Often when we think of rainy days, we picture time spent indoors — reading, building pillow forts and watching movies — desperately concocting ways to ward off boredom and help our kids expel astronomical levels of energy (without entirely wearing us out).
But why miss out on all that wet, muddy fun? Rainy days are ripe with opportunity for outdoor play. Kids are biologically programmed to explore and get messy.
Oh, how they love mud! It’s like sand, on steroids.
As much as we parents might cringe at the increased number baths, loads of laundry and muddy floors that mud can create, a connection to nature (and literal earth) is good for our kids’ development.
And guess what else? You’ll be making memories, too.
On a recent romp through the spongy, wet park in the rain, my son squealed as he splashed and said, “These are the best puddles EVER!”
His big smile and pure bliss warmed my heart in a way no indoor activity could’ve done that day.
By adopting a little “mind over mud” and basic planning, you can seize those showers and relish all the beautiful, messy adventures that await you in the muck.
1. Scribble with sticks
At its simplest, all you need is a swath of mud or wet sand — and a stick. Use the sticks to draw shapes, letters or scenes. Experiment with different-sized sticks. Your creations won’t last, but that’s part of the fun.
2. Make a masterpiece
Grab some buckets — old yogurt tubs or ice cream pails will work — and paintbrushes. Scoop mud into the buckets. Have your kid use the brushes (or fingers) to paint the sidewalk or driveway.
For lasting artwork, you can also use cardstock paper, poster board, paper plates or cardboard. If the weather’s warm enough, the kids can also dip their hands or feet in the mud to create stamped handprints and footprints.
3. Draw with chalk
Sidewalk chalk takes on a whole new texture and look when wet. Indeed, water makes the colors extra vibrant! (And the chalk actually still works.)
4. Paint with markers
Before heading outside, have your kids color on some thick paper, using washable markers or watercolor crayons. Head outside with a plastic tray or cookie sheet and let the rain do its magic. Kids will have fun watching their images blur as the colors bleed together!
Bring the drawings back inside to dry, and then use them to make homemade greeting cards or artwork displays.
5. Have a paper boat race
Make origami paper boats to race in the puddles or street gutters. Thick cardstock works best. For extra fun, you can decorate each boat with a toothpick and mini flag in the center. See origami-fun.com for inspiration.
6. Puddle jumping!
Few things in life are as simple (and satisfying) as splashing through some puddles — and the bigger, the better! Have a splashing contest, or listen to the sounds puddle jumping makes on different surfaces such as pavement, grass or bare ground.
7. Set up a mud kitchen
Using an old bench or scrap lumber, you can make your own mud kitchen in the backyard for your budding chef. Stock the kitchen with old pots, pans, measuring cups and utensils (or pick up some extras from the thrift store). Using mud, twigs, pine cones and other objects from nature, your kid will have a blast cooking in the rain. Mud pies, mud soup, mud muffins — yum!
8. Collect and measure
Gather containers of different sizes and shapes (such as mason jars, old flower vases or plastic storage containers). Bring them outside and have your child guess which container will fill up with water first.
You can also make a homemade rain gauge by cutting off the top of a plastic bottle and marking various increments with a permanent black marker.
9. Make some noise
Gather a variety of pots, pans and muffin tins — metal (especially aluminum) sounds best. Bring them outside in the rain, arranging some right-side up and some upside down. Listen to the different sounds each one makes.
10. Create a sensory bin
Bring a plastic storage bin outside and fill it with a bunch of dirt and mud. Add toy tractors, construction vehicles and farm animals. Let the kids put their sand toys, dump trucks and diggers to work. And watch them squeal with joy as they get their little piggies and cows muddy.
11. Read in the rain
Grab some books, your big umbrellas and a tarp (or extra shower curtain) to sit on. Find a spot in your backyard to sit down and have story time. Reading takes on a magical feel when it takes place in the rain.
If you want to go all out, you could set up the family camping tent in advance — with its rain fly and ground footprint — and really move in with sleeping bags, stuffies and pillows, too. Since it often seems to rain on real camping trips, this is good practice!
Bring out a variety of small objects of different densities (wine corks, ping-pong balls, cherry tomatoes and simple toys). Have your child guess which ones will sink or float. This experiment is a hands-on way to teach kids about density and how its affects an object’s ability to float.
International Mud Day
Created at the World Forum for Early Childhood Care and Education, this day — Thursday, June 29 — celebrates humans’ connection to Mother Nature in its muddiest form. Learn more at connect.worldforumfoundation.org or facebook.com/InternationalMudDay.
13. Worm rescue mission
Earthworms breathe through their skin and breathe best when cool and damp. However, when it rains, the ground fills with water and they’re forced to the surface to prevent drowning. If they get stranded on the surface too long, they can die from dehydration.
Invite your little ones to carry out Operation Earthworm by carefully moving worms on the sidewalk or road back to higher ground on grass or dirt.
14. Go on a nature walk
Grab your waterproof boots and rain jacket, and hit the trails. The smell of rain and soggy soil, the sound of droplets plop-plop-plopping, the vibrant hues that emerge when nature gets wet — nature hikes become a sensory playground in the rain.
If you drive to the trail, pack garbage bags, towels and dry clothes.
15. Host a mud party
If you know in advance that the weather is calling for rain, you can host a mud party or play date! Set up different stations outside for painting, cooking, excavating with construction toys and more.
Rachel Guyah is a Bloomington-based writer and mother to an adorably dimpled, energizer bunny (cleverly disguised as a toddler). Follow her musings about motherhood at themamalogs.com.