Our nine-year-old twins (and their big sister before them) come home from school muddy every day – not just some days when they’ve been out on a school trip or had PE but every day. This isn’t a little bit of mud on their shoes, it’s full “up the trousers, over the tights, sometimes even streaks on the face” muddy. Their coats regularly need a wash and it’s fresh uniform every day – we don’t mind a bit.
They are incredibly fortunate to attend a school with extensive grounds, a farm, an orchard, chickens, dens, adventure playgrounds and a lot of space to play. The children play out on the fields every day (if they are wearing suitable boots in the winter) and when it’s time to come inside, everyone changes into indoor shoes no matter what the season or weather. The school never closes for snow and they are outside for PE whatever the weather (only a torrential downpour might bring them inside). The school is very active in OAA (outdoor and adventurous activities) and local sports events.
They get muddy at playtime and lunchtime. They might be in the dens playing Stone Age, Pirates or Star Wars. There might be a massive game of team tig involving 30+ children up on the top field. They might be racing across from dinner through the boggiest part of the grounds. They might be swinging through the trees on the adventure playground. They might be feeding the chickens or pretending to be a detective sneaking through the bushes over to the tree house. The main thing is they are playing – they are being children with every ounce of energy they have in them.
When they are out getting muddy, they are free to be creative, to explore their environment and make their own choices. They feel at one with the earth; they value it and want to protect it. They have to negotiate plans and rules with their friends without the intervention of an adult and solve problems using a variety of skills and resources. They learn to tie knots, build structures and work together in a powerful way.
The education our children are gaining from getting muddy is not on the National Curriculum or written on any long term plans but it is such a key part of their learning every day. They are learning to be resilient. They are learning to be adventurous and brave. They know that a little bit of mud or a bit of a scratch isn’t the end of the world and, most importantly, they are learning to believe in themselves. They are happy.
Occasionally, this muddiness spills over into lessons, school trips and residentials. Pretending to be a Saxon, Viking or Stone Age person becomes so much more real when foraging for berries, sitting around a campfire or building a shelter. When mountain biking down a hill or climbing a rock face, a sense of bravery and self-belief is essential. When exploring a damp cave or navigating with a compass, a respect for and oneness with nature creates a feeling of security. The world opens up when a child isn’t afraid to get muddy.
Their big sister is at high school now after seven years of mud. She has gone out into the world as a “Farfield Child” and is stronger for it. She says she really misses the grounds and the opportunities to play and is so very glad she made the most of it when she had the chance at primary school. She doesn’t flinch when asked to do a “Wood Run” in PE despite older children complaining about the mud and trying to scare the new Year 7s with stories of how difficult it is. She embraces the challenge and makes the most of the chance to be free in the outdoors, even if just for a little while. The other day, she came home from school smiling from ear to ear with her face covered in mud. “In PE, we played a game with a muddy football and had to put our foreheads on the ball and we got a bit muddy. Lots of girls weren’t happy about it but I’m a Farfield Child so it was no problem for me….then I got a bit carried away.” I can see the lessons she learned at primary school about adventure, resilience and having a positive attitude staying with her throughout her life.
The phrase “Farfield Child” is used a lot at school. It is discussed in assemblies and children are often overheard using the phrase to cheer on their classmates in times of challenge – “You can do it, you’re a Farfield Child!” As the Year 6 children come to the end of their adventure at Farfield, they are often asked to define “Farfield Child”. Their ideas always include the words resilient, brave, adventure, kind, team and muddy. The mud seems to go hand in hand with their sense of adventure and self-belief. Recently, the Year 6 definitions were put into a word cloud and the results speak for themselves:
These children are ready for the future and a little bit of mud has helped them on their way.