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Family play activity – mud and sand

28 June 2022

This quick guide gives you all the information you need to build a day of messy, and glorious, play using mud and sand.

What is it?

Yes, as you’ve long suspected, it’s not just a by-product of playing outside: your kids really do love getting muddy just for the sake of it. Time to harness that grimy goodness and turn it into productive play.

This sounds like a lot of hard work… Convince me it’s worth it!

  • This activity can be very cheap if done right
  • Worried about the mess? If you dig those dirty clothes out of the washing bin from earlier in the week you can cut down on washing
  • It can help if you surrender control and learn to love dirt like your kids do. If it helps remember that playing in mud is actually good for their immune system


  • You can do mud and sand in two ways – as a kind of mock kitchen/laboratory or a digging pit
  • In order to get either the tools for digging or the utensils for “cooking” it can help to ask friends, neighbours and neighbourhood social media groups for ones they’re no longer using. You’ll be surprised at the quality of the stuff some people give away, and nobody has to know if they end up replacing items in your actual kitchen or toolbox! You can also find useful items in charity shops if you have a small budget and want to give back to your local community
  • If you have a sandpit, then great! If not try and identify an area of your garden where you’re not growing anything, or where a paving slap can be pulled up, exposing the mud underneath. If this isn’t possible then you can always engage in play with mud in a large tray or tub like a washing up bowl
  • If you don’t have a garden, see if you can find an old tray that could be used for some sand or mud and a corner of your home that you don’t mind getting a bit messy… or even just do it in the bath or sink, where it can be cleaned up quickly!
  • There’s no getting around it… This activity is messy, so make sure your children are wearing clothes you don’t mind getting muddy
  • On a hot day they can even strip off for this activity – try cleaning them off with a hose at the end for added fun
  • Mud is actually pretty easy to get out of clothing… but there’s a trick. Wait until it dries and then scrape off any excess with a blunt knife. Then simply wash as you normally would

What are my children secretly learning? (don’t tell them!)

  • Filling different sized containers teaches children about maths, in the form of volume and capacity, and through discussion you can also talk about simple fractions such as quarters and halves and estimate the amount of water to add, for example
  • A play tea party develops communication and language, as well as helping children develop self-expression
  • Carrying heavy, wet sand or mud develops gross motor skills while using utensils to cut or sieve can develop finer motor skills

Fisher-Price™ Play Lab says:

“Playing with mud and sand is a favourite for kids because, number 1, it just feels really good! It’s also a great sensory experience, however, and It feels good for kids to just get their hands in there and, If you give them a couple of different sized containers, it actually becomes a maths activity as children have the opportunity to explore things like density, volume and capacity”.

Watch the video below to find out more.

Top Tips:

Here Pre-School Assistant Gemma Neacy from our Woodfield Park pre-school in Peterborough gives us a few do’s and dont’s regarding how to make the most of a mud and sand:

  • The key to this activity is in the tools. Blunt knives cut and potato mashers squash. You can flatten things into baking trays… you get the idea: it’s all about variety to keep your children’s interest
  • A clever trick is to give children smaller teaspoons as, although it doesn’t always seem the best tool for the job, it can develop fine motor skills, particularly if they’re using smaller containers such as egg cups and thimbles
  • Part of the appeal for children is the imaginative role-play, whether that’s pretending to work on a building site or in a kitchen. Children love to re-enact adult experiences and that helps develop an understanding of the world, as well as their own expressiveness and language (when they play with someone else)
  • Water is the natural companion to mud and sand and allows children to learn about their different properties – so, for example, dry sand and mud is great for sprinkling, but if you want it to hold together you need to get it wet
  • This can also be surprisingly scientific, as children learn about the correct amount of water to add before it stops holding together and gets messy… although that might be what they’re looking for!
  • Using water also allows children to make-believe coffee and tea, which is good for developing communication and promotes bonding between you… Just remember not to actually drink it
  • Mud and water can also be used to make mud pictures – simply get a sheet of white paper and use twigs to draw using that mucky goodness
  • Don’t be upset if children branch out and want to involve other garden items in their play… We’ve lost count of the number of “potions” children at our preschools have prepared for us
  • If this is the case, you can try writing out the ingredients with them. This can help them develop literacy skills and communication

Find out more about Creating Happy Memories through play and the benefits it can bring to your child’s development.