

My daughter was seriously upset and many of the children didn’t understand what happened. They KNEW this plant. They had formed a relationship with it over those few days, some of them remembered planting it when they were younger. The conversation hadn’t been this lively in months.

An opportunity for deep meaningful learning, at a school, was completely missed and even eroded the emerging confidence of some of these young learners. This fear based education is the state of things and why you and I and many other parents working so hard to restore this knowledge of the plant world to our children.

So if your child comes to you excited to tell you all about a plant they can eat get excited with them!

And if you are concerned quiz them. Ask questions.

How do you know?
What do you notice?
What do it’s leaves look like?
What shape are they?
How many petals does the flower have?
How do the leaves grow?
What does it smell like?

Many children first learn plants based on their location, which is totally ok! Challenge them to find the same plant somewhere else. It is a skill that will serve them well throughout their entire lives.

Congrats for reading this far!

You get a bonus activity.
Bring the potion making inside with some coloured water, vinegar and baking soda.
I’ve also included a pipette in your kit this week. You will be floored at how long your child stays engaged with this tool.

Find a tray with a deep lip, gather some jars and set up some exploration and fun for your child.

Beautiful indoor potion setup from MamaPapaBubba

Backyard Tea Party

Is there somewhere special in your yard where you can have a tea party?

Who might you want to come to your party?

Would you decorate?

Set a table? Put out a blanket?

Let’s make a very special place in your yard where you will host your party.

Can you gather some things?

  • picnic/outdoor blanket
  • metal bowls & spoons
  • dishes you can bring outdoors
  • a bucket
  • tree stumps and rounds – for tables and chairs
  • ribbons, strings or your garland decoration
  • clothes pegs

Bring all your things outside and begin to setup your very special place.

Now what are you going to serve at your party?

Maybe some spring tea, mud cakes or spring soup.

The recipe card for spring soup is in your kit or you can print it here.

I got some scissors and a watering can to help me make it.

When you are done making all the lovely things you will serve it’s time to invite some guests.
Maybe your brother or sister, maybe your grown ups, maybe some stuffed animals.

Make sure you set the table and serve all of your guests.

To the grown up:

I encourage you to choose a day this week when you will all eat a meal together in your backyard. When your child invites you out to their party bring along a little something extra….and maybe a wet cloth to wipe hands!

The activities each week are in preparation for a May Long Great Adventure Backyard Campout. I am going to invite your child to sleep outside in their backyard in a few weeks. I have a few extra tents if anyone would like one feel free to drop me a line.