I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. Ok, ok, mostly love. But on occasion, rather than feeling inspired, I am left feeling overwhelmed. This was the case when I would look at mud kitchens. I am trying to remember where I first came across the idea, but I was immediately smitten. I started a board and pinned like crazy. Hand-made or purchased kitchens were cost-prohibitive. Then somewhere along the way it dawned on me that all we needed was mud, some spoons and bowls, maybe a surface to work on, and we were in business. I started thinking in simpler terms–like cinder blocks and plywood.
I began searching Facebook marketplace for free/cheap items that might work for a mud kitchen. I looked for wood logs, wood planks, bricks and cinder blocks, and the like. I stumbled onto some wood shipping crates for around $5 a piece. I sketched out a design idea, and with one piece of plywood, we were able to get the whole thing to come together. By “we” I mean my husband (and the nice man from Home Depot who made many cuts to the plywood) who took my not-to-scale sketch and turned it into reality. I looked through the kitchen for unused/old items, and the kids and I took a trip to Goodwill for the rest.
In my excitement, I neglected to think through where the mud and water would come from. We don’t have a working outside faucet in the backyard, and while we don’t have a manicured lawn by any stretch, I didn’t really want them digging up what little yard we have.
I ended up with a jug with a pump on the top, but the truth is, most of the time I don’t even fill it and there is plenty of rain water to use. I don’t love the look of it, but I just stick it off to the side and ignore it, haha. I bought a bag of organic soil, and the kids added in mulch from under the swing set and sand from the sandbox.
The mud kitchen is hands-down the kids favorite thing to play with when we are in the backyard. It makes it ok to make a huge, muddy mess, and it encourages pretend play, which are both so fun. Sometimes they dump out the mud, but more often, they hoard it and keep it until the next time they come out to play. There’s something about when it gets to that perfect consistency. I adore all the creations that come out of the kitchen, and I am continually amazed at the unique natural objects they add in.
Ok, let’s talk about cleaning up, because, (surprise, surprise) mud is messy. Let me preface all of this by saying we wear play clothes and waterproof shoes (wellies/natives) for mud play. I got boot trays that go by the door which helps keep some dirt from traveling. When they get really messy, I just strip them down outside or right inside the door and throw them in the shower. I also sometimes hose them down outside in the driveway before coming inside. More often than not, they end up more wet than muddy.
Do any of you have a child that doesn’t like getting dirty? This is not the case for my two, but in my years in the classroom and with children we’ve had over at the house for play-dates, muddy play doesn’t always go over well. Here are a couple things that have worked for me in the classroom: If possible, start young. Have your little one put their feet in the sand/mud/water as a starting place for sensory play if everything still goes in the mouth. Heavily supervised messy play from a young age builds the foundation.
Start small. Maybe just try putting out a bowl of water and a bowl of sand with some items for filling and dumping and see what happens. Let your child see you interacting with the sand and water as well. Pay close attention to what parts of messy play they like and what they’re not jiving with, and build from there.
For our family, the freedom to get muddy and messy is an essential part of childhood. The mud kitchen is a fun way to add to mud/sand/water play, but mud is really the star of the show.