Embrace and explore mud season with kids this year using this mud themed inquiry based science activity. Kids engage with their environment while building foundational science skills. Pre-K, elementary, and middle school aged children would enjoy completing this activity alone or in a group. This post is about my experience with completing this activity with one child.
In New England, we have enjoyed a week filled with sunny and warm weather, a welcomed break from the bitter cold. When the warmth arrived, so did the beginning of mud season. Days filled with temps in the mid 50’s followed by nights dipping down below freezing.
Let Kids Explore Mud Season while it lasts
Our dirt driveway slowly turned from a frozen skating rink to a mucky mess. My toddler is thrilled. I joke that we can never pave our driveway because our son would miss the mess that this season brings. I know the years of him freely playing in the mud will not last forever, so I always try to make the most of it.
- 2 inch PVC pipe fittings or small sections of cut up 2 inch PVC pipe
- Shallow flowing water
- Silt, sediment, and small pieces of rock
Muddy water will naturally contain water, silt, sand, and small pieces of rock. If you don’t have a source of mud you can create the same environment by adding some sand to the water. The sediment in the water will be part of the observations that the child makes while they modify the pipes.
Since children will be observing flow, it is important to choose a spot where the water is actually flowing. We found a spot in our driveway where the melted snow was moving from the lawn, through the driveway, towards the direction of the woods.
The incline does not have to be very steep, even a small difference in terrain will cause the water to naturally move. If the ground below the water is dirt, children will be able to dig down and change the steepness which adds to the activity.
For upper elementary or middle school aged kids, this activity could be conducted in a small stream with a silty bottom, as long as children are able to do so safely.
Optional supplies include rain gear and rain boots to keep your child dry. When we first discovered this activity, it was still winter, but a warm sunny day. I dressed up my son in a waterproof rain suit with rain boots. He stayed dry while play in water and mud. I didn’t want a cold wet child to cause me to end the activity early. Soon the hot days of summer with upon us again.
Embrace and Explore Mud Season with Kids
I must start off by stating that all of the credit for the creation of this activity goes to my toddler. Everyday I’m amazed by what he is able to come up with just through exploratory play. We are currently working on a house project that involves pieces of 2 inch PVC pipe. Our little one found the new pipe fittings and claimed them as his own a few weeks back and hasn’t stopped playing with them since.
Thankfully, we are experiencing a nice break in the weather and have been able to play outside for longer periods of time. While gathering toys to take out, he loaded up our basket with as many PVC pipe pieces as he could fit. I began to convince him otherwise, but then stopped.
Why not let him bring them out? If they get dirty and we need them for a project we can wash the dirt off of them. So off we went, to enjoy the mud, sun, and fresh air with a basket full of PVC pipe. Not quiet the nature based activity I was thinking of!
Nature of Inquiry Based Learning
For almost ten years I worked as a middle school science teacher. As much as I planned and created opportunities for inquiry based learning, it was always that, planned. I would present the idea to students with a general supply list and set learning objectives. Lessons would revolve around a themed unit such as Chemistry or Earth Science. They would practice student led inquiry, but not to the degree of them completely choosing the unit topic and activity.
Now that I am a mum, I love how inquiry based exploration can truly happen organically just through play and observing the world. That is what happened with this activity. After placing the basket in the mud, I stepped back and just watched to see what he would do. My three year old is always on a mission. If intervened at the beginning, I would only get in his way.
Kids are Naturally Drawn to Water
I’m sure this isn’t true for every child, but most children are drawn to a puddle of water like a magnet. This is especially true if they are wearing nice shoes. You know, the kind that are not meant for muddy puddles.
I love how they jump and run without a care. Their every move is brimming with a childlike enthusiasm that truly only a child can possess. This is why water based activities with children are almost always a hit. Children are naturally drawn to water.
Practicing the Scientific Method
After running around excitedly for a few minutes he began to notice what was happening to the water. After he splashed the water would run in different directions and flow back to the low point. Instinctively, he went over to the basket, grabbed a piece of pipe and put it in the path of the flowing water.
The look on his face was priceless. Little ones always look like they have won the best prize when they make a new discovery. “Water goes through the pipe!” he exclaimed as he bent down to watch what was happening up close.
Learning Through Exploration
Over to the basket he went and added more pipe to his original one creating a pipeline for the water to flow through. Quickly, he realized that he would need to use the heel of his boot to create a trench for the pipe to fit in if it wasn’t in deep enough water.
As I sat back and watched my son play, I saw all of the skills I instilled in my students came to life. Observe, infer, make a change, observe what happens as a result of the change, modify as needed, observe again, and the list goes on.
Building Blocks of Science
Little does my toddler know that aside from the Scientific method, he is also learning the foundation of Science concepts such as rivers, estuaries, flow rate, sediment, and even density. Kids can use clear water for this activity. However, by having the sediment in the water, students can begin to make connections between what happens to dirt as it moves through a system like a river.
Even at a young age, my son was able to see that mud and rocks were clogging up the pipes and slowing the flow of water. The process of trial and error was teaching him that water went more quickly through the pipe that was placed on a steep slope.
Ideas for a Parent Led Activity
Some kids need more prompting when beginning a task or trying out a new activity. As a parent or teacher, you can lead them by stating some observations that you are witnessing.
Helping Through Prompting
For example, “I see that when you move your boot, the water moves in the same direction. Here take a look.” Or you can bring to their attention something that you notice happening to the sediment and rocks.
You can point out that, “the rocks are moving with the water.” Then crouch down and watch what happens to the rocks and sand when they enter and leave the pipe.
After a few prompts, take a step back and let them look at it and explore on their own. Often, they will verbally tell you more observations that they see themselves after a few minutes.
Children of all ages are able to make detailed observations and connections. The key is to given them enough time to process what they are seeing. I am always amazed by what kids are able to come up with once they are given enough time to stop, observe, and make connections.
How do you explore mud season with kids? Let us know in the comments below.
Additional spring Nature Themed Activities for Kids
Recommended Mud Season Gear for Toddlers
- Toddler Rain Suit (not an affiliate link) Amazon ~$35
- – Runs big, but I ordered a 3T and my son wore it as a 2 yr old and now as a 3 yr old. Fingers crossed that he can wear it until he is 4 years old.
- Can’t believe it but the suit does not leak! Clothes are bone dry underneath.
- Toddler Rain Boots (not an affiliate link) Tractor Supply ~$17
- No cracks or leaks compared to other brands. Heavy duty boots for the price! They do have a little weight to them. Heal is thick and substantial.