Look on Pinterest, Instagram or a super-mum’s blog site and you will see pictures of wonderfully crafted, sparkling mud kitchens that boast better facilities than your own indoor cooking area. But what’s the fuss? Sure, fill a few pans with mud, stick some acorns in and play pretend could be fun for a little while, but is there much more to it, and can a mud kitchen enhance learning for children beyond the early years? Let’s take a look.
What’s the fuss?
We all know that practical learning experiences are one of the best ways to engage and inspire students. Through authentic, hands-on experiences, we are able to make meaningful and personal connections to our learning. Ta-da, introducing the mud-kitchen. It’s a hands-on, boots on, sensory experience whereby children are invited to use loose parts to create culinary sensations.
Let’s explore the benefits
- Loose parts: Working with natural materials, sticks can become noodles, spoons or anything that the children can imagine. Once children are open to thinking outside of the box with resources, they gain the freedom to be more creative. A good game to model this is; ‘This is not a stick’*.
- Developing imagination: Open-ended inquiry encourages children to tap into their creative brain. Are they Goldilocks gobbling porridge, or a witch brewing their next potion? When we can imagine, we can be anything that we want.
- Multi-sensory: Creating mud pies is messy business. Our senses come alive as we manipulate different objects, choosing herbs to add, listening to the sounds as we mix our ingredients and seeing our final creations before us. However, as delicious as those mud pies may look, no you should will not ‘really’ taste it.
- Nature connection: A favourite quote of mine by David Sobel is; “…let us allow children to love the earth, before we ask them to save it.” Sobel fears that children are being exposed to frightening environmental issues at an early age, but are not first being given the opportunity to develop close personal connections with nature. Playing in a mud kitchen, stocked with nature’s seasonal offerings is a simple way to bring a piece of the natural world into any setting.
- Multi-disciplinary: whether you are retelling your favourite story or following a recipe, the opportunity to make explicit cross-curricular links are abundant. The mud kitchen offers authentic ways to develop speaking and listening skills as children role play characters and stories. Reading and writing for a purpose, such as creating signs and menus, is also a great way to inspire a love of language. And let’s not forget mathematical skills; filling, emptying, measuring and following recipe quantities are just a few ways that children can explore number sense in the mud kitchen.
A quick start guide: What to add to your mud-kitchen
- Metal pots, pans and utensils. Ask the parent community to donate old, or no longer used kitchenware. Metal products have proven to be the most hard-wearing in our mud kitchen.
- Natural loose parts. Follow the seasons and celebrate what nature has to offer throughout the year.
- A dig pit area to gather mud from and empty into. Although, not all mud kitchens actually use mud, if you choose to go all out and embrace the dirt, consider carefully how far children have to travel to transport soil. Having a designated dig site close to the mud kitchen limits the spread of wet, sloppy mud across your learning space.
- A manual water pump, or bilge pump, connected to a water bucket. Creating running water through a manual pump is great for filling pots and washing pans. Bonus points if your water bucket is filled with rain water.
- Blackboard or similar for writing and drawing on. Increase Language learning opportunities by adding a writing space with chalks.
- Suits and boots. After a number of apologies issued along the line of children having “too much fun” in the mud kitchen, we now operate a ‘Suits and Boots’ rule for any children using this space. This allows children to explore the space openly and creatively, free from the fear of muddying their own clothes.
Three years after building our mud kitchen, we are still adding and changing elements to extend learning opportunities. Just like all learning spaces, it is important to keep it dynamic and flexible to meet the needs of all learners.
So, feeling hungry? Head outside and whip up a delicious mud soup for lunch!
* This is not a stick: A circle game whereby a stick is passed around the circle. The group say; “This is not a stick, it’s a…” and the person holding the stick creates a new purpose for the object ie. guitar. They say it and then act out how it would be used before passing it onto the next person.