Making magic on International Mud Day

Published on Tuesday, 23 June 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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International Mud Day 2020 is next Monday 29 June and is a great way to celebrate the wonderful sensory experience of… you guessed it MUD. Luckily for us in New Zealand, International Mud Day happens slap bang in the middle of winter so there is usually plenty of water around which makes it easy to mix up a batch of the good stuff.

International Mud Day traces its origins to the 2009 World Forum for Early Childhood Care and Education in Belfast when two members of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children, Gillian McAuliffe from Western Australia and Bishnu Bhatta from Nepal discussed the challenges children faced when playing in mud in each other's context.

Gillian reflected on the lack of mud as Perth is situated on a sandy plain and also the reluctance of Australian culture to 'get dirty.' Bishnu on the other hand had lots of mud but many children did not have enough clothes to be able to get them dirty or soap to wash them.

On her return to Australia, Gillian who is Founder of Bold Park Community School, told this story to a group of seven and eight year old children, who decided they would send money to the children in Nepal so they could buy clothes to play in the mud. They raised $1000 in three weeks and sent it to Bishnu to buy spare clothes.

Since then children from all over the world connect on International Mud Day, by playing in the mud together, albeit in different corners of the world.

What you need to make some muddy magic on Monday

  • There’s no such thing as mud day without lots of dirt, and you’ll need lots.  Topsoil can be found in hardware stores, garden shops and in people’s gardens. Dig some up, the more the better!
  • To turn that dirt into mud, you’ll need water. A hose is the easiest way to supply water for a muddy mess, but you can also use pouring vessels, watering cans, spoons, whatever works best for the children,
  • You’ll need a dedicated space for playing and getting muddy.
  • Mud-approved attire is necessary, and you’ll need to give the parents in your service advance warning of your plans, playing in water and mud can also make young children cold, so try and ensure they are layered up.
  • An open mind, imagination, and patience – things will get messy, very, very messy, but very, very fun!
  • Buckets, shovels, pans, spoons, and other materials that inspire dramatic role play and creativity.

Teaching moments

There are many learning opportunities available to children through playing with mud. You can:

  • Invite children to explain their mud soup recipes to you as they mix them up
  • Ask questions that help children describe consistency, texture, and the results they are seeking:
    • What does it feel like?
    • How are you making it? What’s your recipe?
    • What tools are you using to make it, measure it, and mix it?
    • How much will you make?
    • How will you use it when you’re done?
    • Incorporate descriptive words and vocabulary into your conversations, such as slurry, concoction, viscosity, thick, thin, soupy, gloppy, runny, squishy, etc.
  • Try some simple STEM experiments comparing the consistency and weight of mud with water or sand. Watch it change form as it dries and observe what happens when additional water is added.

Advice from the frontline:

To ensure a successful Mud Day for everyone, children, educators and parents, it’s important to set some clear ground rules and expectations. Mud play means messy, wet children, which may lead to stressed out parents.

 Be sure to communicate your plans for participating in mud day well in advance, seek buy in by asking parents to supply a bag of topsoil and be sure to have them pack extra clothes and gumboots.

Be prepared for everything to get very messy. Keep the hose handy for rinsing off and have a stack of warm, clean towels close at hand for children to use when they are finished. 

If possible create a dedicated zone for the mud play so it is controllable and so children can move away to other activities if they are so inclined. A simple clam shaped paddling pool works well, as do 20 litre plastic containers. Another option is to serve all the children a bowl full of mud and top it up as they experiment. 

Establish the ground rules: share, be kind, take turns and add: "mud is not for throwing" and "do not eat mud." The rules should be kept to a minimum and need to be explained before play starts.

While International Mud Day is an excellent excuse to get down and dirty in some lovely thick mud, Mary Rivkin an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Maryland says muddy play and mud kitchens should be a permanent fixture in early childhood services.

She says the rich and diverse experiences of cooking in a mud kitchen offer a world of sensory and learning experiences for children. According to Mary, some of the learning opportunities that muddy play provide for children include:

  • Creative expression and invention - mud can become anything!
  • Problem solving opportunities - for example how to make soup thin or thick, how to make mud meatballs stick together.
  • Cooperative play possibilities - let's cook dinner, let's make a restaurant, let's feed the baby - you be the baby!
  • Stress reduction - being outdoors in nature helps children relax.
  • Building stronger immune systems - research indicates that some exposure to dirt helps build resistance to bad bacteria.
  • Growing affection for the stuff on our earth - soil, stones, sand, and growing plants - leading to care and appreciation for our planet.

Understandably the chaos and mess of a mud kitchen may make it less appealing to some services, or the sort of activity which is offered occasionally rather than as part of the permanent curriculum. So, why not get down and dirty on Monday and see what happens, it might just become an annual tradition!


For more information and plenty of inspiration watch this video or visit Gillian McAuliffe’s Practical Wisdom website. You can also follow the International Mud Day Facebook page for activity suggestions.


KodoKids International Mud Day

Little bins for little hands mud play activities

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