Since we moved into our house last summer, I’ve wanted to set up a mud kitchen for Bee. We have a typical terraced house yard, with wall-to-wall Yorkshire stone slabs, not an inch of soil or grass anywhere. But still, I was determined.
Mud kitchen’s are the perfect outdoor toy for children from toddler to pre-teen. Firstly, and most importantly, they provide an opportunity for children to play completely freely. With no constraints on mess, they can play just as they want.
For us, our mud kitchen is a “yes” zone. Bee can make mess, pour, mix and move materials about to her hearts content.
It’s a true from of sensory, messy play – with the added benefit of natural materials (add sticks, herbs, stones, shells, tree seeds, leaves, grass…) – before we got too worried about dirt and germs.
As an educational toy, it covers so many areas – scientific exploration (combining materials, cause and effect…), mathematical concepts (capacity, volume, measuring…), imaginative role play, fine motor skills, and language development.
The mud kitchen market has exploded, and there are many beautiful versions to buy – for a small fortune. But, it is possible to make one at a fraction of the cost. Even for free, if like me, you can scavenge the pieces you need from what you already own.
So, at 20 weeks pregnant, and with the help of a very keen toddler, I set about building a mud kitchen.
At its simplest you could simply overturn two large pots and lay a plank of wood between them, making a small counter for your child to work at. Looking at the scrap wood I had found, I decided to build a counter from three pieces of wood, adding a lower shelf for storage. I used basic screws to secure the pieces together.
I could have stopped there, but I wanted to add some hanging space for tools and utensils. The kitchen was also still a little wobbly for my liking. I screwed a large slatted panel from an old Ikea wardrobe to the back.
As finishing touches I added 6 brass hooks, and painted each outer side with blackboard paint (for writing menus/experiments/spells etc). I’m still on the look-out for a piece of wood to nail to the top, to make a blackboard sign for our mud kitchen.
Because we have no natural soil in our yard I filled one of our large terracotta pots with compost, and that lives on the lower shelf. The added weight gives the mud kitchen some additional stability. The lower shelf is also home to the water buckets. We have one large one, which I fill from the kitchen tap, and two smaller ones that Bee can use to move water around. My friend uses a large water bottle with tap (intended for camping), allowing the children to fill their buckets themselves. So, I’m going to be adding the one from our camping equipment to Bee’s mud kitchen. Hopefully I’ll be able to sit down for longer between water refills!
On the mud kitchen counter there are three different sized mixing bowls. Hung up on the hooks is a small metal colander, two metal jugs, some metal measuring scoops, and some small metal utensils. I luckily found all our metal tools and containers from charity shops.
To give Bee a little more workspace, she also has a large wooden reel (from our local scrap play project). It gives her somewhere to serve her mud pie creations, and keep her extra ingredients.
Bee loves playing with her mud kitchen. Often, I’ll add dead flowers or cuttings from our herbs, to give her some extra materials to work with. Or we will collect natural treasures out and about, to bring home and use. But mostly, she’s just happy with mud and water.
As soon as I set up the mud kitchen I was prepared for our yard to become a mud filled disaster zone, but it’s actually really easy to tidy up at the end of the day. I shake the mud off the tools and containers, give them a quick rinse in the bucket and rehang them to dry. I sweep excess mud off the surfaces, then Bee ‘helps’ me sweep up mud on the floor. It doesn’t take long, and helps Bee learn about tidying up and taking care of her things. A good downpour also works wonders at washing away any excess dirt.
I am so proud of our mud kitchen, and I love the way Bee plays and engages with it. I’d definitely recommend having one if you have children. There’s just so much they can gain from it, and its a perfect area for anything-goes, messy, independent play.
Go on, make one for your garden.