Remember making potions when you were a kid? Mixing together mud, water, sand, leaves - anything you could find, really! It was weirdly...satisfying, feeling the changing textures of the mixture and getting your hands (and subsequently, your clothes, hair and face) dirty.
Although we didn't know (or probably care) at the time, this messy play was a super important opportunity for learning and development. By including a mud kitchen area in your school environment, this fantastically grubby activity can become a seamless part of the EYFS outdoor play scenery, and provides a designated, safe and easily maintainable space for children to really get stuck in.
What are Mud Kitchens?
Mud kitchens are similar in design to the play kitchens you may find in the indoor EYFS classrooms, but made from sturdy, weather-resistant material, making them perfect for an outdoor play area. With a range of different features that you would find in a real kitchen - for example, hob rings, a splashback (that may double up as a mark-making chalkboard), pretend temperature control knobs and a sink - the design is as intuitive as it is functional, and lends itself well to the multitude of pretend play games that children may come up with. Why not combine a mud kitchen with some cooking equipment? Wooden or plastic spoons, bowls, pots, pans, crockery and child-safe cutlery add an extra degree of realism and immersion. This allow children to experiment with role play, allowing them to emulate baking or cooking using real-life equipment and tactile ingredients that are possibly not practical for indoor play.
Benefits of Mud Kitchens
Many of us will have spent time playing in the mud as children. It was fun then, and today's children derive as just much joy out of it as we did. With an increase in screen-based recreation and more easily accessible technology, having an outdoor play facility that combines structure, free play and sensory exploration all in one place is appealing to both children and grown-ups for a number of reasons.
Mud kitchens don't take up a lot of space overall. They come in a variety of sizes and configurations, meaning there's something to suit every space, or tuck into a corner. Mud kitchens also enable some level of control over distribution of mess. By creating a specific 'mess zone' and encouraging children to stay within that area while engaging in messy play not only teaches listening and responsibility, but also makes cleanup easier. It's inevitable that you will still find some mud where it doesn't belong but, on the whole, keeping some messy play to a designated outdoor play area removes some of the time, effort and stress required to reset a classroom.
Personal, Social and Emotional
Mud kitchens are a great hub for sociodramatic play. The simple design is familiar and lends itself well for children to recreate everyday home events in their play, strengthening their connection to their peers and allowing them to intertwine elements of home and school. It fosters collaboration and teamwork and encourages sharing -- not everyone can use the oven at the same time!
Communication and Language
Mud kitchens can get as noisy as they are messy. Children love to chat to each other while they're playing, and a mud kitchen is an ideal environment to encourage this. They can talk to one another about what they're doing and how they're doing it. Some children may offer ideas that others haven't thought of. They can ask and answer questions and discuss the problems they encounter, talking them through to reach a solution between them. To some extent, they can learn how to manage conflict among themselves and moderate their frustrations in a calm and sensible way. The sensory element and having something to do with their hands may also be good for pupils with ADHD and other neurodivergence, allowing them a new way to fidget and stim.
It goes without saying that the mud kitchen is an excellent resource for tactile play. Not just through the sense of touch, but also through using additional utensils and toys to supplement their games. Actions such as stirring, mixing, lifting and carrying and pouring help to develop both fine and gross motor skills, and different equipment (for example, lifting mud with a spoon versus lifting mud with tongs) allows children to try the same action in several different ways.
Expressive Arts and Design
Just like a real kitchen, mud kitchens are a place of creativity. Children can come up with a myriad of recipes for mud pies, cakes, biscuits and beyond. They can use different vessels to make shapes - why not introduce a range of fun shaped jelly or cake moulds?
They can decorate their creations with a range of safe, natural materials - leaves and sticks, seasonal treasures such as acorns, or even dried pasta. They can experiment with different mud-to-water ratios to brew potions and porridges, and take turns roleplaying shopkeeper, chef, customer, baker, potter -- and undoubtedly many more.
Maths, Literacy and Science
Like hidden veg in a bolognese sauce, mud kitchens are an excellent way to subtly teach these core subjects without children even realising that they're learning. You might incorporate a mud pie recipe-writing task into a literacy session, or teach capacity and volume by providing a range of different shaped vessels to fill, pour and empty. A quick stomp around the playground to identify and collect different leaves for mud-cake decoration, or experimenting with different ratios of mud to water to consider what happens to the consistency of the mixture is a great introduction to basic science.
Mud Kitchens: Outdoor play for KS1 and KS2
It isn't just EYFS who benefit from messy outdoor play; mud kitchens can also be enjoyed by older year groups. They are great for demonstrating and simplifying a range of topics across many subjects, while encouraging participation and concentration.
Depending on the era you're studying, you could take a look at the architecture of the time period and encourage children to try and build their own versions with a combination of materials. Anglo-Saxon huts work brilliantly for this, with their simple shape and thatched roofs. Collect a range of different roofing materials, and experiment with what works best to keep out the 'rain' (a watering can).
What better way to teach about the Earth than with earth? Test their terminology knowledge by asking them to create different parts of a river. Create islands and include appropriate materials to separate climates or biomes - for example, leaves to show a rainforest, sand to show a desert, water to show a lake or a shoreline.
Art & Design
The obvious place to start when combining mud kitchens and art for older children is with sculpture, but you could also try pressing items into the mud to create pictures. Drawing in the mud with different equipment is a great way to experiment with more advance mark-making techniques. It also has the added bonus of being super satisfying and therapeutic. Creating pictures using mud and other natural elements as paint can also be a fun way to encourage children to think about their art, and what they are trying to achieve. Take a simple but well known piece of artwork and have children recreate it using only mud. If you're brave enough, you could skip the paintbrushes and go all-in with mud finger-painting.
Start Planning Your Mud Kitchen Area!
Now is the perfect time to start planning and creating a mud kitchen in your EYFS outdoor play area. Whether you're refurbishing an existing space or planning one completely from scratch, our expert team is always on hand to help. Get in touch for an informal chat, funding advice or to book a free site survey today!