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By Teresa Linford

Whilst doing some research about children and mud, I came across this quote from Buddhist teachings, “If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth.1

I love this. It immediately brought to mind the local school group who have been helping to develop our educational garden at Mayfields in Norfolk. They have enjoyed drawing designs, building a keyhole garden, learning about herbs, planning which vegetables to plant but I think above all they have loved getting physically in touch with the soil. When preparing and digging over the raised beds, many of the children seemed to gain an immense sense of satisfaction and absorption by simply working the earth, turning it over and feeling it between their fingers; gardening gloves often abandoned on the grass. (Health and Safety not overlooked, I hasten to add!)

I think children can gain a sense of the importance and extraordinary qualities of the soil, and, as such, a connection with the landscape around them. Soil has been described as ‘an almost magical substance‘ and it is perhaps this that children are able pick up from a very early age. To sow some tiny brown carrot seeds, water them, watch the delicate green shoots appear and finally pull from the ground that miraculous firm and crunchy orange vegetable, still coated with a fine dusting of soil…certainly a kind of magic.

I remember the excitement of helping my dad dig up the potatoes from the garden as a child. Waiting impatiently for his fork to still, before diving in and unearthing the potato harvest as fast as I could from deep under the ground, like buried treasure; amazed at how there could be so many.

It is this sense of wonderment that we need to inspire in our young people in order for them to gain that ownership and responsibility for the Earth beneath their feet.

Of course, in addition to encouraging a connection to nature, mud is also a fantastic educational tool to aid development in many areas of the primary curriculum and beyond, as many educators know.

In Early Years Foundation Stage, sensory engagement with mud can make for very creative, exploratory and physical learning experiences: mud kitchens, making muddy footprints and handprints, weighing and mixing, mud building sites, hunting for worms. At Mayfields, our heavy clay soil can bring true meaning to the term ‘mud’! In Winter or after a very wet spell, we could use the sticky stuff straight from the ground for models or sculpting and it is a perfect squelchiness for mud recipes and footprints!  In dry weather, it bakes hard in the sun, ideal for demonstration as a building material. By immersing children in such activities, educators can provide rich opportunities for development in the three prime areas of the EYFS framework: communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development, as well as tapping into the four more specific areas of learning.

With increasingly older children, more understanding of soil can be added into the mix, including opportunities for the curriculum requirement for ‘working scientifically’.

Be scientists: discover the magic ingredients of soil, compare the different characteristics of soil types, investigate the chemistry of soil*.
Be composters: find the organisms that live within in it, create a mini -wormery**

Soil education needn’t stop with Science back in the classroom, however. Soil can make a brilliant cross curricular topic for a Key Stage 2 class.

Be salesmen: Write an advert for soil as the best ‘des-res’ on the property market for many forms of life***.
Be dramatic: Hold a debate and role play different opinions within a community on an issue affecting the soil: e.g. new housing development on an area of meadow+.
Be geographers: create a model to show how soil acts within the water cycle to prevent flooding.
Be environmental researchers: find out about the vital role soil plays in protecting our air,water & climate, the factors that affect its health and ways we can help restore it.
Be growers. Don’t forget this! Plant the same seeds in different soils or different seeds in the same soil, watch and compare their growth††.

For all age groups, I think this is where the magic of the soil begins.

I am looking forward to tasting and ‘truly getting in touch with’ the first carrots and spring onions of the year with our young gardeners in a few weeks time. Teachers and educators, we hope you will join us in introducing children to the magic of mud in the coming months.

*The most obvious curriculum link for primary schools is in the Year 3 Science ‘Rocks’ programme of study.
**Year 2 ‘Living things and their habitats’
***Persuasive writing
+Use of debating language/balanced argument

KS2/3 physical and human geography
††This officially comes into Year 3 Science (Plants)

To promote #MuddyUpBritain and to celebrate International Mud Day today (29th June), the CRT have published a series of blog articles to inform and inspire you. If you’re stuck for something to do there will also be various school and family events led by our education team, so please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news.