Many of our autistic learners at Gretton absolutely love the rich, sensory experience mud can offer. There are also many who do not like getting muddy too, but as you can see in these photos this learner particularly enjoyed it!
Scientists have confirmed something that children have always instinctively known; playing in mud is a joyful experience. 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.
Mud play is any type of dirt play that involves dirt and water. Just add water and the opportunities multiply and multiply. Mud is an excellent medium for learning. 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.
Children practice social skills such as cooperation, negotiation, communication and sharing as they work together. Emergent math and science skills are practiced as children make before and after comparisons, solve problems, test theories and measure and count ingredients for their mud pies.
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 Spring rain. If you are up for more, there are many ways you can implement a variety of mud-related play activities.
Here are some ideas in how you can create these activities yourself;
Paint with mud - provide different types of soil to create different shades of paint. Or you could add food colouring or tempera paint to watery mud for more vibrant colours.
Make mud sculptures - encourage children to sculpt and mold mud, adding pebbles, twigs, or leaves to individualise 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, excavators and back hoes to build roadways in the dirt. Provide cars and trucks to add to the play. 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, a 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).
Create a mud kitchen - all it takes to create a mud kitchen is a working surface, some pots and pans, access to raw materials and a good location. Choose an area that has an ample supply of dirt and water for your mud kitchen. Having access to different kinds of sand and dirt allows children to create different kinds of mud, providing different opportunities for play. Adding pebbles, stones, and other natural materials allows children endless possibilities to use their imagination as they play in the mud kitchen.
Have you had your Mycobacterium Vaccae today?