Guest Post by Julie Hoel, KVR Instructor and Enthusiastic Mud Loving Grandparent
I was just out of college and visiting a friend who had three children. We were chatting when her five-year-old son came bursting in the door full of boyish exuberance and covered with splotches of mud from head to foot. She took one look at him, put on her sternest mom face, whipped out her you’re-in-big-trouble-now voice and said, “JAY MEYER, HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING IN THAT CREEK?” The smile fell from his face, he rolled his big brown eyes upward and said, “No.” The two older sisters and I tried our best contain our laughter as his mom began peeling off the muddy clothes and throwing them directly into the washer. To her credit, she did not shame him for being a muddy mess but continued with her harangue, “You know you’re not supposed to be playing in that creek!” Clearly, her concern was the danger of water play rather than dirty clothes.
In these parts, we cannot escape the mud of the March thaw and April showers that follow. We can save ourselves irritation and frustration by just embracing and celebrating the wonders of mud. In that spirit, I would like to share my favorite holiday photo of all time. It was refreshingly different from the typical family photo of the kids clean and pressed. These parents were secure enough to celebrate their kids in all their mischievous muddiness in the deep green of a summer day. When I recently asked their dad if I could share this image, he said, you’re “welcome to use that pic if it’s to promote kids being kids!” He added, “I think based on where we lived our kids naturally got real dirty experiencing being a kid in nature. We had 50 acres and a half mile of river frontage…what a place to be a kid!” He pointed out the nice clean laundry hanging on the line behind them. I also noticed that they are both wearing glasses that somehow remained relatively clear. Definitely experienced mudballs with some self-control!
In these two vignettes, the children sought and located the mud on their own. A quick google search will bring up many benefits of mud play including development of fine and gross motor skills, increasing cognitive skills and enhancing creativity. It also is good for the immune system and decreases stress levels. We would therefore be wise and wonderful caretakers to seek out opportunities for our children’s mud exploration. My favorite resource, Pinterest, has limitless schemes to bring mud play to every location. There are recipes for mud paint, fizzing mud and mud soup. The design suggestions for mud kitchens are endless.
But the fun of mud play is not just for children. Back in ’93, I experienced mud as art with adults during a volunteer week at Dr. Patch Adams’ Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia. His model of good health includes humor and art as healing. Once a week, volunteers were encouraged to experience community in the mud pit. After the mud bath, there were photo sessions of numerous statuesque poses. It was a truly memorable experience!
So when you encounter the inevitable mud of the season, I encourage you remember your own fondest muddy memory and smile. And if a mud-covered child comes bursting in your doorway, greet them with that smile and make throwing those dirty clothes into the washer a celebration.
P.S. All the above references to mud exclude flood mud. That nasty stuff is a nightmare.
For some more muddy inspiration, check out these books and links:
Mud by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Lauren Stringer
This beautiful book celebrates the beginning of the mud season in simple text and gorgeous illustrations.
Mudplay for Kids: Why It's Worth the Mess - Healthline This article provides details about why messy play is so beneficial for children.
Mud, Marvelous Mud - Community Playthings With the benefits clearly outlined, this article provides ideas and considerations for embracing mud play with your child.