This week, Lauren Evans from The Monarch Studio dropped off a mud kitchen for the preschool groups that have been visiting this winter to use. Lauren has been designing mud kitchens and sensory bins for several years now. She also runs arts classes for kids using her bins and kitchens. Lauren hopes that mud kitchens support more outdoor play.
What is a mud kitchen?
It can be as simple as a few items like old pots and pans with wooden spoons or other unbreakable cooking ware sitting over a tree root, stump, or forest floor, or a piece of wood over logs or concrete blocks, an old table or one made by Lauren. Previously, our mud kitchen consisted of a long plank of wood over two logs. We had trowels, plant pots, a few baskets, and a plastic strainer. Often, I left piles of natural loose parts for the kids to find and use; pinecones, painted rocks, shells, and acorns.
Our new mud kitchen is admittedly pretty fancy; it has two bins with covers to use as sinks, a place to store items, a counter, “spice rack,” and three hooks.
And then kids add items that they find in the garden, items to play with, mix, sort, transform, and sift; natural loose parts like mud, water, seeds, acorns, leaves, and sticks. It is a place to make pretend tea, mix up worm compost, and so many other things. It’s a place to work together, talking, playing, and taking turns. It is a place to have sensory experiences with mud and water and to use imaginations.
And what value do children gain from playing with a mud kitchen?
I think Landere Naisbitt, Outreach Coordinator of the Blue Hills Heritage Trust says it best,
"In the mud kitchen there is no structure, there are no lesson plans...but....so much embodied learning and growing is happening there all the time.”
“I think the mud kitchen is a great example of how play equals learning, how play equals building relationships, and how play equals satisfying basic human needs. Something more than intellectual learning is happening out there in the forest – it is embodied learning and a little bit of magic too."
And yes, all of this includes mud, too!
By Paula Jordan, Children in Nature Coordinator
Thanks again to Lauren Evans for letting us borrow a mud kitchen this winter. Our Somerville Health Foundation grant for the Growing Center nature work with local preschools will allow us to order a permanent mud kitchen later this season. Please check out more about the magic of mud kitchens and Lauren’s work below.