Mud Kitchens – Nature Play
Whatever the weather, most children love being outside. There’s something so freeing about being in nature. The spoken and unspoken rules seem to be different out there. It’s a wild adventure where imagination grows exponentially. Mud kitchens really foster this freedom and play outdoors.
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Childhood Mud Pie Memories
Come rain or shine my sister and I were out in the garden when we were kids. We loved roleplaying everyday activities – especially cooking. On any given day I could tell you that the special on the menu was ‘mud pie’. There were many variations and the recipe was subject to continuous changes at any moment! We’d spend all day out there, it didn’t matter what time of year it was. Each season bought with it new resources, opportunities and challenges. We must have driven my mom mad using her flowers for potions, distributing already raked leaves all over the place and leaving meals/ mud pies in our wake. We didn’t call them mud kitchens then, but that was what it was!
Mud Kitchen Supplies
You don’t need special equipment for children to play outside. You don’t need any toys. Children will go outside and use the natural resources they find and come up with endless ways to play and learn. So, with that in mind, why do I so desperately want a mud kitchen as part of our garden?
Why Have a Mud Kitchen?
- Social – I don’t know if it’s the same in your house, but in ours the kitchen is truly the heart of the house. Meal times are very important social, family times. Once meals are done, we often just never seem to leave; it’s a very happy place for us. Having a ‘mud kitchen’ outdoors becomes very much the ‘hub’ for social gatherings not just with your children. A safe, familiar place to meet, chat, share ideas and make plans.
- Language – For my little one she is on one of the steepest learning curves – the acquisition of language. She’s 19 months old and learning and using new words every day. For her, the excitement of using her new vocabulary can be seen on her whole body from her sparkling eyes and smile to her feet that can’t keep still because she’s so giddy to use her new language. Mud kitchen’s provide the opportunity to use a myriad of specific vocabulary related to cooking and cooking equipment.
- Motor Skills – Mud kitchens provide a range of levels for children to play at. Is it crouching down to get in the oven or cupboards? Chopping and mixing at worktop height or stretching up to put a pot or utensil back on a shelf; a great mini workout. Introducing specific utensils also means children use very specific motor skills. For example using tongs, a whisk, spoons, chopping equipment, a lettuce spinner.
- Too Many Cooks – We’ve all heard the saying. This is such an important aspect of early years play; the ability to share, negotiate, compromise and take turns. A mud kitchen provides the opportunity to help develop these essential skills in a familiar setting, outdoors.
- Mathematics – Setting your mud kitchen up with some measuring spoons, cups, jugs, scales and various sized containers can really develop mathematical understanding right through from the concept of more and less to using mathematical language to measure specific quantities and follow recipes.
More Reasons to Have a Mud Kitchen…
- Messy Play – If you type in messy play into a search engine you will see lots of examples and reasons why messy play is so good for children. Now I love messy play, but I have to admit I love things to be clean and tidy too. So, messy play for me has to be somewhat contained. Go you if you’re all for messy play anywhere and everywhere, but if you’re like me and even just secretly want it to be contained then a mud kitchen can really help to keep mud pies to one part of your garden. I bet my Mom wishes she’d thought of this all those years ago!
- Adult Help – Yes, we need help sometimes. Now you might be totally at one with outdoor play, you are the Bear Grylls of your back garden, but for some of us outdoor play with our children can be daunting, dirty, unfamiliar territory! I’ve known fabulous, engaging practitioners when indoors who turn into statues when confronted with the outdoor learning environment – unsure what to do and where to start. This is where the mud kitchen is a great tool for helping you or other adults who play with your children to be confident in engaging with outdoor play. Yes it’s familiar to them, but for most of us it’s extremely familiar to us too!
- Loveliness – OK OK it’s not an essential item, but hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought on mud kitchens. If you have got the materials and the know how to knock one together yourself or the money to buy one, then my final reason is – wow they are just super LOVELY to have in your garden!
UPDATE – Our Mud Kitchen
We finally have our mud kitchen and it’s a massive success in our garden. We’ve got it nestled in a sheltered spot so that it provides a little shelter from the sunshine and winds. Our pots, pans, kettles are from family or charity shops and are perfect for the outdoors.
Plants in the garden that are a little past their best and need a little pruning get added to the rainbow pots for mud pie and magic potion recipes. She does love tending to her mud kitchen area.
Magic fairy potions are certainly a favourite right now. Floss loves these adorable Magic Potion Recipe Cards from Fiddlesticks Education (FANDF15 discount code) – we backed them onto coloured card and laminated them so they can be used in all weathers.
The natural wool below is of course unicorn hair! Floss can’t read yet, but is very much interested in letters. She loves to look at the different shapes of the letters and size of the words to decide which card it is. She pretends to read the instructions and loves to narrate her play and let us know what she’s making.
My dad has been quite poorly recently and looked quite visibly unwell on video calls for a few weeks. It really helped her making ‘special potions’ for her Grandad to make him feel better. Children love to feel like they can help and this is just one way she worked through some of her feelings at the time.
Ideas to Enhance Mud Kitchen Play
- Chalk boards on mud kitchens to allow mark making/ writing
- Laminated recipes
- Plan an event – a party, Masterchef etc.
- Theme – a Wizard’s potion kitchen, Father Christmas’s kitchen etc.
- Look in charity shops for unusual utensils that will develop motor skills
- Start a herb garden close by that they can use as real ingredients.
Not all children feel instantly happy with outdoor, ‘messy’ play. Introducing a familiar setting such as a kitchen outdoors can help to bridge the unknown with the safe play they are used to.
Coming next – Early Years Garden of Our Dreams – Part 4 – Mark Making Matters. Updates on how our dream garden is coming along next time too.
More Outdoor Play
- 4. Mark Making
- 5 – Secret Small World Play
- 6 – Inviting Wildlife
- 7 – Planting for Toddlers
- 8 – Alfresco Dining for Tiddlers
- 9 – Terrific Trees
- 10 – Den Building
As always, I would recommend adult supervision with activities and take care to ensure the items you are using are suitable for your child in both age and development. Specifically, with outdoors, I think it’s really important to make sure that you reassess risks before each time you allow access to outside. A school I used to work in was next to a road and we always had to make sure that nothing had blown or been thrown in. It’s also good to consider how you will explain safety aspects such as some things being dangerous to eat in gardens and woods. The views expressed are my own.