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Glorious Mud

19th February 2012

How muddy is too muddy? Forest school programmes run all year round and given our British climate we are lucky to be able to experience a wide range of weathers from hot and sunny to damp and rainy, often all in the same day. We’re outside a good chunk of the day so whatever the weather is doing, we feel it first hand and encounter its effects whether its slippy surfaces, a breezy fire or steam rising from your wellies. Last week I ran a session in the snow with some pre-school teachers and we enjoyed exploring the play possibilities it offered, such as making footprints and slides. I love the fact that the drama of the changing seasons mean that sites never look the same from one visit to the next. On our weekly sessions we can observe the tiny changes such as the trees gradually coming into leaf, puddles drying out to dust. Our St Ives and Middleton Woods forest school programmes run in the school holidays so there is 6 or 7 weeks between each one and the children comment on the profound changes to their bit of woodland; the reduced light levels due to leaves on the trees, the leafy woodland floor becoming a carpet of bluebells.

In our half term sessions this week the snow had gone leaving a very soft layer of leaves and mud. The children found a muddy gulch that was irresistable for games. After being called over to rescue afew too many stuck children we consulted some of them on groundrules and agreed together if they were going to play in the mud then they had to help each other out, get themselves unstuck and if they lose their footwear in the mud, don’t come running to us for a new pair! This worked for a while and I observed some fantastic child-led play as they worked together to create a bridge across with handposts and stepping logs. But as the game extended and they became increasingly brave, a child got stuck in a very deep part. Her rescuers also got stuck, fell over in the mud and before long we were looking at a scene from a swamp monster film. We stepped in to pull out the children, dig out the abandoned boots and wash off what we could in the stream. It was with some apologies that we handed back several muddy children to their waiting parents at the end of the day. Luckily by then they and we could see the funny side. So how muddy is too muddy? Well the answer is subjective but has got to include spare clothes, wet wipes, alcohol gel and insisting they clean their own boots – especially when mud is also on the inside!