Play Matters Blog

The Power of Mud

Liz Leahey

This post originally appeared in June, 2017.

When we design programs at The Discovery Museums, we are always looking for ways to encourage people to step outside their comfort zones.

We see this happening all the time. But one of the most fun ways, and definitely one of the messiest, is Dirtopia.

Once a year we dump 12 tons of dirt outside the museum and encourage kids to climb, play, and dig. While many kids jump right in and get messy, others need a little more coaxing. To entice these reluctant mess-makers into the dirt, we set up activities that don’t necessarily require a full on mud bath. We set up a mud painting area, a “mudstruction” zone, and a bubbling mud pit, powered by an aquarium pump.

Often kids come up with their own way to approach the mud pile. One girl created a “mud foot bath.” She was an older girl, but she wasn’t afraid to get silly with the mud.

Dirtopia also inspires adults to branch out. Sometimes we see parents come upon Dirtopia and say, “no way.” But before long, they’re letting their kids venture in just a little, and then a little more. For both children and adults, stepping outside into the dirt, whether a little or a lot, builds their confidence and willingness to try new things.

Dirtopia is a great place to see adults shed their preconceived ideas about what a museum experience should be. It reminds them that the outdoors can be a playful place to learn and explore. Not all “learning” has to take place in a classroom. Simple materials—in this case, mud and water—can inspire hours of activity.

And if dirt really just isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. Playing and exploring outdoors—be it in here in Discovery Woods, the adjoining Great Hill conservation land, your own backyard, or the park down the street—offers endless possibilities for play, exploration, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Our next Dirtopia program will run Tuesday, August 29 through Saturday, September 2. 

Liz Leahey

As the Director of STEAM Education, I get to organize, design and facilitate unique and hands-on science, engineering and art-based activities for our visitors. And, I get to do this alongside some other wonderfully creative folks in our Education Department. As I walk around our campus, I love overhearing the peals of laughter, squeals of excitement, and “oohs” and “ahhs” of a new discovery. These moments often make me pause to marvel in the innate creativity, curiosity and ingenuity of children—and just how important our work here is, providing spaces and experiences for children and their adults to learn and grow together. 


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