Mud: Nature’s Soul-Salve

A week ago, I was planting in the garden when, before I knew it, 4-yr-old Chloe was stomping naked in the mud. Her 7-yr-old sister joined in (clothed) and began to make a collection of mud pies decorated with geranium and calendula petals. My mother-in-law saw her worst nightmare, but for me — and my kids — it was instant soul-salve.

There’s something about mud that beats sand. Maybe it’s the increased viscosity, the ‘sculptability’, or maybe it’s the deep color, but my kids can’t get enough measuring, shaping, pouring, and decorating. I remember as a girl enjoying not only the process of creating a mud masterpiece, but cocooning myself in a story to go along with it. Are we ‘lost children’ making pies? Should we gather berries and nuts to store for the winter?

And so our mud kitchen was born. It took us 15 minutes and we didn’t buy a thing.

The educator Maria Montessori believed that natural objects allow children to better understand abstract ideas; they see a wooden bowl and can understand that it was first a tree. And natural materials also have the additional benefit of reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals, so I prefer wood, woven material, metal, and the occasional sturdy glass object in our play.

For our kitchen, we gathered:
- Two old tables pushed together for a surface
- A basket of old spoons in different sizes
- Metal bowls and plates, an old colander, a muffin tin, a metal pitcher for pouring, an old whisk
- shovels
- an old wine rack to hold plates
- child sized chairs (not really needed, but still used)

We filled a huge bowl with water and voila! They seized their gardening shovels attacked the nearby dirt, mixing up mud and creating for hours.

In a world where we organize children from one activity to the next, just setting aside the free time to enter the kitchen — knowing we’ll need mud-off baths afterwards — feels like a peaceful accomplishment. The process of actually touching the earth feels so grounding. I see it in my 7-year-old after a long day. I often find her calmly patting mud in that cozy garden spot.

Whenever I meet another parent who, with a gleam in their eye, understands the beauty of mud on little toes, the doorknob, the kitchen floor, and the bathmat, I smile. And when my daughter recently quoted my favorite line: “You’re not really dirty unless the water runs brown” I laughed in glee. But what do you think? Am I just a mud romantic, or are experiences like this important?

38 comments

Carole R.
Carole R.1 years ago

Thanks.

Fi T.
Fi T.1 years ago

Conserve our natural wealth

Robin U.
J Robin U.4 years ago

To the person that says that mud has bacteria: true, but so does everything. This is not a reason to keep from playing with it. Besides, being exposed to different bacteria boosts the immune system. Being kept in a hermetically sealed germophobe bubble is worse. That said, if you haven't played in the dirt as a kid, you haven't lived. That's why soap and baths exist.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

Mud is full of bacteria. If you want your child to catch a dangerous disease, go on.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

Horrible!

KS Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Hilary S.
Hilary S.5 years ago

Mud is very nice to feel
All squishy-squash between the toes!
I'd rather wade in wiggly mud
Than smell a yellow rose.
Nobody else but the rosebush knows
How nice mud feels
Between the toes.

Polly Chase Boyden

Anda Z.
I. Anda Zevedei5 years ago

loved this article...when I'll have a baby he/she for sure will do all these as I did them as a kid :P and had one of my best times and relaxing one too... I miss those days but am kinda recreating them each time I do my gardening :P and God, I can forget abt myself for the whole day ;))

Mary B.
Mary B.5 years ago

Ah mud! The healing elixor of Earth.We come from earth, and if we're not enbalmed, to earth we will return.I would suggest how ever, not washing mud down bath or shower drains, especially if you have a septic tank and drain field. Make an outdoor shower space and spray off with a hose. There is usually a few gallons of warm water in it. You could also use a tiny kiddy pool of sun heated water for initial clean up, then finish with a hose.Definately keep mud and sand out of eyes.Lots of microbes in mud that are good for cleaning up your skin. I'm going to make a Big Girl out door Mud Spa.I live in the country so I can do this...

Chris Ray
Chris R.5 years ago

Thanks Hilary!~