Making mud pies, digging in the dirt and searching for roly-polies: opportunities for messy playtime in the dirt are endless. Playing in the dirt and mud isn’t just fun outdoor exploration for toddlers. Digging in the dirt gives developing immune systems a boost and nurtures creativity, all while making muddy, messy memories. From making mud bricks to edible “dirt,” you can give your little ones loads of joy with these muddy play ideas for toddlers. And yes, you should plan on your child needing a bath afterwards.

Mud Kitchen
Making mud pies is a classic kid favorite for a reason: It’s good, dirty fun. Mud kitchens bring indoor play kitchens outside for messier creative play. Kids can start mixing up feasts in a mud kitchen when they’re toddlers and continue to host mud-pie tea parties and make dandelion soup for stuffed animal friends for years to come. Like a play kitchen, a mud kitchen can be fancy, or it can be very basic with nothing more than a few bowls and cups. You can order Mud Mama's step-by-step building plan, pictured above after being fully built, for $10 from Etsy or order one that's pre-built. You can also check thrift stores for plastic kitchen sets that can handle being outside in the elements. If you’d like a more temporary mud kitchen set-up, rinse out plastic yogurt containers or butter tubs, throw in a few sturdy spoons, and add a little water and a lot of dirt and voila! Your chef’s mud pie bakery is ready for business!

Mud Bricks
Making mud bricks is easy! Just pack dirt inside egg crates or ice cube trays and leave them in the sun. Experiment with the ratio of water to dirt: a damp but not dripping mix compacts well and creates nice solid bricks for building towers or fairy houses. In a few hours, you’ll have mud bricks that your little one can use to stack and build.

Edible “Dirt”
If your toddler puts everything in his/her mouth, there’s a safe way for muddy sensory play. Whip up a batch of this taste-safe mud substitute from Entertain Your Toddler; the website has the direction to make your own. This edible dirt has a secret ingredient you may already have in your house! Mix up the fake mud, put it in a bowl with plastic measuring cups and spoons or plastic toys, and get ready for messy fun.

Clean-Up
Plastic cars, dirt and soapy water. Combine all three for instant fun. First, let your little one get their plastic cars dirty on a muddy race track or dirt-clod-filled construction site. Then, fill a plastic tub with soapy water and you can both scrub those cars clean. If dinosaurs or farm animals are more your kid's speed, swap this in for this mud and bath party.

Garden Grow
Let little ones dig in the dirt and nurture plants with their own custom planter. You can set aside a bare patch of dirt for your little one to dig in and explore, or turn old dump trucks into garden beds a la Hello Wonderful. Fast-growing seeds like cosmos or leafy greens are a fun choice for little ones exploring in the garden, because they sprout so quickly that kids can see the impact of water and sunshine. Add a watering can and a set of sturdy plastic shovels to fuel muddy garden play, whether your little one has a fancy flower bed or just a patch of dandelions to water.

Mud Painting
Feeling ooey gooey mud between your fingers is a fascinating sensory experience for little ones. Babies can try to finger-paint with mud (or chocolate pudding if you want an edible option). Or, collect mud in a bowl and add a few pint-sized sticks and let older toddlers create masterpieces on white paper the way Twin Mom Refreshed suggests. Mud painting is an easy-to-put-together activity that combines nature exploration with fine motor skill development. Holding a tool, like a paintbrush or a stick used as a paintbrush, builds the muscles and coordination little ones will need in a few years when they learn to write.

Mud Sculptures
Think of mud as nature's playdough. Kids can mold it into all kinds of shapes, and even add twigs or leaves to create different textures. Sprinkle in a little biodegradable glitter to make the mixing and molding even more interesting.

Bug Hunt
Digging in the dirt for roly-polies is a backyard adventure that’s just right for toddlers. With a bug home like this one, which includes a magnifying glass in the top, your new bug friends will stay safe from toddlers’ grabby hands, and budding young scientists can get a better look at the creatures living in their own backyards. You can also encourage your little ones to make bug habitats of their own by molding mud houses or piling up sticks.

Available on amazon.com, $7.95.

Mud Puddle
This kind of muddy play is one of the easiest since nature does all the prep work for you. If you can't wait, get the hose to make your own puddles so you and your child can splash around like Peppa Pig. Stomp in the mud, stir it with a stick, float a piece of bark inside itthere’s no end to the fun that toddlers can have with mud puddles. In warm weather, lose the boots and tiptoe through puddles with bare feet. Feeling squishy mud between their toes fascinates many toddlers. Then check out the classic book Mud Puddle for a fun read and follow up your adventures with a bubble bath to get squeaky clean.

 

—Oz Spies

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