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Creating a mud kitchen in our garden has been one of the best play-related decisions we’ve ever made. It’s only a very simple set-up (although you can get as elaborate as you like with it), but it gets so much use.
In this post, I’d like to share a bit about our mud kitchen and how we set it up. I’m also going to show you some of the best mud kitchen ideas and inspiration I’ve found. Hopefully, this post will inspire you to create a space for your children to embrace their messy side.
I’ve also got a post up with a great list of other fun things for kids to do outdoors, and I’d love it if you hopped over to take a look.
Why Mud Kitchens?
Firstly, a little bit about why I think mud kitchens and similar messy play areas are important.
Any kind of open-ended play experience is hugely beneficial for children’s development. Some toys are ‘closed’ in that there’s only really one thing you can do with them. Others, like mud kitchens, or non-character-based dressing-up clothes, are more open – they encourage imagination and free play.
A mud kitchen can be …
- The perfect place for a young wizard to mix potions.
- The kitchen of a busy mud cafe.
- A science lab.
- A place for a zookeeper to prepare food for the animals.
- The laboratory for an exclusive perfume company.
And any number of other things.
Free play like this helps to develop language skills as the children talk about the mixtures they’re creating, and build stories around their play.
Mud kitchens can also improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
If you want to be able to pour your mixture, you need to figure out how to make that happen. The same if you’d like to build with it (or throw it at someone).
There is so much hands-on science in the pouring, measuring, adjusting of mixtures.
It’s also important to consider the sensory impact of mud kitchen play. We often live in sanitised environments where exposure to dirty, messy materials is limited. Each new generation spends less time outside.
Mud kitchen play can help rectify that. It gives children a safe way to get thoroughly filthy and to embrace the squishy, squelchy ickiness of it all.
Our Mud Kitchen.
The mud kitchen space in our garden has taken several forms over the years. For a long time, it was just a play kitchen that had seen better days.
Okay, confession time, I evicted it to the garden after someone spilt milk in there and I failed to realise until the whole thing stank to high heaven. #keepingitreal
The kitchen got put outside into the garden while I figured out how to get rid of the smell, and it just kind of stayed there. Definitely not made to be an outdoor toy, it survived the elements for a good few years of happy muddy play.
Eventually it had to go to the big kitchen showroom in the sky. It didn’t take long to realise that my daughter and her friends missed it enormously.
So, we needed a replacement.
I looked at a lot of mud kitchen options. There are some seriously beautiful mud kitchens out there … including some that would probably be an improvement on my actual kitchen.
I wanted something open-ended that would withstand a lot of use, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to keep nice. What’s the point of a mud kitchen if you have to spend half your life cleaning it?
I also didn’t want to spend a small fortune on something that was going to be left outside year-round, and would inevitably get trashed.
Use What You Have.
The best amount of money to spend on a mud kitchen is no money.
We had a shelf-unit lurking in the garage that wasn’t being used, so we decided to repurpose it.
You’ll note that I didn’t say ‘upcycle’. We definitely could have upcycled it, and I’ve seen a lot of awesome mud kitchens created from upcycled furniture.
We literally just stuck the shelving unit in the garden where the mud kitchen used to be. There were two reasons for that:
- I wanted the space to be as open-ended as possible.
- I’m lazy.
Over time the shelf has been joined by a cable reel that my older children found when we were walking the dog. (“Can we bring it home?” “If you can get it back to the car without arguing, we’ll take it home.” A mile-and-a-half of harmonious reel-rolling later, and I was beginning to regret speaking in haste!)
All the accessories and loose parts in our mud kitchen space were either cast-offs from my own kitchen, donated by friends and family when they were decluttering, or picked up from car boot sales.
Most of the utensils have vanished over the last year, so we need to track down some replacements. I’ll be looking out for ladles, slotted spoons, and wooden spoons. For now, though, our extensive stick collection is doing an awesome job.
Any time people bring home sticks, shells, conkers, rocks … any kind of nature treasures, they end up in the mud kitchen. We store them big flower pots with drainage holes in the bottom. That way the rainwater drains out, and everything stays reasonably clean and pleasant.
This mud kitchen gets a LOT of use.
Day after day, all year round.
It gets just as much love as all the fancier mud kitchens I’ve seen, and it took me virtually no effort to put together.
If you don’t have a suitable shelf lurking in your garage, I’m willing to bet you can find one easily, either for free (ask all your friends and family), or cheaply on a local selling group.
Ideas And Inspiration.
So, that’s my mud kitchen. My super-easy set-up, super cheap, bare-minimum mud kitchen.
Maybe you’re feeling a bit more adventurous though?
Or perhaps this kind of set-up wouldn’t suit your garden?
I’ve got you covered. Here’s a round-up of my favourite mud kitchen ideas and inspiration. Some posts are mostly pictures, some give really detailed tutorials.
Whatever kind of muddy play space you’re planning, I hope you’ll find an idea here to get you started.
1. Pallet Mud Kitchen.
Pallets are the frugal DIY-er’s best friend.
This mud kitchen, over at 1001 Pallets is easy and cheap to build, and the design is flexible enough for you to indulge your creativity when building it.
I love the chalkboard area, and I’m thinking of ways to incorporate it into my own outdoor play kitchen. A chalkboard is a great way to encourage early mark-making, and it provides somewhere to write down recipes, potions, or experiments.
2. Running Water.
Not a whole mud kitchen idea, but a brilliant addition to any outdoor play space.
Every kitchen needs a water source, right?
Happy Hooligans has the perfect solution, and it’s cheap and easy to set up. We have an outside tap, but it’s hard for little ones to turn on by themselves, and I’m not always keen for the area right outside my back door to be flooded.
This is absolute genius. Easy running water for the mud kitchen, and a predetermined quantity of water – it’s up to you whether you go down the, “When it’s gone, it’s gone,” route. Some days you’ll be okay with navigating around a flood of mud with bits in it, some days you’d rather keep it relatively restrained.
3. Super Simple Play Space.
This is from Twig & Stick on Instagram, and it shows just how simple your set-up can be.
It’s just a surface with plenty of containers and mixing utensils.
You can totally manage a bit of mud kitchen DIY, and you really don’t have to put in a lot of time or effort to make a space your kids will love.
4. Deluxe Mud Kitchen.
I’m only half-joking when I say that I think I could nab a few ideas from here for my own kitchen.
This build at No Such Thing As Bad Weather is perfect for aspiring Michelin-starred chefs!
I love all the hanging utensil storage – maybe that would prevent our spoons etc. from going walkabout?
5. Build A Mud Kitchen For Kids In A Weekend.
Here’s a brilliant tutorial from Hands On As We Grow. I am loving the little planters at the top – such a cute idea. (I grow watercress right near our mud kitchen, because I have small people who love to water plants, and watercress is about the only thing that thrives on a daily drenching!).
Hop over to see the details of how everything’s put together, and the materials used.
6. When You Have (Almost) No Space.
It can be disheartening looking at what other people have achieved, and realising that there’s no way you could fit something similar into your own garden.
Don’t assume that just because your garden is tiny, you can’t have a mud kitchen.
This example, from Clare’s Little Tots, shows that you can have a functional space for messy play, and still be able to pack it all away again afterwards.
I love having our mud kitchen set up all the time, ready for use at a moment’s notice, but if we didn’t have the space, I’d definitely opt for something like this.
7. IKEA Hack.
Fancier than my version in that it’s been painted & has a sink set into it, but still super-simple.
At Adventure In A Box they’ve used a pump soap dispenser filled with water to represent a tap. This would be a great way to limit the amount of water sloshing around everywhere. As much as I’m a fan of messy play, there are definitely times when I’d rather everyone stayed reasonably clean and dry!
8. Muddyfaces Guide Book.
At Muddy Faces, you’ll find a fabulously comprehensive free ebook guide to making a mud kitchen.
It goes into all the nitty gritty of the things you should think about before establishing your space and offers some helpful design suggestions.
Yes, you can make a mud kitchen without someone showing you how, but this book will help you take a shortcut to success.
9. DIY Mud Kitchen.
Here’s another nice, easy DIY that makes good use of bits and pieces you might already have around the house.
The post also has some really helpful advice about the kinds of accessories and loose parts to include.
10. Super-simple, No DIY Skills.
This picture proves that you can make an effective mud kitchen in a tiny space, even without any DIY skills.
Learn With Play At Home has made this lovely little kitchen out of the most basic of supplies. It’s a super-simple project, and it uses things you can probably get hold of without spending anything.
The Best Mud Kitchen Is The One You Actually Make.
Go ahead, pin a few of these so that you’ve got ideas and inspiration ready for when you make the leap into building your own mud kitchen.
If you’re looking for natural materials to bring into your mud kitchen, then why not try a scavenger hunt with your children and bring back your finds.
The truth, though, is that the kitchens you pin are not the ones your kids will love.
Even if you just start out with a bucket of water and a bucket of dirt.
You don’t need the perfect set-up. There’s no need to spend a lot of money (or any money).
All you need to do is provide the opportunity. Give your kids a space for playing in dirt, and step back and see what happens.
They’ll soon show you what you need to do to make it even better.
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