Take a lot of dirt and some water, add preschoolers and some young-at-heart instructors, and you get some serious fun in the mud.

“I got muds in my feet,” said 4-year-old Andrea Cardoso as she slathered herself with wet dirt from head to toe while running through a 20-yard by 20-yard pit created at Human Services Inc. Head Start program Thursday morning.

The girl was participating in the seventh annual observance of International Mud Day, where preschoolers from Johnson, Jackson and Brown counties in addition to Bartholomew County Head Start and Early Head Start kids were invited out of the classroom and into the outdoors for a romp in the mud.

“It’s not the beach, but I’ll take it,” said Donna Taylor, interim executive director for the program.

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She was among the first to wade into the mud pit and encourage the youngsters to follow.

About 50 kids and their teachers, school administrators, parents and grandparents could interact with the mud as much, or as little, as they wished — but getting dirty wasn’t really optional. Even spectators occasionally received a handful of mud flung at them from the pit as the preschoolers enthusiastically discovered mud could be delivered airborne.

Ava Persely, 5, braved the mud in a skirt and was undaunted as her formerly white outfit quickly became a new shade of mud-covered fabric. A large smear of mud was across her cheek, which she didn’t seem to mind.

“I want to play in it,” she said as she ran back to the middle of the mud field, where the water tended to pool, adding more squishiness when stepping and rolling through the substance. “My mom lets me play in the mud all the time.”

Parent Stephanie Morrissey, Columbus, who was watching from the sidelines, backed away cautiously as one of her charges came running at her covered in mud.

“Get back out there,” she said, smiling. “Mommy does not want hugs right now.”

Andrea Anthony, who was visiting the event from Franklin, said the Johnson County program brought 13 kids to the event.

“Just get in,” she said to the preschoolers as she waded in from the side. “There is no secret to this. Just dive in.”

This year’s mud event is the biggest by far for Head Start, which started out in its first year of International Mud Day seven years ago with a few containers of soil on picnic tables and some toys to go with it.

Kathleen Wyrick, family advocate for Human Services, said Thursday’s mud pit was the largest by far ever attempted and would not have been possible without the help of Faurecia and Clifford Fire and Rescue, which engineered the area for the kids.

Mark Quillen, a Faurecia employee, volunteered to bring out his tractor and tiller to the field next to Human Services to help the agency create a larger mud field to play in. If he hadn’t done that, staff members were going to have to use a small rototiller to do the same job, which would have taken far longer, Wyrick said.

Quillen was laughing at the scene before him as he walked toward the kids playing in the mud, remarking that most people would probably punish kids who came in the house after playing in the mud like that.

“Look at what you created,” Wyrick said to him as they surveyed the large area filled with unrecognizable, mud-covered children pelting mud at each other and falling down helplessly while laughing when their feet got tangled up in the muck.

“This is funny, this is great,” he said.

When tilling the field in preparation, Quillen spent about an hour on the tractor, followed by removing any rocks or anything that kids might have gotten hurt on, he said.

Next up was the Clifford Fire Department, which brought out a tanker Wednesday night to pour 3,600 gallons of water on the tilled dirt, followed by another 1,800 gallons before the kids arrived Thursday morning.

Clifford volunteer Tyler Moore was planning on adding another 5,000 gallons of water during the event to keep the mud oozing for the kids.

The fire department rigged up a sprinkler so the kids could run through it, and planned to use it to hose them off after the event before the mud-covered youngsters would head back home.

Fire department Lt. Scott Pritchard brought along his 11-year-old son Cameron as the official “mud-tester” to make sure the field was sufficiently watered down for the kids.

Learning experience

While it was all in fun, playing in the mud has educational benefits, teachers said.

“This is a great sensory experience for them,” said Rachael Barga, an Ivy Tech Community College _ Columbus senior majoring in early childhood education.

Barga is completing her student teaching with Head Start.

“For many children in Head Start, the kids don’t have a lot of these experiences,” she said. “This works their fine motor skills, their gross motor skills and it broadens their horizons.”

Because there is no right or wrong way to approach playing in the mud, kids can choose how adventurous they want to be, from playing with a spoon and bucket from the sidelines to diving headfirst into the middle of the pit, as others did, she said. The preschoolers are learning to think for themselves and venture into the world a little more independently, she said.

Diann Winter, who has the babies class at the local center, said preschoolers need the new experiences of learning about textures, and also socialization in a group.

“And of course this is an opportunity to get back at their teachers,” she said, as a handful of mud flew past her.

“This is something they wouldn’t normally do,” she said laughing.

Brynlee Corya, 5, was in the mud pit being watched by her great-grandmother, Leola Whitesel, of Columbus, who was laughing at the antics of all the children covered in mud.

Brynlee has been celebrating International Mud Day each of her five years, her great-grandmother said.

When asked how and why she managed to become completely coated in mud, so coated that her pants were drooping, Brynlee could only say, “Because it’s fun.”

As she spoke to the media, Taylor walked by in the back in the background carrying two large handfuls of mud, heading for a group of kids on the far side of the pit.

“The teachers have just as much fun as the kids do,” Wyrick said.

And while the annual Mud Day observation is over, the tilled dirt won’t go to waste. The next educational opportunity for students is to scatter sunflower seeds in the well-watered dirt and watch them grow.

About Mud Day

International Mud Day is observed on June 29 of each year. To learn more, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/InternationalMudDay/

Head Start's mission

Head Start is a federal grant funded early childhood education program for children ages 3-5. Human Services Inc., near Clifford, serves families in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Johnson and Shelby counties.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social and other services determined to be necessary by family-needs assessments, in addition to education and cognitive development services.

Program services are designed to be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage. Services are offered to families who have incomes below the federal poverty level.

To learn more, visit hsi-indiana.com/head-start-early-head-start.html

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.