As we coax our kids back into regular outdoor play, it might be time to get them set up with nature’s greatest sensory activity — the mud kitchen.
Katie Lear, a licensed counsellor and play therapist in North Carolina, eloquently explains to Fatherly why mud kitchens are so great for kids:
Part of that may be due to how a mud kitchen fully engages the senses, Lear says. “Mud play is an immersive experience that helps kids to really focus on what’s happening with their five senses: the mud may be cool in temperature; it has a distinct feel; it smells earthy; it makes great noises. Many mindfulness practices encourage attunement with the senses as a way of staying in the present moment. When you think about sensory play through this lens, it’s really pretty sophisticated.”
What you need
In creating your own mud kitchen, you can go as basic (some dirt, water, and a bucket) or as fancy (like this actual “mud kitchen” you can buy) as you like. But something in between those two options is probably just right. Here are some ideas to get you started:
A flat surface
To make proper mud meals, kids need a surface they can sit or stand at to work. If you don’t want to spring for that literal mud kitchen I linked to (I don’t blame you), you might be able to snag a used indoor play kitchen in your area that can find a second life as an outdoor mud kitchen. But really, any flat surface that you don’t mind getting messy will do, including a slab of smooth plywood set on the ground or on a picnic table.
Dirt and water
You obviously need the two key ingredients in mud, so pick your mud kitchen’s location based on its proximity to whatever area of your backyard you don’t mind your kids digging into. They’ll also need easy access to water, so if you can set them up in a spot where they can easily drag the hose over — or have access to another water source — that will work best. If that’s not possible, be prepared to fill up a few buckets of water.
If you’re the parent of a toddler or preschooler, chances are you’ve discovered the joy (and the mess) that sensory activities can bring. When my son was that age, a bin full of strange material would occupy him for many minutes at a time — certainly more than plastic toys...Read more
Kids will need tools to help hold, stir, and serve their mud masterpieces — so pull out any old measuring cups, spoons, plates, and pots or pans that you can donate to the cause. They won’t be picky, so get creative; even an old frisbee can serve as a plate or pie pan.
I doubt you’re going to want to drag all of this filthy stuff in every time they’re done “cooking,” so look for an outdoor storage solution. If they’ve got an actual play kitchen, it likely has some shelves or cabinet storage already built in. If not, the solution can be as simple as pulling out an old plastic storage bin that can serve as their kitchen “cabinet” to be tucked away in a shed or on the back porch when not in use.
If you’re worried about the mess, you may also want to designate some specific mud play clothes or keep a few old towels handy to help wipe them up when they’re done.