With a desire to continually enhance its children’s learning experience through play, Altrincham-based Back to the Garden Childcare has been inspired by art in recent months and introduced regular child-led artistic exploration.
Taking inspiration from British sculptor and land artist Richard Long, who uses raw materials for his work, and The Whitworth’s PLAYTIME at Home summer holiday project, which explored the art of play through mud-themed activities, the team at Back to the Garden compiled a collection of ideas for the children to try.
The ideas were a huge hit with the children, who loved discovering the ingredients of mud, feeling its different consistencies when dry and mixed with water, as well as listening to the sounds made as it hit the ground.
From painting with mud, splattering it on to glass windows and making tracks with it in the garden to creating clay to use as a face mask and making potions, the team was keen to highlight how the use of a free, simple and unlimited natural resource can be both fun and educational.
Anne Statham, Curriculum & Training Development Consultant at Back to the Garden Childcare, says: “During the summer months we encouraged our pre-school children to use mud as a tool for playing, as part of The Whitworth’s PLAYTIME at Home project. It worked really well and the children loved getting muddy and messy with such a familiar material. Following on from this, we did some more research and were inspired by Richard Long and his dedicated use of raw materials, so we decided to develop the mud activities further.
“One of the biggest benefits is the learning through ‘schemas’ – schematic play enables us to observe the patterns in children’s play and their behaviour, watching them as they transport, transform and mix. The mud activities also enlighten the children’s senses, such as touch and sound, and it is a subtle way to introduce science to them, including gravity with mud travelling through the air and viscosity.
“We know that free play is the best form of learning and of course even more so if it’s fun. Comments including ‘it’s raining mud’ and ‘keep stirring’ as well as ‘I can make skin and pull it off’ were observed by the team, highlighting the variety of games enjoyed.”
Testament to the nursery and its commitment to artist exploration, Lucy Turner, the Early Years Coordinator at The Whitworth, recently featured on the Back to the Garden Childcare podcast, reaffirmed that mud is a great and there is nothing better than getting back to nature and using the free natural resources that are widely available.
Lucy concludes: “This year our PLAYTIME programme looked a little different but not even a pandemic could stop us playing. We wanted to offer an activity that everyone would be able to engage in at home, so we chose mud because its free and everyone has access to it. But not just that, it is a really great sensory material too.
“Playing in mud and getting dirty is an important and unforgettable part of childhood. At the moment, understandably, we are in a world where we are turning against the idea of touch, meaning children aren’t getting the sensory, tactile experiences that they need. The PLAYTIME programme aimed to get children connecting to nature and engaging with their senses and I as so pleased to see Back to the Garden embracing the mud theme. The children were given free reign to explore the mud however they liked and it was really great to see a setting supporting children in that way.”
Situated on Sinderland Road in Broadheath, Back to the Garden has space for 120 children, aged from three months up to five years old. The nursery is an innovative child-led, active learning environment with an emphasis on outdoor play in a stunning garden setting. Its philosophy of allowing children to be children to explore their environment, experiment with the outdoor playscape and harness their own imaginations allows for a natural approach where each child develops at their own pace.