A blog written by our Forest School Leader and Outdoor Learning Coordinator, Ms Brocklebank (known as 'Jessica Rain' to her students!)
Monday 29th June marked International Mud Day! This got me thinking about just how much some of our students LOVE mud; how far some have come in terms of being happier to get dirty and also what the benefits are for our students.
Three years ago when we were planning and preparing to open a forest school, the idea of introducing our students to a natural environment in which they had the opportunity to connect with nature in a completely different way than the rest of the school site brought new challenges.
Would students who struggle on a sensory level to get dirty cope?
How would we make it inclusive for those who are adverse to getting muddy?
What about the students' sensitivities around clothing and waterproofs posing a challenge?
How will we ensure a log circle, which has muddy dirty logs to sit on, still appear inviting for a child with autism who may find this a barrier?
What kind of sensory experience could the mud in the site offer?
Over the years from working in the classrooms at Gretton as a TA 9 years ago and then as a class teacher I had seen many students struggle when they got glue on their fingers, become unhappy when they got mud on their clothes or dislike wearing a coat. The introduction of forest school was never going to be popular for all. We were asking our students to not only come out to a new environment, but one that was muddy, unsteady ground, a natural environment with branches across paths to duck under and, it's safe to say, an environment without some of the comforts and predictability that the school offers!
The journey many of our students have travelled has completely amazed us. For some; initially very anxious about getting dirty, having to go back to school if they got the slightest of mud on themselves, with one student even covering their feet with sellotape to ensure they were “waterproof”!
As I look back over the past three years it has been so amazing to see such a number of students not only comfortable and content with getting muddy but actually really happy and enjoying playing in the mud! This was never going to happen over night and for some it has taken some time, however it is amazing to see so many of our students playing in the mud, inventing and applying their creativity, building bridges, jumping into muddy holes, making mud pies and not letting the mud stop them from enjoying themselves. It was important for us to reassure the students when they got muddy that this was ok, that they were wearing forest school clothing and that it would wash off, we have to remember, luckily our skin can be wiped clean! Ensuring our students understand that muddy skin is not permanent, will not harm them and that it will wash off was paramount. For many, once they processed this they could actually relax and enjoy the mud!
Mud has many benefits…
mud encourages creative thinking and allows children to freely create without fear of making mistakes.
Recent research has shown that dirt contains microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae which stimulates the immune system and increases the levels of serotonin in our brains, an endorphin that soothes, calms, and helps us to relax.
Scientists say regular exposure to the bacteria may help reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression. In short, playing in mud makes you happier!
Mud play is inclusive of all children. It allows children to play at their own developmental level.
Playing in the mud inspires children to feel a connection to nature and develop an appreciation for the environment.
The same release of serotonin that occurs when playing in Mycobacterium Vaccae dirt has also been shown to improve cognitive function.
The rich, engaging sensory play children partake in while playing with mud allows them to express their creativity while enhancing their fine motor skills.
Mud play is great for practicing social skills such as cooperation, negotiation, communication, and sharing as they work together.
Mud is a wonderful art medium, it is in ample supply, can be easily molded to create endless sculptures, and responds differently than clay or play dough.
Mud play can encourage creativity and imagination.
Making mud paint, squelching mud between their fingers, squeezing mud into balls, using utensils in the mud kitchen and digging muddy holes are all fantastic for developing fine and gross motor skills, whilst having fun!
Many adults pay a lot of money for mud masks and treatments! The minerals in mud are highly effective for absorbing oil and for toning the skin. Mud is often used to detoxify and is used as an anti inflammatory agent for skin disorders!
Simple Mud Play Ideas
So what can you do to provide opportunities for children to play in the mud? It can be as simple as allowing children to explore a muddy puddle after a rain!
Paint with mud – provide different types of soil to create different shades of “paint”. Or you can add food coloring or paint to watery mud for more vibrant colors.
Make mud sculptures – encourage children to sculpt and mold mud, adding pebbles, twigs, or leaves to individualize their sculptures.
Build with mud – use mud as a mortar to build with stones, sticks, or even real bricks.
Construct roadways and waterways — add toy dump trucks, cars , trucks and excavators to build roadways in the mud. You could also offer pieces of PVC pipe to build waterways and pipelines.
Create animal homes — add plastic animals or dinosaurs to the mud area and have children add leaves, sticks, and stones to create a forest, jungle, or even Jurassic Park!
Throw mud balls – facilitate large muscle play by encouraging children to throw mud balls at an identified target (a large sheet hung on a fence works well).
Have a mud kitchen area in your garden with some old pots, pans and utensils and let their imagination take over!
One of the best ways we can encourage mud play is to join in ourselves! Demonstrate that touching mud is an amazing sensory experience, try not to make comments about it being disgusting or about the mess there is to clean up as this will only put doubt and worry in their minds.
Next time it has been raining, stick your wellies on and go for a puddle jumping session, or if you are up for it, take your shoes off and go for a barefoot walk in some mud...! The more our students see adults do this the more likely it is that they will give it a go!