Outside toy kitchen: What is a mud kitchen?
A mud kitchen is an outside toy kitchen that allows children to combine the joy and benefits of role play with all the sensory delights of mixing up mud.
What is a mud kitchen? it’s whatever you need it to be! Kids love playing in the water and mud and there’s nothing better than mixing up a mud pie, making mud cakes or stirring a pot of mud soup to get the creative juices flowing and engage the senses. Mud kitchens are growing in popularity and tend to be especially popular amongst boys. Kids just love a play in the mud.
Mud kitchens are a great way to encourage children out to the garden and represents play at it’s most natural: do children like anything more than playing in the dirt? With an outdoor kitchen, your have so many more opportunities for sensory experience; use natural items such as stone, wood and water to introduce a wide range of different textures. There are no limits to the imaginative play possibilities, and many parents prefer to to have a mud kitchen in the outdoor environment so they don’t have to sacrifice indoor space or worry as much about mess.
Playing in an outside toy kitchen allows children to explore nature and get messy in a way they can’t do while playing indoors. And while mud kitchens are obviously great during the warmer months they are also a great way to encourage children to play outside in winter providing you have a good set of waterproofs.
Benefits of playing in an outside Kitchen
Mud is an excellent medium for learning. You can paint with it, model with it and mix it into mud pies. Mud gives great opportunities for experimentation and problem solving all while developing both fine and gross motor functions.
There are also some surprising benefits of playing with mud. Mud contains microscopic bacteria which can apparently stimulate the immune system and increase levels of serotonin so playing in mud actually makes you happier and can improve cognitive function. Plus exposure to bugs and germs makes kids healthier as well.
Not to mention the obvious- that outdoor play in itself is invaluable for both the physical and mental health of children. The beauty of a mud kitchen is that you can encourage outdoor play year round- if anything, the winter months carry even more amazing mud play opportunities than the warm summer months.
Older children often take more to mud play than they would to a regular play kitchen inside the house- this is because the outdoor environment often gives a sense of freedom and exploration. You could even encourage older children to create their own mud kitchen for many hours of creative fun. If you’re short of mud in the summer, you can always purchase topsoil or a fresh bag of sand to top up those messy play opportunities.
A massive benefit is that you can work with any budget here- make your own mud kitchen using whatever materials you have laying around. You could even simply bring our a set of old pots, a mixing bowl, wooden spoons and measuring cups and let your child concoct mud pies or whatever else they desire! Not only will language skills and social skills come on leaps and bounds, but your child can learn about capacity and how to use kitchen equipment.
Making a mud kitchen
Mud kitchens are available to buy ready-made and fully assembled. But they are also pretty simple to build yourself. Obviously the key ingredient is mud and you’ll need somewhere to put it. Water is a must but it doesn’t have to be nearby.
Adding different things like sticks, small stones, pebbles, sand, and flowers will all enhance muddy play so any area with these things readily available is perfect.
When it comes to building your mud kitchen we recommend a quick look online to get some ideas.
Having some vertical space is ideal as it helps to define the area and can be used for hanging pots, pans, and utensils. This could be a wall, garden fence or something you build as part of the kitchen. We’ve seen old pots, garden furniture, large containers or a built in planter be repurposed as mud kitchens.
In terms of mud kitchen accessories, we very much promote repurposing old mixing bowls, pots and pans and other kitchen utensils. The use of all these bits and pieces will work wonders for fine motor skills. All the accessories can easily be either reused from your home or picked up in charity shops. This does not have to be an expensive project!
A work surface and a sink of some description are pretty essential in creating your outdoor kitchen. We like the removable bowls best as they are easy to wash when needed and handy for bringing in mud or water from other areas of the garden. We’ve seen parents remove power cords and even add an old microwave to their mud kitchen set up.
Adding shelves will give a great kitchen feel- if you have any extra shelves laying around, reuse them in the garden! An old unit can also be used to store things/as an “under sink” cabinet. These shelves allow you to store pans and utensils when your child has finished playing, without having to bring everything indoors.
Beyond that, it really is up to you. You’ll see plenty of amazing mud kitchens made from wood and pallets but there are plenty of very achievable ideas for those of us with lesser DIY skills.
A water butt or running water tap adds massive play value, but, equally fun, an old tyre with a large washing up bowl in makes an excellent sink or mud store, a used cable reel is the perfect table, even a few bricks with a plank of wood on top makes a very passable mud kitchen.
Can I make my own mud kitchen even if I’m not great at DIY?
As adults, we are often perfectionists, but you’d be surprised what fun you could create for your child using simple materials you have at home; sand and dirt, pots and pans, and some natural materials in your garden such as stones, sticks and flowers. Your child’s creations will likely be so imaginative that they take you by surprise! That you have taken the time to make a mud kitchen tells your child how much you care. You might even get a thank you mud pie!
Pretend play is a crucial part of your child’s development and often needs very little prompting- an open outdoor space provides enough opportunity for messy play in itself! Mud kitchens truly are a very simple way to introduce some sensory fun to your garden, and your mud kitchen can be as simple as you need it to be. You may be surprised at how efficiently your child can create their own fun- and they’re learning at the same time!
Which style of toy kitchen is best is completely up to you, you might decide you’d rather stick to an indoor kitchen or you might end up with both.