Make a Mud/Texture Kitchen – It’s a must!

abc doesBoys Learning, Child Initiated Learning, Continuous Provision, Environment, Outdoors, Role Play, Talk53 Comments

As more and more settings are setting up a ‘mud’ or ‘texture’ kitchen in their outdoor space, I find myself spending more and more happy hours sampling mud pies and mud soups that have been ‘specially’ made – just for me! Expectant children offering me plates of slop and goo – usually accompanied with the whispered phrase: ‘Don’t really eat it!’ To be fair, that is mainly the girls who say that. The boys really want to see you eat it – probably in the hope that you will die (or at least be sick) on the spot!

IMG_3512Haven Nursery

What I am also finding a lot is that people are getting a bit stuck with what to do with their kitchen other than make mud pies and mud muffins. Lots of settings have said that their mud kitchen is one of the most popular activities that they have in the outdoors but the children’s play is very repetitive and familiar.
There are occasions when repetitive familiar play is just want children need, especially when they are exploring a new play experience, but there are lots of things that you can do in your kitchen to encourage them to extend their and explore other areas of learning.


Devonshire Road Primary

Over the next few months I am going to share some of the work that I have been doing in texture/mud kitchens in the hope that it might help you out. Of course, if you have any great ideas/photos of your kitchen that you would like to share then email me ( and I can add them to my post. To kick things off I am going to re-post a blog from last year about how I set up my ‘back garden texture kitchen’. It is still going strong.

* why am I now calling it a ‘texture kitchen’? Well, it is not the same as why Cheryl Cole is now calling herself Cheryl Fandango – Thingamabob – that is surely because it just sounds better? Mud kitchens are often referred to as texture kitchens to encourage those of us who use them to think beyond just mud. The name encourages us to fill the space with different textures to explore. No one is going to die if you still call it a mud kitchen and the Early Years police won’t come and arrest you, so don’t worry! To be fair calling it a ‘kitchen’ can be restrictive because you are encouraging the children to re-enact kitchen play and not explore other play possibilities. Maybe we should call it the ‘texture, interaction, exploration and experiential investigation space’? Now that has got a ring to it!!

If you are working with children in your setting outdoors then there is no better way to spend your day than up to your eyeballs in mud!

Not only is a kitchen a lovely familiar link to children’s own ‘home’ setting. This sort of familiar, secure play offers up lots of opportunities for cooperative play and interaction as well as a million other things.

The great thing about a mud kitchen is that it will develop with the children. It has got so much potential for so many learning experiences, that it would be an all year round asset to your outdoor space.

I had been wanting to have a go at making one for ages and the opportunity arose this week via two unrelated incidents.

The first was that my brother-in law sat on our garden bench and broke it. To be fair it was an old bench and it gave way very easily, with hilarious consequences!

The second was that we were having an ‘invasion’ of nieces and nephews this weekend that would result in 10 mud kitchen guinea pigs, six of whom were 4 and under – perfect!

So I got to work with my very limited DIY skills, a broken bench and an old Belfast sink from down the side of the shed (just needed a good clean and a new plug – 34p.)

Mud kitchen1

A mud kitchen is not the same as a soil or digging pit, although they are a good place to start, A mud kitchen will have some structure and be a defined space, that is well resourced that children can return to again and again.

What really helped me in thinking about what I wanted my mud kitchen to look like, was identifying some of the skills and experiences I wanted children to have in it.


Obviously, they are not going to get all of these in one session, and the list is by no means an exhaustive one, but it gave my thinking a bit of structure and purpose. I was also thinking about how it might look as a permanent feature in a setting.

These are some of the skills that I came up with that children could learn and consolidate through mud kitchen

  • Development of Pretence – Children developing the capacity to use their imagination to feed their play.
  • Development and use of receptive and expressive language – Children’s ability to listen to and understand what is being said to them and also their ability to communicate their ideas and thoughts is a way that others can understand.
  • Mental representations – ideas that children create in their mind and then play out through role play and interaction
  • Transform objects – Children use their imagination to turn one object into another. The more ambiguous the object, the easier the process. So a box can be a boat, a house, a microwave a shoe etc
  • Symbolic action – children imagine how something might ‘be’ or ‘feel’ and then use this as a mechanism for their play.
  • Interactive dialogue – Children talk to others who respond appropriately
  • Negotiation – Using language and conversation skills to reach a compromise or end result.
  • Role taking through choice – Children coorperate in play but decide on the role within that play that they would like to take. Often done without talk
  • Role taking under direction (cooperation) – Children cooperate in play but are happy to be directed by another child or adult who is leading the scenario
  • Improvisation – Children have no set or fixed plan for how their play will develop. The scenario emerges as a result of the children’s interactions.

Luca 1

 Cognitive Strategies

  • Joint Planning – Children work together to come up with a plan
  • Negotiation – Joint discussions that lead to an agreed end result
  • Problem Solving  – taking time to think together or alone to solve a problem or issue
  • Goal Seeking – Children will work individually or in collaboration to seek and end result
  • Emotion – Children can explore a range of emotions in a safe and supported environment
  • Cognition – Children acquire new knowledge through language, interaction and experience
  • Language – Children can extend their range of vocabulary as well as mechanisms for using and expressing language.
  • Sensory Motor Actions  – Children make sense of the world through their senses and physical actions
  • Abstract Thinking – Thinking about the world around them in a different way. For good abstract thinking, children need to be able to use and apply their prior knowledge uniquely.
  • Explicit Rules  – Children learn about explicit rules like playing fairly and sharing
  • Implicit Rules – Children learn about more complex and subtle rules that exist with play like engaging others in their play and maintaining fantasy play, even though they know that it is not ‘real’.

 I also bought 3 wooden crates from EBay (3 for £26) so that I could stack them to display the resources I wanted the children to access and also use them to store the resources if I needed to put them away. The crates also make the space easy to change and re-arrange around the chidlren’s preferences.

Crates Collage

It is worth remembering, that if you use indoor wooden furniture (like a ‘play’ kitchen) you use will eventually warp due to the sun and rain. If you can, varnish anything you leave out with a good yacht varnish to help to protect it.

Although shelving is important for storage, work surface is really important. You need to provide enough working space, at child height, to allow the children to arrange all of the resources that they need and then carry out their stirring, mixing, pouring and creating. All of which takes up a great deal of space!

I extended the working space by using a old pasting table and chopping off a bit of the legs to make them shorter.

When it came to resourcing the mud kitchen, I wanted what was in it to be interesting, open ended, linked to skill development and cheap!

Be prepared for your mud kitchen to ‘evolve’ as the children play in it. Although the structure is likely to stay the same how the children play with the resources will be different.

I had some bits and pieces already (If you work in a school or setting, you can send home a letter asking families for kitchen donations) and I decided that it would be worth investing in some long term and unique resources like this gorgeous teak wooden bowl  from TTS £24.99 (find it here)  

Teak bowl

and wooden basket £17.99 (find it herefrom TTS.


I also got this wooden pestle and mortar from eBay for £14.99 


as well as some everyday, familiar items like, jugs, whisks, wooden spoons, pans, cups  etc.

Uncle joe's

The Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls tin was a ‘thank you’ gift from the Wigan Early Years team when I did their Early Years Conference this year. Why Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls? You will find the answer to that question here. They even have their own song! (Thanks Ruth).

These turkey basters were another eBay purchase and a huge hit.

The children are
going to be exploring and consolidating a range of skills like:

  • Filling
  • Pouring
  • Emptying
  • Transferring
  • Sorting
  • Whisking
  • Mixing
  • Splatting
  • Counting
  • Handling
  • Mashing
  • Sharing
  • Scooping
  • Gathering
  • Estimating
  • Decanting
  • Adding
  • Stirring
  • Sieving
  • Foraging
  • Serving
  • Ladling
  • Squashing
  • Grinding
  • Molding
  • Smoothing
  • Splashing
  • Picking
  • Selecting
  • Collecting
  • Crushing
  • Squashing
  • Measuring
  • Brewing
  • Separating

…to name but a few. So, it is worth considering how you will resource your space to support these skills. I had a happy half hour in Wilkinsons buying all sorts of pots, pans and plastic containers very cheaply. I also managed to pick up some really nice wooden bits and pieces like pastry brushes and an egg timer. You can shop online for delivery at

Natural materials

If you can, try and provide a wide selection of different natural resources for children to add to their play like pebbles, gravel, bark, wood chips, seeds, pine cones, shells, glass beads, wood slices, sticks, moss and I even added my trusty old box of bones which never fails to provoke a reaction.


Even though I called it a mud kitchen, it is not just about mud. Mud is a great starting point so ideally you need to set up your mud kitchen near to a good source of soil. I made my mud source in a nearby border. This meant that the children had to do a bit of digging as well as some transporting. I put up a camouflage net to give the area a sense of enclosure and privacy for the
children. It also provided some well needed shade.

Dig pit Collage

If you haven’t got an open digging space that the children can access, then you can provide containers of topsoil that the children can use to make their mud mixes.

I found out through experimentation that although compost has a unique texture when mixed with water, it doesn’t make great mud. It tends to be very ‘loose’ with lots of floaty bits in it! You really need to use soil. If you are concerned about what might be in the soil in your boarders (especially if you have got younger children who might eat it) you can buy bags of sterilised top soil from the garden centre.

Because the soil in our garden was so hard due to the hot weather, I topped up the bed with a bag of loam top soil. One bag went a long way.

To make soil into mud you need water. I was able to fill (and refill and refill and refill…) the sink with the hose. I also cleaned out and filled a water butt with fresh, clean water and stacked it on some bricks to give it enough height for the children to be able to fill their containers. Water butts are very heavy when full so you have to make sure that they have a really sturdy base to stand on. In a setting I would always use a water butt stand for safety.

Like with the moving of the soil, lots of children really enjoy the
transportation and pouring of water, so having a separate water source can be a
real benefit to the space.

Sonny plant pot

Washing up liquid, scented shampoo, powder paint and even a bit of glitter can all make simple but effective additions to your mud kitchen mixes.


Children will get the opportunity to experiment and create to their hearts content. I used a tomato sauce dispenser for my washing up liquid. It was good for getting little hands stretching and squeezing.

Sauce Collage

Children will also want to pick leaves and flowers to add to their mud mixes. If you are going to set up a kitchen then you need to have a conversation with the children about what they are allowed to pick and what they aren’t.

Pick CollageIt is very hard to make petal perfume without petals, but by the same token, every flower in your setting could easily be stripped of its petals in one afternoon by a group of over zealous perfume makers. You need to establish a middle ground.

Poo Alert!

Dogs, cats, foxes and potty training 2 year olds all like a nicely dug soil patch to use as a toilet, so you have to be vigilant to ensure that the children aren’t going to come into contact with any animal (or human) poo as it can be extremely harmful.

Washing up Collage

Hand washing is essential after any mud play. Because you are not going to be with the children every time they finish their mud kitchen play it is really important that the hand washing routine becomes automatic to them. It is
also good to get the children to wash up all of the utensils they have used in the kitchen using warm soapy water. Not only do they enjoy the water play, but it also really helps to keep their hands clean. A little squirt of sanitiser never goes amiss either!

Whether your outdoor space is big or small you will find hours of play, engagement and learning from a few kitchen utensils and a bit of mud.

Have fun, we did!


53 Comments on “Make a Mud/Texture Kitchen – It’s a must!”

  1. Thanks for the detailed article. I’ve been to other websites but you’re the best because you actually tested out the products. The other reviewers included screenshots of their reviews but you actually tested them out. They were too broad so they didn’t focus on one product or one category. You were clear about what you liked and didn’t like about each button. Well done!

  2. We have a mud kitchen in our outdoor garden space which we would like to improve upon. Your article was wonderful and gave good meaning and explanation to its’ uses. My question is how do you keep the materials you’ve established for the mud kitchen in the mud kitchen? Our materials end up through out the garden. We are enthusiastic they are exploring however the materials are not being used as intended in the kitchen. Are the children telling us we need more materials for them to use in other areas? Thank you!

  3. Hello,
    Does anyone have any experience of mud next to astro turf? Will it damage? Not come out of the astro turf. We’ve had a great climbing frame installed but my head is not keen to have the mud kitchen anymore as it might damage the astro turf. What do you think?
    Thanks, Emily

  4. Pingback: Eight Inspiring Elements for Mud Kitchens - Around the Thicket

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  6. Pingback: Mud, sieves and ice cube trays – messy muddy play for toddlers | Geological Society of London blog

  7. Pingback: mud kitchen

  8. Hi there,
    I hate myself for asking this question but I am sure I am not the only one thinking it and I know what is coming when our children start using the lovely new mud kitchen we have had installed. How do people manage keeping uniforms clean? Do people have overalls they get the children to wear? I would happily just let them ‘get on’ but I know uniforms will get dirty and the mud will be transferred indoors and then we’ll have ALOT of explaining to do to both parents and governors. How does everyone else manage this?

    1. Hi Kirstie,
      I also always wonder the same thing whenever I see pictures of children and messy play activities. We had a mud kitchen at my old setting and they would get too messy with it to let them play without an apron- we had to use all-in-one’s and it took forever to get them on and off of the children. Even then, their shoes still got muddy and we had some explaining to do!
      I would also love to know what everyone else does that keeps the children so clean!

      1. Spare clothes! Though we don’t have a uniform so the children can change and come out as clean as when they started. I would suggest wellingtons under their all in ones.

  9. Pingback: Mud Kitchens: Outdoor Learning and Play - Classroom Ideas

  10. Pingback: Mud Kitchens: Outdoor Learning and Play - Classroom Ideas

  11. Any ideas how we could introduce this in a pack away setting we do have a garden area we use but not sure how far the church will let us go? Would it work with containers?

  12. Pingback: Mud Kitchens: Outdoor Learning and Play - Classroom Ideas

  13. Pingback: Mud Kitchens: A Recipe for Fun - Early Years Inspiration

  14. Hey great use of the Uncle Joes Tin … put Wigan back on the map!
    Love the mud kitchens by the way … we are planning on having have one in our Westfield ALP’s !!!!!
    Ruth (from Westfield, Wigan)

  15. Hello Alistair, we are getting a mud kitchen in our school. We like the look of it and it looks really fantastic, it looks stylish, it looks very, very, fun and we think that it looks like a real kitchen. We are looking forward to making things, mixing things with spoons and being messy.
    We enjoyed looking at your photos in class and we are going to use them for ideas.
    We are learning to write to people with letters and emails, today in class we are writing together on the whiteboard. We wanted to ask is it as fun as it looks? and how does it feel when you are using it?
    Love from Primary 1/2

  16. hi, im trying to get some of the plastic jars for my mud kitchen. Where did you buy them. I have tried wilko online

  17. What a great idea! Most children love this sort of thing, they can add their own ‘treasures’ and create their own mud kitchen. Wonderful idea for creative thinking. Thank you for this idea.

  18. Hi
    Love this.. we have a mud kitchen that is placed close to some mint and lavender that the children add to their creations. There’s lots of ideas here I’m going to nick for next term. Thanks

  19. That’s is so good, love it, I’m going to put my thinking cap on and find a place to put one of those in my yard.
    Thanks for the photos.

  20. This is a fantastic idea. Love how you took the time to build up such an inspiring play area. I like that kids have the opportunity to get into dirt and have such fun!

  21. Hi Jan
    Lovely to hear from you. It has been too long! Hadn't seen your download, but have now! Lots of useful stuff in there. Glad to be part of the mud kitchen revolution! Hope to see you soon. 

  22. Hi Alistair, lovely blog with so much thinking and enjoyment apparent – brilliant.
    Have you seen my “Making a Mud Kitchen’ booklet? It’s available on Muddy Faces’ website as a free downloadable PDF (and over 10,000 copies have been dowloaded worldwide since we launched it for International Mud Day 2012) from under Mud Kitchens.
    And we’ve also distributed about 14,000 beautiful printed free copies across the UK and well beyond – with lots of lovely images of kitchens from all over the UK and Ireland. It can be purchased for a couple of £ from Muddy Faces’ website too. This year they developed a ‘Mud Pack’ of free resources – including a wonderful poster A-Z of Mud – for Int Mud Day 2013.
    Liz Knowles and I have developed a range of collections for ‘advanced’ mud kitchen play (on MF website) – but the main thing is to collect from families and let the children make the kitchen, and NOT spend a fortune!
    Remember I said we should work together! If you’d like to distribute the booklets on your training and conferences, please just ask Liz Knowles at Muddy Faces – she’s be delighted to provide them.
    Keep up the great work – I hope our paths cross again soon, Jan x

  23. well having spent the afternoon (again) in our mud kitchen you do not have to persuade me! I love it. Took a photo this afternoon of one of our 3 year olds with mud everywhere! I was supposed to be at an important meeting after pre-school but had to go home first because i had mud in my hair (little one thought the rosemary would make it smell nice) and all over my trousers because one chap decided he would like to share his ‘soup’ with me. I have a new policy for Ms Truss….every school to have a mud kitchen by 2014!!

  24. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  25. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  26. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  27. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  28. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  29. This a fab blog with some great ideas. The children look like they are having an awesome time! Have you heard of the book Mud Pies and others Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It has some imaginative ideas to enhance the learning and could also inspire some great writing opportunities particularly for boys.

  30. Mud kitchens are great – we started ours in late May with a table bought with lottery funding as our main expense, everything else was free. The children (all aged 2-3 yrs) have loved it – lots of chat, co-operative play, imagination and fun and it gave the children who will be moving on a real boost to do something different.
    Know what you mean about the flowers though, we were happy to see them pick as many daisies and dandelions as they liked but our flower bed flowers were stripped in minutes
    Great to see so many blogs sharing ideas about this and lots of other activities, what a great job we have!

  31. Love this – we have a mud kitchen close to a supply of mint, lemon mint and lavender and freecycle has been very handy for resourcing it.
    The mud kitchen’s great especially as it compliments a number of activities indoors that are now on a messier and larger scale and in the outdoor space where children prefer to be.
    Looking forward to developing it further with some of your ideas.

  32. Wow this is fAbuLouS – I love the intro with the bashful ‘I just knocked this up’! A fantastic in depth guide to how an area might target skills development and reinforcement, as well as highlighting all of the critical skills that it lends itself to. I want one in my back garden never mind setting! Thanks for sharing.

  33. Hi Angela
    Slabs can be great as not only do they clean well, they also give children a defined space for working in. If they are doing any sort of pattern making it transient art they have a ready made canvas. If you use anything like bark or gravel, you just have to accept that it will end up in their concoctions and not stay on the ground! There are more expensive rubberised floorings, but they can become very slippery when they are wet and they often retain the mud, so unless they are black they look permanently dirty. Same goes for decking, as the mud gets stuck in the grooves and then the deck gets very slippery when it is wet! Let the mud fest begin!

  34. Thanks for this very timely article Alistair, I have been thinking about our new mud kitchen space for a while now-we had to clear our previous (hurriedly put together) one to allow for building work. I am hesitating getting started because of the flooring we currently have in the new area-it is simply soil which will be just awful once it gets even a drop of water on it……I am debating the surface to lay ? slabs would be easy to clean I guess-no chance of grass (takes too long to grow and the area will be well used). I’m wondering about some of those rubber tiles that you fill with fine gravel (like you see in car parks sometimes-just need to source and fit something over the summer. What do others have ? I am printing this article for parents and staff to warn them what’s coming in September…..and to add weight to why we NEED ONE !! AND to send out the plea for pots and pans.

  35. This all looks so inviting!
    Bet the children loved it…
    Thanks once again for yet another inspiring blog 🙂

  36. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough and thoughtful post about outdoor kitchens. It is so very inspiring.

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