GOSHEN — Build with it, jump in it, make it into pies. What can’t you do with mud?
About a dozen children were hard at work trying to find out Tuesday morning at Ox Bow Park as the Elkhart County Parks’ Nature Nuts program featured the versatile material, which can, it turns out, also be used for painting, cooling off or keeping away mosquitoes.
The preschool nature program has existed for about 15 years and has a new theme every month, according to Elkhart County Parks interpretive naturalist Krista Daniels.
“Today the theme is mud, in honor of International Mud Day, which was, I believe, June 29,” she said.
Playing with, and in, mud can be fun enough, but the program aims to teach the 3- to 5-year-olds something new as well.
“You can actually talk about the physical properties of mud; how you make it, where do you find it? But we then incorporated a little bit of education about how animals use mud,” Daniels said. “The robin uses it to build their nest. The mud dauber is an insect that uses it to make their egg cases. And then things like hippos that use mud to cool.”
And getting engaged with nature at a young age can teach other important lessons, according to Daniels.
“The more you know it, the more you understand it, the more you can care for it and actually have a vested interest in it,” she said. “If they learn this as a preschooler, they will carry that on into adulthood.”
One of the parents at Nature Nuts on Tuesday was John Stoltzfus.
“It seemed like a wonderful thing to do, and it’s been wonderful. From getting to make faces with mud, to putting handprints on the sidewalks, to walking in mud,” he said.
And according to Stoltzfus, the program is successful in teaching the children about nature.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun, and I don’t think it’s possible to have a lot of fun without learning something. Especially in a context when there’s a good deal of intentionality about what’s brought in and how it’s brought in,” he said.
For his two children, Nature Nuts also offered enough different activities that there were things for both of them to enjoy.
“The youngest, 2 years, did not want to go into the mud, wanted to be held, although she enjoyed dabbling with the brushes. The 5-year-old son, he is very much into walking in the mud, feeling the mud, moving the mud around with his hands,” Stoltzfus said.
Following the day at the park, he has a recommendation to other parents.
“By all means, if you have it in you, find some mud and get your kids in mud,” he said.
At the end of the event, as children and parents were helping to clean up after the mud festivities, one asked “What will we learn about next time?”
The answer is fish.
“Nature Nuts: Fish” begins at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Ox Bow Haus Shelter. There is a $4 fee per child.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus