Mud can be more than just dirty

Spring in Michigan can mean lots of mud. It gets on your shoes and in your house, but how does it work?

Despite many parents' wishes, kids love to play in the mud. They make mud pies and mud soup, they paint with mud and eventually they track it in the house and on their clothes.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using rainy and warmer temperatures that create mud in the spring to teach children about science. Asking questions, conducting some simple experiments and playing can be messy, fun and a great way to learn.

What makes mud different from dirt? Ask kids for an explanation. The primary difference is water.

MSU Extension has created a list of scientific activities youth can do with mud. Remember to ask lots of questions and let kids experience the joy of discovery.

  1. How does the mud feel? Is it smooth or rough? Slimy or gritty? Does it feel different on the palm of your hand compared to the back or your hand? Making observations like this are an important skill for science.
  2. How does the dirt smell before you add the water? Will adding water change the odor? Why? Experiment and find out.
  3. How much water can dirt hold? Try adding water to a pail of dirt a little bit at a time. Does the mud ever become soup?
  4. Does dirt from different parts of the yard make different kinds of mud? Try using soil from the garden, some potting mix leftover from the winter, sand from the sandbox or gravel from the driveway. Can they all make mud? Why or why not?
  5. Put different kinds of mud out to dry. Which do the kids think will dry first? Why? Experiment and find out. Does the mud turn back into dirt or is it something different?
  6. Try to make bricks out of the mud. Take old plasticware containers and fill them with mud. Let it dry for several days. This might be good to do on a Friday and check the bricks on Monday. Can you build with the bricks? Did they hold together? Why or why not? Try mixing grass, sticks or straw with the mud and see if that makes a difference.
  7. Will the mud sink or float? Fill several containers with mud. Try putting different objects in the mud to see if they sink or float. If you add more water to the mud, will more things sink?
  8. Try straining the mud. See if you can get clear water out of the mud. Run it through an old colander, then window screen, and then an old T-shirt or towel.
  9. Clean up! Can it clean up with just water? Does mud soap make the water come off easier? Wash one hand in cold water and the other in warm water. Is there a difference?

Have fun playing in the mud, cleaning up and learning about science!

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