Making a simple mud kitchen can be quick, easy, and cost effective using materials you already have in your home.
Nestled under the clubhouse and slide, a world of nature and kitchen collide with tea pots, buckets, bread pans and more... there are so many possibilities to explore. Only our imaginations can hold us back. A healthy dose of nature— we definitely do not lack.
Makeshift Mud Kitchens
“There are so many possibilities when utilizing a mud kitchen. Anything as simple as a pot and pan and a single wooden spoon in an outdoor setting can open the doors to magical, muddy stories."
Oh, yeah! Muddy play! Okay everyone. Here's the scoop. I can tell that this post is going to be filled with puns, and tons and tons of mud. I have to say one of our favorite things to do is dramatic play with mud and where better to allow these creative juices to flow than in our ever changing mud kitchen. So what is a mud kitchen? What does it mean? Why do you want one? Will they use it more than once?
What is a mud kitchen?
If you can go online and search for mud kitchen hundreds of images will appear with elaborate setups anything from completely recycled to completely fabricated, hollywood glam mud kitchens. Anything your heart desires is now available in children's sizes for outdoor "consumption." But listen, I literally spent $5 specifically for our mud kitchen and we never even installed the sink yet. You'll see it in the picture, a sink we gleefully purchased at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $5. I walked up to the cashier like I had won the lottery and announced, "This is going in our mud kitchen!" And, don't get me wrong, it sat on the ground waiting to be "installed" for two years as it was filled and scooped and covered and things were poured onto it. It was actually still used frequently and not as I had intended with a pump attached with available water and a drainage collection vessel, no— they poured mud on it, filled it with flowers and stones, put it onto chairs and raced marbles through it. I don't even know the half of it. Anyway, a mud kitchen needs: a place to cook on, something to help dig or stir, any type of containers for creating concoctions and meals, things for serving, things for dissecting, and obviously a source of dirt, water, and nature treasures.
The Mud Kitchen is always changing, evolving with the needs of the children involved and the intention of the play time. The seasons play a factor in what nature treasures can be offered but when you have vessels for storing you can play in the mud kitchen all year round. Here are a few images of spring, summer, fall, winter play examples. We repurposed an old bench as the counter workspace and we found the best collapsible bucket at Grocery Outlet for under $7 dollars. The best is bringing out specialty tools that only travel outside sometimes like fancy shaped hole punchers and scissors to shred, cut, and use to make nature confetti.
“You can do so much with what you already have. Sometimes, you just need to re-inspire your sense of wonder and the awe of a child in order to see it. ”
What do we have in our mud kitchen? After we moved our swing set and had to do some re-arranging we took down the swings and slide because of space issues and we were faced with some challenges. So we took off some walls, re-attached walls and support pieces, and put up a climbing wall. We cut out a notch in the climbing wall and added an "ordering" window for the restaurant. Under the club house in the often unused space created in the base of a swing set, we added buckets that I had purchased for planting at Grocery Outlet for under $10. We were gifted some old sets of pots and pans from an aunt that knew about our plans to create a mud kitchen, a tea kettle from a neighbor, burnt baking sheets from our own kitchen, and repurposed some Ikea ice cube tray molds in all sorts of shapes and colors. Other items were cool sticks, pieces of bark, interestingly textured nature treasures like sweet gums, nuts, hulls, seed pods, dried non-poisonous berries, pvc pipes that I got for free at the ReStore, a few 3 inch paint brushes that I bought in bulk at the Dollar store for a previous project, old (cleaned) toothbrushes, some old colanders, and so many old wooden baking spoons, spatulas, and forks. One of the best additions to the mud kitchen includes a huge tree stump that we saw in someone's yard several blocks away. We asked if they needed it and they told us we could have it if we hauled it away on our own. We gathered friends and rolled that stump all the way to our location and it is used as an oven, a serving table, a restaurant table, the chef's stand, a display table, or the preparation station. And, you guessed it, it was free.
Why do I want a mud kitchen, this sounds messy —Good— Children love to get messy, construct, deconstruct, pour, measure, stir, lift, carry, transport, transform, argue, make up, work together, work alone, cook, and do whatever you do on a daily basis. A mud kitchen gives them a safe place to explore with storytelling and problem-solving skills while creating and strengthening their behavioral schemas. Critical and higher order thinking skills are in full force while navigating the complexities of working together, making the perfect consistency of stew, and picking the perfect flowers and nature treasures for the garnishes. We have many sensory gardens meticulously placed around the vicinity of the mud kitchen even though—honestly, the mud kitchen will move. The mud kitchen will swell, shrink, break apart, expand, and then it will just be tidy again. We have baskets and carrying supplies so that the kitchen can be transported. It often also gets thrown into a large soup pot and carried to where it will be next. The freedom and joy that this type of play brings is indescribable. You need to experience it.
Soup is on!
Hmmm. Where to start? Well, if you don't have an extra old pot somewhere or a metal bowl, check out all of the great free resources online or your local marketplace, many FB groups now have a "Buy Nothing <your town>" group and you can ask for some wooden spoons and an old pan or stew pot for FREE. Or literally ask your grandmother or neighbor. Everyone is purging right now it is the perfect time to get a little mud kitchen together.
Gather a few necessary materials: a bucket, pot, wooden spoons or wooden utensils, small watering can or tea kettle, baking sheet, or old muffin tin.
Find a source of water which is safe to use even in areas with mosquitos. We have a rain barrel with a spout/nozzle. We also have used those orange 10 gallon water coolers with the spout, a 2 gallon rectangular water jug with nozzle, an old thermos with the opening spout, even a water collection system with mesh or screening over top to help keep pests away. We also are in the process of making more rain barrels out of old full-sized recycling containers by turning the lid upside down cutting a hole out of the middle and attaching mesh/screens in order to allow water to fall in and collect into the container but not allowing mosquitoes to go in or come out. We found a nozzle online for $8 that we can also drill into the side of the container for easy access to the water.
Offer a source of mud or "clean" soil. Soil that is free from broken glass, metal shards, dangerous materials, poison ivy, and certain unfriendly insects. You don't need a lot, they will find more if they need it. If you need to, remind them this is their special area and you'd like to keep any digging here. If they start digging in other areas <that you may not want them to dig in>, maybe add more soil for them to use in their space. If you don't have a lot of soil, try getting or making a small crate with a lid where you can refill or even get a small sand box and fill it with soil instead. We used to fill half of our water table with silicate-free sand on one side and soil on the other side.
Find, source, or make a table, bench, large tree stump, making station, or some old pallets. I have seen so many pallet mud kitchens and they're awesome. You can literally do as little or as much as you want. Make sure to have your kids help brainstorm. We also have a bunch of smaller stumps around that are used for stools, bowl tables, mixing stations, balance and weigh stations, and stands for the water vessels.
Create or utilize some type of storage area. Maybe you have some crates stacked sideways to make a shelf, maybe a lidded box that will not trap or hurt the children as they get items in or out, a small plastic storage shed or container, or a little closet or shelf in the garage close to the mud kitchen. By offering storage solutions you are making the children involved aware of expectations for maintenance and upkeep
Offer a few sturdy handled baskets or little steel child-safe buckets for collecting nature treasures
By storing our pots, pans, and spoons on the shelf and bark, stones, flowers in the buckets we can find our items more easily the next time we return. We know where everything is. We can get into cooking as soon as we arrive at the mud kitchen. In mosquito weather we ALWAYS lid our pots or feed our stews to the trees at the end of play time. Be careful, though, if you are making stews and brews with real plants, water, and flowers and it is lidded, it will mold. So we practice always feeding the trees or our favorite spot that has been approved to dump our creations. We normally leave all pots upside down on shelves we built into the base of the club house so they don't fill with water or harbor mosquito populations.
Children work together, with an unlikely leader while he clearly and excitedly gives direction and instructions. Children working alone and as a team to complete the perfect snow soup. The process of making tulip poplar nature confetti with a barefoot, heart, circle, and star hole puncher. Remnants of a dissected collection of rainbow-colored wilted flowers from the gardens.
"Hurry! I need more snow! You: run to the side and gather snow. You: fill this bowl with snow from the front. I'll mix! You: get more water! We are so close guys! It is almost ready!"
These things are not necessities but are also so fun to have even if it is just for special occasions
Specimen containers with magnifying lids
Large plastic tweezers for plucking, squeezing, and investigating
Real measuring tools (measuring cups, spoons, and bowls)
Hole punchers and scissors
An old table cloth or piece of weather resistant fabric or canvas for dinner parties and picnics
Old plastic, wooden, or tin plates
Old weather-proof camping meal gear (plates, tiny mugs, bowls, pan)
Interesting scoopers, plastic ice cream cones (reusable ice cream cones), Ice cream scoopers
Small garden tools make excellent mud kitchen tools (use best judgment for age appropriate tools)
Spice jars with expired spices for stews, brews, and potions
Small potted edible, child-safe herbs around the mud kitchen for the children to really use or taste
Baskets of broken, almost dead, or wilted flowers from local grocery stores or florists, call around and tell them you have a mud kitchen and you're having a special day making petal mud cakes, sometimes they'll just give you the flowers they can't use because they're going to throw them out anyway
In the end you can spend as much or as little as you desire. You can probably find or ask for most of these things and you will be able to source many things without even buying them. Think about how much space the children need, it might expand. Start small because you can always made adjustments based on their needs and requests. Include your little ones in the planning and process. Save money where you can, spend money if you have to have something you can't find. Overall, the time and effort put in is well worth the experience you all will have while utilizing the space and making memories together. These mud kitchens can be used with children 8-10 months old until middle school. As funny as that sounds, we play with mixed ages here so there are some friends who are in preschool, elementary, and about to enter middle school. We play almost every day outside and the mud kitchen or at least its components are in high demand by everyone. It is play that differentiates itself, its applications, its direction, its end. All ages and abilities explore, discover, and add to the story taking place in the mud kitchen. It is definitely a gift that keeps on giving.
I could go on and on about the benefits of offering and encouraging a place to get muddy and creative outside. But in the end, this experience is really only as rewarding as you allow it to be for everyone involved. Giving children free time, unstructured time, even occasional unsupervised time (this is different for all children, ages, abilities, confidence-level, security, location, safety, etc, within reasonable judgement), and the opportunity to revel in the joys of authentic childhood —these experiences offer benefits that far outweigh any negatives. Clothes can be washed, children can be cleaned, childhood only happens once. Hopefully, the messes that they remember, are the ones they created which were full of joy.
Thanks for tuning into this week's entry, "Makeshift Mud Kitchens". #mudkitchens I'll have updates as the seasons change and our mud kitchen evolves. #playoutside #ReggioInspired #Natureplay #Outdoorsall4 #VitaminN #mudplay #thefindingplaceLV
Hopefully next week, we'll have our next "Thirsty for Good Vibes Thursday" interview posted. If you have any questions, or if you would like to collaborate in person in the Lehigh Valley or online, email info@thefindingplace-LV.com