By Rachel Ullman
As the parent of three children, ages 2.5, 7, and 11, nothing has saved our family sanity more during this time of being at home than outdoor time. When my oldest daughter was a toddler, I remember thinking that we needed lots and lots of outdoor toys in order to “play” outside. However, with my second, and thanks to our experience in the Parent-Child class and Nursery play yard, I learned that nothing occupies kids and inspires the imagination for self-initiated and independent play like dirt, sticks, leaves, grass, and some old kitchen items. Now, my kids (even the 11-year-old!) will “cook” and “bake” for hours, each time surprising me with their imaginations and “gourmet” nature dishes crafted in their beloved mud kitchen.
Now, you might build a mud kitchen from one of the many DIY plans available in a simple internet search, using scrap wood, pallets, old sinks, etc. But, a mud kitchen can be as simple as some cinder blocks with a piece of wood on top, a tree stump and some large rocks, even some small benches or stools. For my daughters, it was never the design of the mud kitchen that was important, it was the act of “cooking” in it or on it! So, we pulled together some old spoons, ladles, cookie cutters, baking pans, pots, trays, lids. Some were from our own clearing out (it’s amazing how much kitchen stuff you acquire and don’t actually use!), some from the thrift shop, and some items taken from neighbors putting them out for the taking on the side of the road.
Our Waldorf School of Princeton Early Childhood students are well-versed in all of the creative ways to use a mud kitchen, in all weather! Rainy days offer lots of good mud for “muffins, cakes, and pies”. Fall leaves make a beautiful “salad”. Spring flowers are the perfect fairy “garnishes.” The mud kitchen will see lots of good use with winter snows, as those cake pans, muffin tins, scoops, and cookie cutters are perfect for shaping and molding icy “meals.”
As you might be looking for more ways to play outdoors with your children right now (and through the seasons), try a simple mud kitchen at home and enjoy the hours of creative play it brings. For more inspiration and for an enjoyable read aloud with your children, check out the book Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It’s an oldie but a goodie! Have fun!