Most parents and grandparents remember with fondness their childhood opportunity to play in the mud. Building, slogging, lifting feet with a sucking sound, making mud pies—these sensual experiences of our youth call up pleasure in their remembering.
But lots of kids today are prevented from messing around in mud, and there are several reasons why. Societal preoccupation with cleanliness and lovely landscaping where there are few mud holes in many kids’ yards both present barriers for middle class kids. Low income children may lack a safe outdoor play environment and may also lack laundry facilities to allow for easy cleanup.
Whatever the reason, many kids miss out on what was a source of not only joy but also learning for kids of previous generations. Children learn math and science concepts from mud play, as they add water or dirt to change the mud’s consistency and experiment with mass and volume as they pack mud into containers. Physical activity like sliding through mud or mud crawling races provides kids with healthy motor exercise.
The soothing texture of mud provides great stress relief for kids. And playing in the mud with others provides for hilarious social interaction.
In fact, most kids have enjoyed playing in mud throughout time. In “Kids and Soil: A Perfect Match,” E. Britt Moore writes, "Kids and dirt, or more precisely kids and soil, have long been a perfect match. The connection could almost be described as instinctual. Regardless of differences in culture, language, and ethnicity, regardless of whether a child is born on a small farm or a sprawling metropolis, one thing remains constant: children absolutely love playing in soil. While the exact reasons underlying children’s fascination with soil remain open to debate, it is in many ways a moot point because the connection between healthy soil and healthy children is irrefutable."
Since 2009, International Mud Day has been observed on June 29 each year, providing a special impetus to allow kids to play in the mud. What’s needed for your celebration? Dirt, water, a dedicated space, mud-safe attire like old shorts, t-shirts or swimsuits, and friends, of course, to share the fun.
Grownups get bonus points for providing buckets, shovels, and spoons. And more delight will be had by all with an open mind, imagination, patience, and a follow-up bath when the celebration’s over.