Physical Development

Messy play: take your toddler to mud club

A guest post by Daisy’s Dad.

Has your toddler made their first mud pie yet?

With depressing statistics suggesting that children’s daily lives have become increasingly domestic and digital, the popularity of activities like mud clubs and woodland nurseries seems set to rise, as parents attempt to introduce some balance into their children’s play options.

As Granny Smith has covered in several posts, Daisy’s mum and I have always encouraged messy play and outdoor exploration, and last weekend we combined the two in our first family outing to a mud club.

A toddler in a blue hat and t-shirt with a trowel in each hand stretches to reach some wet mud in a trough in messy play session at a mud club.

This mud club offered different stations and zones for toddlers to experience messy play, much of it via natural materials (water, plants, mud, leaves) with liberal use of childsafe additions such as suds and washable paint.

Our excursion was another reminder that Daisy rarely plays, or learns, in the ways that we expect. I tried to draw her attention to how water, when poured down a funnel in one location, will make its way via zig-zagging drain pipes, and emerge in another location (in this case, right above a boggy pit). But Daisy wanted to learn about hydrodynamics in her own way…

We’d discovered a bucket of pine cones to play with, and Daisy wanted to see what would happen to her pine cone if she pushed it into the same drain pipe that the water came through. Would it move at all? If so, how far would it go? And then what would happen if repeated the process with a smaller pine cone?

A toddler uses a metal wooden spoon to stir a shallow metal pan filled with muddy water, pine cones and grass clippings during a messy play session at a mud club

Whenever a pine cone made it to the end a section of drainpipe, she retrieved it and threw it into the mud pit in triumph.

Noisy, messy, wobbly

The mud club provided easily enough activity to engage Daisy for over an hour. Beyond the expected mud pie bakeries there was a large mound of decomposing leaves (and wheelbarrows to shuttle them around in), a washing line strung with old saucepans to bang on, paints to mix and apply to wooden posts, flower beds to water, and wobbly wooden planks to practice balancing on.

With all this stimulation, it’s a good thing that the organiser provided a couple of quiet areas for children (and parents) to chill out in, and read a story or two. Daisy stayed calm throughout her visit, apart from objecting to some boisterous splashing at one oversubscribed station. In fact, her only moment of real anxiety came at the end of our visit.

One station featured the familiar builder’s mixing tray filled with a lather of suds and a very large and battered ornamental silver ball, to provide additional sensory play opportunities. This ball, Daisy decided, was the Moon, and so she wasn’t happy to discover, on our way out, that it had been knocked onto the muddy floor, and was now being passed around like a football. In fact, she wasn’t satisfied until the Moon was recovered from the floor and the natural order of the universe was restored.

A battered ornamental silver ball sits in a builder’s mixing tray filled with a lather of suds to provide sensory play opportunities during a messy play session at a mud club.

Maybe that sums up the joy of mud club: no matter what happens, everything comes out in the wash.

Granny Smith Says

Play with mud, at home or at a Mud Club, gives young children many opportunities for sensory exploration and physical development using tools and equipment that aren’t usually found in their toy box.

If you’re concerned about the quality of the soil in your garden you could use a sterilised bag of top soil for mud play.

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