DIY Mud Kitchen for Kids in 10 Minutes
Mud kitchens seem to have replaced sandboxes in popularity. My kids spend much more time with mud than with the sandbox we built them years ago. And that’s great!
But in this era of Pinterest and Instagram, a simple mud kitchen can quickly turn into a week-long construction project…or worse…never become reality because it’s too overwhelming.
Now, some of you might love that challenge and you have built a 5-Star mud kitchen or can’t wait to get started. That’s fantastic. My husband and I are always up for a good project.
That being said, a mud kitchen doesn’t have to be complicated and can be super simple. Read on how to set up a mud kitchen in 10 minutes.
The Right Place for a Mud Kitchen
When setting up a mud kitchen, there are two things to consider…space and water.
While it’s entirely possible to set up a mud kitchen in a small space, they do have a tendency to spread and it’s a good idea to ensure that there is room for it to expand. Extra space may also be needed when friends come over and join the fun.
If you don’t have the space, small is still better than nothing and very doable.
Setting up a Mud Kitchen
That is my motto for almost any project and I admit that I don’t always follow my own advice. But starting small increases your chances of success by leaps and bounds.
The beautiful mud kitchens you see on Pinterest and Facebook might be tempting but there are many benefits to starting small.
- Easy and quick to set up.
- The amount of mud is more manageable.
- Clean up is simple and the kids can learn to do most of it on their own.
- Flexibility. A small mud kitchen setup can be moved and adjusted as needed.
- It doesn’t cost anything or very little.
When you have decided on a space, all you need to do is find some kind of surface for your kids to work on. Here are some ideas:
- Some bricks, cinder blocks or logs with a board across.
- An old cabinet or simple shelf you no longer need.
- An old plastic play kitchen that is meant for indoors (much better than throwing it in the trash if your kids don’t play with it inside).
- A large plastic tub. This works well for really small spaces. Fill it with dirt and provide a bucket with water. Mud is still going to get out but it does provide a boundary.
- A patch of dirt. You can mark this with a couple of sticks if you like and then your little one can get to work.
This is what our setup looked like last year. While there were a couple of random wooden shelves and tables, most of the activity took place on the ground. This year, we added an outdoor metal cabinet from Ikea, which we no longer needed. It stores all their supplies but they still mostly play on the ground in a big hole they dug and regularly fill with water. Since this setup is so simple it’s always changing.
Mud Play Accessories
Now that you have your basic setup, you can add other items that are essential for a mud kitchen.
- Containers – Anything that will hold your child’s mud creation will work. The recycling bin is always a great first place to look. Old yogurt containers, plastic bottles, etc… You might even have some plastic storage containers in your kitchen you no longer need…or old pots and pans. Check with friends and neighbors as well. Bowls, baking dishes and cups are also perfect.
- Utensils – The simplest utensil has been and always will be a good old stick. But do take a look in your kitchen drawers and see if there are any utensils you no longer need. Hand trowels from the hardware store are perfect for digging in the dirt, scooping and mixing bigger amounts of dirt.
As you look around and gather a few items, remember that you are STARTING SMALL. Your child won’t need a fully equipped kitchen to get started.
One year, I put together a mud kitchen starter kit as a gift for the birthday of my friend’s daughter.
Some of the items came from the dollar store, other’s we had extra and many were provided by the nature. Just add dirt and water and your child will have their very own mud kitchen.
Mud Kitchen Activities
Aside from the obvious making of mud pies, a mud play area can lend itself to many other activities.
When my kids head to their mud kitchen area, they often have a scenario in mind…a story that they are going to bring to life.
When they were younger, I introduced many of our activities with simple stories and then they would be off bringing the story to life in their play. Often it was animals that were celebrating an occasion or were in dire need of food for some reason or another.
Recently, they created a feast for the squirrels after being inspired by a story from our Sophie & Max series. The party setup even included a ramp for squirrels that may be in a wheelchair.
So, you can see that mud kitchens can be so much more than just water and dirt.
Another popular activity I always did with the children in my nature program was to make mud ball critters.
This can be a tough one.
Of course, one needs a good amount of water for mud play but we all know that the desire for more and more water can be very strong in children at times and if left unchecked the entire backyard may turn into a mud pit.
And then there is the concept of using natural resources such as water mindfully, especially in very dry areas.
My recommendation is to think about all this before you hand over that first bucket of water and come up with a simple rule that works well in your situation.
Our general rule, when my kids were younger, was one bucket of water in the morning and one in the afternoon. When the bucket was empty, they had to wait until the afternoon or the next day. There were some upset moments at first but they quickly learned to manage their water and not be wasteful while still having plenty of fun. Now, we no longer have this rule as they have both learned to use the water responsibly.
Setting boundaries is our job as parents. And we are not being mean when we say “No more water for today.” I have quietly wondered many times if I’m depriving them of fun when I’m setting these limits but then remind myself that it’s the same as not letting them eat ice cream all day. Healthy boundaries make for a happy family.
Clean up: Mud Kitchen and Muddy Kids
The question I get the most is…“How do you not end up with mud all over your house when the fun is over?”
When mud is involved there are usually two kinds of dirty. 1) My hands are dirty and I have some mud on my clothes. And 2) I’m covered in mud from head to toe.
Let’s talk about scenario 1 first. In this case, a hand wash bucket or bowl with an old towel by the door is very handy. Kids can quickly rinse of their hands before coming inside. And shoes always stay outside as well. If they are barefoot, they need to rinse those off as well. Kids can learn to do that themselves from a fairly early age on. Establishing the habit takes a bit of time but then they should be good to go.
Now, when you end up with mud covered kids, a hose or outdoor shower works best. If you have a baby pool or something similar for them to step in while you hose them off even better. Strip the clothes before or after you hose off.
Does the thought of muddy kids and piles of dirty clothes still hold you back from setting up a mud kitchen?
Set up rules and boundaries together with your kids and they will be more likely to follow them. Here are some ideas:
- Limit the amount of water.
- Only do it once or twice a week.
- Make children part of the clean up process. When they learn how much work it is to clean up they become more mindful about how dirty they get.
- Skip the water. Kids don’t always need water to play in a mud kitchen. There are plenty of things they can cook up with just dirt, sand, leaves, pinecones, sticks, pebbles, etc.
- Switch it up with sand days. Water, sand and nature bits and pieces without the dirt are still plenty of fun without the muddy mess.
And don’t forget to have the kids clean up the mud kitchen.
Depending on where your mud kitchen is located and how far and wide it spreads during play, mud pies and utensils may be scattered all across the yard. Without a simple clean up routine this can quickly become a nuisance when it’s time to mow the lawn.
After many years of mud play we are still working on this but our rule is that finished creations can stay on a shelf and all dishes, cups and utensils need to be back in their home.
Ready, Set…Play in the Mud!
Whether you have always wanted to set up a mud kitchen for your kids or only recently had the idea, there is no better time than now to do it. You saw how easy it can be. Don’t overthink it.
Start small and know that you can always expand it as you go.