Ice cold puddles.
Fill a bucket.
Watch it pour.
Signs of spring,
But winter stays.
Sun kissed cheeks
And frozen fingers.
Icy brown slop.
It is easy to get in a rut about getting outside with kids this time of year. We can make lots of excuses. There is nothing to do out there. Everything is so dirty and messy. I have great news! Mud and slush make two of the best ingredients for cooking in the spring. Mud pies. Potions. Soup. Cooking with nature seems to be a universal experience for childhood. Children love to create. What was your favorite springtime activity with water? My favorite is making channels in my driveway to help the water drain away faster. I loved this as a child and I still love it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The hardest part is just being okay with the mess. Take a deep breath and just let it happen. The children will take it from there. Don’t overthink it. The adult doesn’t need to DO or HAVE much of anything. No need to order a fancy wooden outdoor mud kitchen on Etsy. They will probably be happy with an old pot and a stick. Or a bowl and trowel. Or just smooshing with their rain boots!
The mud will wash out and the learning will last forever. Yes, learning. They are learning so many things when they experiment with mud, water and slush. You don’t need to get out a book and read about the rain cycle or how snow changes from a solid to a liquid. They are learning science without even knowing it. They are conducting experiments of their own, even if they don’t have the words to describe them. They are measuring, pouring, engineering, problem solving and practicing cause and effect. They are waking up their senses just from being outside, which will help regulate their nervous system and help them focus on other tasks later.
They are using big muscles and small muscles to balance, stir, stomp, and scoop. They are practicing eye hand coordination. They are gaining confidence and creativity. Hard to believe these are skills they need to be successful at reading and writing and sitting still at school.
Of course someone will try to tell you that they are going to catch a cold. Not with the right gear and a little guidance. Most children will recognize when their hands or wet mittens are starting to feel too cold. They’ll learn to recognize and listen to signals from their bodies. Doing an occasional check of hands and toes is important for children who aren’t capable of recognizing or letting you know they are too cold. Lots of studies show that playing in nature and with dirt builds up microbes. Their immune systems are actually getting stronger when you let them get messy in the mud!
Afterwards, let them play in the warm tub or shower for another thirty minutes. Get all clean and cozy and then maybe curl up with a good book! They will be happy, regulated and will probably get a better night’s sleep.
Jessica Lewis is the owner and lead teacher of a small private preschool in Wilton. She has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. She and her husband have two boys of their own and she is inspired by children and enjoy learning and growing along with them.