By Megan Erbacher
Generations ago, kids didn’t have the technology of today, Alissa Mwenelupembe said, so most kids spent hours playing outside, oftentimes making mud pies.
To bring back the joy of playing in the dirt and freely exploring nature, St. Vincent Early Learning Center students and faculty celebrated International Mud Day on June 28, in
conjunction with the World Forum Foundation and childcare programs all over the world. This was the third year the nonprofit participated, according to Mwenelupembe, St. Vincent’s director of early learning.
The celebration gave children and adults a “free-for-all” chance to play in nature and explore the many properties of mud without the fear of getting dirty because they came dressed for the occasion.
“Kids are so overscheduled and often inside with computers and video games, so this really gives kids the opportunity to connect with nature, to let loose and have fun in a way they probably don’t get to do in other areas of their life,” Mwenelupembe said.
International Mud Day began in 2009, at the World Forum for Early Childhood Care and Education in Belfast, after educators from Western Australia and Nepal discussed stigmas attached to playing with mud in their countries.
An educator from Nepal explained children were unable to explore mud because they either didn’t have extra clothes to change into or soap to wash their clothes, according to the World Forum Foundation website. As a result, a relationship between the two programs developed and the Australian school collected funding for the school in Nepal to buy extra clothes for children so they could play in and explore the mud. The website states the two schools are still in touch and founded Mud Day.
Last November, St. Vincent Early Learning Center celebrated 100 years of service. The facility, founded on the values of the Daughters of Charity, is an accredited early childhood education and care center. The mission is to start children on a path to lifetime success, according to officials, and to coordinate programs and services to help their families succeed.
Currently, St. Vincent has about 170 kids enrolled from 6-weeks-old to about 6-years-old, according to Mwenelupembe.
She said a lot of work at the Early Learning Center is intentionally focused around academics, for example, literacy and math, so Mud Day was a time to “really just enjoy nature, kind of let loose, have fun and kick-off our summer.”
“Previous generations (of kids) were able to explore nature and have uninterrupted time to play,” she said. “So we want to make sure here we give kids the opportunity to really experience being a child.” Mwenelupembe believes letting loose and celebrating nature is important.
“There is a lot of emphasis in education on learning outcomes and we often forget how fleeting childhood actually is,” she said. “Mud Day is about reconnecting with childhood and giving young children opportunities to connect with the joy and beauty of nature. . . . We want to make sure they have those experiences while they’re here.”