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!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.)
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.
- 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.
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)
and wooden basket £17.99 (find it here) from 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.
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).
…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 www.wilko.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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!