Reflections on First Mud Day Moments

two children smiling while playing in mud

Know anyone who’s squeamish about mud, but still intrigued? Cori Berg, Director of Hope Day School in Dallas, Texas, shares their program’s first ever International Mud Day experience. Along the way, Cori shows how honest reflection, a tangled mix of excitement and trepidation and her deep respect for each child’s experience mix together just like dirt and water to introduce children to a marvelously messy adventure in joy and learning!

Although our center has been serving children for nearly 60 years, we are fairly new to nature education, gradually implementing more nature pedagogy into our practice. A move two years ago to a new campus offered us an opportunity to build a natural playground with lots of dirt, garden beds, mud kitchens, a dry creek bed with a large pecan tree in the center. We began with asking parents to supply rainboots for their children. Families began to understand that some dirt on their child’s clothes at the end of the day meant their child had a day of exploration, freedom, and adventure.

This was the year we took the plunge – our first mud day. I was more than a little anxious about it. We filled up pools of mud including some with dirt that the children could make their own mud. We let parents know their clothes would get full of mud but we would take the responsibility for getting everyone cleaned up. We took the time to prepare everyone, including staff, for a very new experience.

The first group to come out was our youngest two year old class. I was not prepared for their reaction.  They all stood outside the pools of mud with only a few willing to stick even a finger in. It was then I felt a deep sense of grief. I understand that not all children are comfortable with new sensory experiences, but a whole group of children not wanting to touch mud? I also knew, this was exactly what we were supposed to be doing. And we would need to keep doing it – not just on mud day. Our children should not be fearful of the natural world around them.

So I stuck my own feet in and walked around. Nope – no takers. I held mud in my hands. Nope – still no takers. I took a moment and felt myself as a child, enjoying time outside, jumping in puddles. So I jumped in the goop. The sound, the sight… two children’s interest was perked. They got in the pool but still weren’t sure what to do. I then sat in the mud. One decided she wanted to sit in the mud, too. But she was clearly afraid of getting her clothes dirty. I had to convince her it was okay to get dirty.

Each group on the playground followed a similar trajectory – except our class of 3 and 4 year olds. This teacher had spent a lot of time talking about mud day in advance. The families had talked about it with their kids. They came in to the playground with a rush of hurrahs and excitement. A very important theme evolved with this group – consent. They were more ready to dive into the mud, make mud balls, cover each other’s feet and arms with it, and be silly. But now they had to practice asking “Can I throw a mud ball at you?” They had to practice the feelings of hearing “no” and not taking it personally. And they experienced the joy of the occasional “yes.”

We are so thankful for this experience and the educators who made this idea possible. For many of our families, seeing the pictures of their children – messy and smiling and free – resonated deeply with their own experiences in nature as a child. In fact, a newly enrolled parent of an infant who hasn’t started yet said “ Hopefully you’ll continue International Mud Day so our baby can join in!”

Hope Day School and other programs from India, the United Kingdom and the United States appear in the September/October 2021 issue of Wonder, the newsletter of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children which appears in each issue of Exchange magazine.