mud play

“passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.”

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: 
Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder

"no bad weather, only bad gear ..."

is an adage we embrace at Peconic Community School. And, teaching concepts such as bringing rain boots to school and dressing in layers and zipping zippers and fitting fingers into gloves becomes just as important as learning to count or read. Our youngest children learn early to assess the weather and select gear appropriately.  We don’t have “awful” weather here: we have rainy weather, windy weather, snowy weather, and we have boots, coats, hats, gloves, and kids who love to head out the door every day.

why we go outside

We go outside every day at PCS.  We go outside to breathe.  We go outside to play.  We go outside to learn.  

Outdoor play is as popular with education theorists as it is with kids.  During unstructured, outdoor play children form ideas, problem solve, and think critically.  The outdoors offers children the freedom to make messes and noise, to engage in large motor play, and to move about in open space.  While creating outdoor classrooms is quite en vogue, here at PCS we embrace the idea that the outdoor environment should provide new experiences rather than reproduce the opportunities available inside.  

Our emerging garden and messy playground are just the perfectly imperfect spaces children need to create and recreate, to experiment and to build.

why mud?

Of course, mud is a rich and rewarding sensory experience for children, an open-ended and inviting art medium, and a versatile material for building.  And, yes, mud is an ideal material for our multi-age environment– it is inclusive, meeting the diverse needs and interests of many children.  And, yes, mud is free and natural, in ample supply, endlessly malleable, and encourages experimentation without inhibition.

But, really, at PCS, the reason that we play in the mud is … because it rained!  We take place-based learning pretty seriously, and when it rains in your place – you make mud!


splashing: the sacred sensory


Children love to jump, stomp, and patter through puddles.  And for good reason – it is so much FUN!  Puddles offer perfectly temporary, site-specific, sacred sensory opportunities, and kids delight in these seized experiences.  

In fact, a child’s neurological system is designed to seek out these kinds of natural opportunities for sensory input and motor skill practice.  Movement and outdoor physical play facilitate the development of new connections among brain cells, as well as overall cerebral cortex organization. And children are instinctively drawn to these experiences.  As they navigate puddle edges, judge depths, make waves, and float sticks, children are practicing how to collect, process, interpret, and respond to information from their environment– 21st century skills for sure.

More about splashing: Ranko Rajovic,




river making: transformation schema

Children like to manipulate and change things.  You see it when they shape clay, mix paint colors together, knock down block towers they just finished building, and make potions.  This repeated experimentation is an important learning mechanism and results from a natural and necessary developmental urge to transform materials, referred to as a “transforming schema.”  Children enact several common and recognizable schema by which they discover the underlying structures and systems in the world around them (if this happens this way, then that happens) and discover their agency within the world (if I do this this way, then that happens).

Children who are given the time and space to explore outdoors in the rain find ample opportunity to work out transforming schema.  Dirt becomes mud; puddles become rivers; slides become waterfalls; chalk becomes paint … and children are afforded the chance to sort through their ideas of appearance, substance, consistency, and shape.  Over the course of a rainy week this winter, Peconic Community School students created a series of rivers and canals, transforming the playground landscape. 

More about schemas:


bridge building: seizing the day


The bridge building work that happens at our playground on rainy days is an educator’s dream – a creative, collaborative, constructive, child-initiated project happening outdoors in multi-age groups with open-ended loose materials and authentic tools!  It’s a homerun, really.  Children exercise gross and fine motor skills, identify and solve problems, construct and test hypotheses, analyze results, compromise and negotiate, practice playing leading and laboring roles, and experiment with tools and materials.  But what is so special about this play is how child driven and temporal it is.  This bridge building work is born of the children’s assessment of their current conditions: in this case mud and lakes in the playground.  And their decision to seize the opportunity offered by their environment at the present moment and build series of canals and bridges is a powerful lesson in intentional, place-based play and learning.

More about the power of outdoor play:



nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.  given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.  In nature a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods



pcs in the mud:

megan eilersComment