Mud kitchens are a popular and beneficial resource for any Early Years outdoor space, and despite the fact that once we return to operation and re-open, we won’t be able to use our mud kitchen for the interim (to minimise cross-contamination/infection risks.) a few parents have expressed an interest in either purchasing one to use at home or enquiring how to make their own.
You can of course purchase a ready made mud kitchen and install permanently in your outdoor space, but there are also ways in which you can create your own, adaptable and suitable for the outdoor access you and your family have.
In this blog we will look at the learning and development benefits of mud kitchens as well as quick, easy and affordable ways in which you can create your own mud kitchen variations at home!
Mud kitchens enable children to combine the natural world with their natural curiosity and develop their imaginative play skills, as well as being a fantastic sensory play opportunity. Children can lose hours as the absorb themselves in the open-ended opportunities that a mud kitchen provides; whether it be independent play or collaborative group play, mud kitchens offer something for every learning and play style.
A messy, but holistic learning experience, mud kitchens offer children not only role-play cooking experiences, but allow children to explore mathematical and scientific concepts, in addition to the benefits on their social interactions and linguistic skills and understanding too.
No other resource provides opportunities for such immersive, exciting and creative open-ended play as a mud kitchen in our experience.
We want to stress that mud kitchens do not need to be a pre-built purchased resource in order to benefit your child’s learning and development, home-made is just as good! (If not more so if the children get involved in helping you create their mud kitchen area!)
Similarly, dependent on your location and access to outdoor space, a mud kitchen does not have to be a permanent feature; it is essentially what you make it!
There are some key elements to all mud kitchen areas;
- However you choose to create your mud kitchen, positioning is key, so anywhere near a mud source is ideal so that children don’t have to venture far from their play in order to keep their mud supply well stocked, thus not hindering the creativity and flow of their play.
- A supply of water (doesn’t have to be a hose, a bucket will do!)
- A supply of natural materials in addition to mud; gravel, pebbles, plants, flowers, grass etc – this enables children to be even more creative with their concoctions!
For those creating a less permanent mud kitchen area, large pots, bowls and receptacles near a mud source are ideal for bringing out as and when you need; arrange these in conjunction with receptacles (saucepans, jugs, spoons, bowls, cups etc) coupled with perhaps smaller containers with your loose natural parts and jugs of water and there you have your very own home-made mud kitchen!
If you have options for a more permanent fixture, you could incorporate an old table on which the children could create upon and add in hanging utensils on a nearby fence or piece of wood to extend and develop the space and play opportunities, some research suggests creating the mud kitchen within a corner enables children to create more expressive, dramatic play so this is something to consider.
Similarly, whether you are creating a permanent or a pack away mud kitchen, it could also be beneficial to create this alongside or near a den/play house additional role-play resource as dens, cooking, and collaborative play go hand in hand and this will only enhance opportunities and experiences.
Another thing to consider when creating your space is where the concoctions are going to go after – so when creating the space consider where you/the children are going to discard of their mud pies and sensory soups; creating your mud kitchen on your brand new patio next to the back door, is an invitation for mud to be strewn around the entrance to the house and so positioning is key!
Also, your mud kitchen can be a continual work in progress and by constantly adding new and random utensils and appliances, will only enhance the children’s enjoyment of the space as well as their role play and learning. Microwave stopped working? Add it to the mud kitchen! Don’t need that cupboard anymore? Add it to the mud kitchen!
You can also ignite the children’s curiosity further by adding more obscure utensils in addition to your normal, spoons, ladels etc – add an ice cream scoop, colander, broken food processor – anything that will spark imagination and curiosity!
A pestle and mortar is also a great addition for when children make potions and ingredients from their natural items; this could also be a good opportunity for adding food colouring, herbs and spices to create an even deeper sensory experience.
Outdoor Play has never been so important, and so connecting with nature in such a creative, immersive and easy way will be key to challenging and enhancing your child’s outdoor opportunities at home. Dirt is also great for the immune system!
To enable children to fully embrace the openness of the mud kitchen, please make sure they are wearing own clothes so you don’t need to inhibit or intervene in their play to stop them getting your favourite jumper messy!
Mud kitchens are also a brilliant all year round resource, rain or shine children can have hours of endless fun creating, combining, mixing, splashing, grinding, serving, imagining and playing; a variety of elements only enhance experiences.
The sensory input children gain from immersing themselves in mud play is beneficial to not only their physical well-being, social interactions but their overall health and wellbeing.
Open-ended experimentation with natural resources is something that can be lost in our current society and so providing this opportunity at home will enable a child’s imagination to flourish.
Mud kitchen areas are potentially the most basic, easy to create and adaptable resources, but one that hosts a variety of benefits holistically for children; so get out there, get sourcing, and get messy!
Useful links for more on the benefits of mud kitchens and inspiration on how to create yours: