Festival of Mud

Design Feature
Type of Project
South Australia

The Festival of Mud was created through a partnership of over nine organisations based in the inner metropolitan area of Adelaide, with the catalyst being the findings of a recent study into child development as part of the Australian Early Child Development census. These findings included a need to focus on resilience and the development of motor skills in the region, and as such, the Festival of Mud was born, as a celebration of nature and unstructured play for healthy child development. A variety of activities were provided to spark children’s sense of creativity and fun. Through this initiative, families and educators were encouraged to support children’s engagement with the natural environment and to develop facilities for outdoor play. Healthy By Design supports a range of facilities in public spaces to enable active recreation for children as this has been proven to improve activity levels.

A celebration of nature and unstructured play

The Festival of Mud was an inter-sectoral collaboration conducted during April 2016. This included outdoor play activities for parents and children, as well as a school holiday program which was nature-themed. Activities included Mud Play, Recycle Craft Storytime, Parkour, Cubby Building and Nature Crafts. In addition, the program provided professional development activities for educators and support for children’s facilities to create nature play activities. School and early childhood facilities engaged in mud play, with some installing mud kitchens. 

Festival of mud, activities for children to get messy.
Festival of mud, activities for children to get messy.

The project aimed to increase appreciation of outdoor play, as well as to enhance the council’s capacity to promote outdoor and nature play. It was informed by the 2014 ‘Active Unley – Sport and Recreation Research Project’ which included extensive community consultation and indicated the need for Council to actively pursue these play opportunities. 

Nature play at the Festival of Mud.
Nature play at the Festival of Mud.

Council has agreements with 5 x DECD schools to enable community use of the spaces after school hours. Council actively work with schools on the design of their spaces, encouraging them to consider nature play options. They also consider how nature play and green infrastructure can be incorporated into Council owned spaces, as funds are made available through their asset replacement program. 

An evaluation was undertaken following each event and whilst a variety of methods to capture feedback (relevant to the event), consistent questions were used. Over 750 people engaged in the different events, and over 4,000 people of all ages attended the ‘Mud Central’ event in late April 2016. A Facebook page was set up for the event, which attracted the majority of feedback, however, 55 responses to a survey were received.

A summary of feedback is as follows:

  • Over 90% of educators surveyed felt the program was valuable and increased their confidence to implement new ideas regarding nature-based play within their classrooms
  • Educators felt the program increased their awareness of the various resources available and the links between children’s play habits and physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Educators identified the primary barriers to implementing new ideas centred on time and safety considerations (i.e. directions from DECD).
  • Over 90% of responses rated the event as ‘good’ or better, and advised they would attend a future event, if it was to proceed.
  • 45% of respondents stated they had learnt something new at the event (relating to nature play).

The information, networking and professional development provided through this initiative will facilitate use of community settings for free nature play. Mud kitchens in schools and kindergartens will be available for ongoing use and Council will continue to support free nature play in community settings. Evidence from DECD primary schools in the City of Unley alone indicates that four schools have recently or are planning to develop nature play areas and are implementing nature, mud and ‘loose parts’ play into student learning.

Project team

  • City of Unley (Lead)
  • Natural Resources Adelaide & Mt Lofty Ranges
  • Department for Education and Child Development
  • Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources
  • Nature Play SA
  • City of Burnside
  • Principals Australia Institute
  • Playgroup SA
  • Kidsmatter

Project cost

The Festival of Mud had a budget of $10,000, and involved over 200 hours of staff time across the nine partner agencies.

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