Toddlers learn best through hands-on experiences and sometimes messy experiences are what they need to really engage and learn. Here are two-tier level outdoor sensory activities that will allow both the younger and older toddlers in your class to play in the mud while getting some learning time in as well.
Older Toddlers: Outdoor Muddy Sensory Handprints
The next time it is muddy outside, don't try to fight the mud and keep your toddler class out of the mud, instead, make the mud part of your learning experience. Toddlers love to explore the world around them, and that includes the mud. They are not very concerned about staying clean; they care more about figuring out how the world around them works by touching.
You can take advantage of your toddler's classes natural curiosity to get messy by using the mud for a sensory activity.
If there is a lot of mud in your playground, give each child a little shovel and a bucket, and ask them to fill the bucket up halfway with mud. If you don't have that many buckets, have your class work together to fill the bucket up with mud.
When your class has collected the mud, have them sit down at your outdoor picnic tables. Or, you can bring the mud inside when your class goes inside from recess to continue this activity.
Give each of your students a paper plate and show them how to scoop the mud out of the bucket and onto their paper plate. Then show them how to use their shovel to smooth out the mud and create a flat surface.
Once your students have done this, instruct them to push their hand into the mud to make a handprint. Explain to your students beforehand that you want to capture their handprint and that you are going to sit the paper plates somewhere so that your students can watch them dry.
Talk with your students about how long it is taking the mud to dry, and try to explain to them how the water evaporates or leaves the mud to turn it back into hard dirt.
Younger Toddlers: Simple Mud Play
For some of the younger toddlers in your classroom, the above activity may be a little too structured. Instead, collect some mud outside on your free time, or bring in some dirt, add a little water to, and create your own mud. Put this mixture inside of your sensory table.
Put smocks on your students, and give them shovels, plastic cups, and plastic buckets. Allow your students to play with the mud. At some point, show them how water can be added to the mud to make it runnier, and allow them to experiment a little with adding water to the mud under your supervision.
This can be a great activity for your older toddlers as well; it allows them a different way to play with and understand mud.
When you do this activity, either put smocks on your students, or inform the parents ahead of time that you have a messy activity planned and ask them to bring a change of clothes in order to participate in this messy, but fun learning experience.