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 Scaping

Creating the Deep Dark Woods

Have you ever read the story about the Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson?
If you don’t have it in your collection of books at home and can read it with your grown-up you can listen to it here:

I have given you all the parts you need to make the characters from the Gruffalo except an owl. Do you still have your pinecone owl? Do you think you could make another one if not?

With your animals we are going to head into your backyard to create some deep dark woods of our own.

You Will Need:

  • A paper or plastic cup (foxes house)
  • A big-ish rock
  • A short stick as wide as three fingers
  • A pile of small sticks (snake’s house)
  • A stick with some branches (owl’s house)
  • Your seascape

You will also need your Gruffalo characters: mouse, fox, owl, snake and the Gruffalo.

To the Grown-ups

Small world play is a play skill I’m going to really start focusing on at our outdoor programs. It is such a rich creative process both internally and externally. The ability to visualize and create small worlds gives a child such a wide and deep opportunity to work through their experiences and make sense of their world. It is also a play skill that will occupy your child for many hours and so is a valuable one for parents and caregivers too!

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.