Mud Kitchens in 2020 | Ultimate Guide to Outside Play

A mud kitchen is an outdoor play area set up for children to pretend to cook without having to worry about making a mess. In a mud kitchen, your kids will use natural “ingredients” like mud and dirt to cook up all sorts of pretend dishes. As a wonderful activity for early child development, mud kitchens are ideal for children at one to seven years of age.

What Do You Do With a Mud Kitchen?

With a mud kitchen, your kids can make mud pies and other mud-based culinary creations in a designated outdoor area. Little ones love to pretend play, and in a mud kitchen, they can mimic everyday chores like cooking, cleaning, and serving meals. 

Kids can also work together in mud kitchens, acting out various scenarios and playing games of their own creation.

In mud kitchens, your kids can also develop their own games and role playing scenarios. For example, one child may assume the role of head chef, creating recipes and cooking up a dish. Another child may take the role of the diner, excitedly waiting to “eat” the gourmet mud meal.

Benefits of Mud Kitchens

A mud kitchen can provide numerous benefits for young kids as an outdoor play area, including:

Worry-Free Kitchen Play

A mud kitchen will give your toddlers the chance to play the role of a chef without ruining your kitchen equipment. Mud kitchens include separate pots, pans, spoons, and other kitchen accessories that are specifically for playing. So, your kids’ imaginations can run wild and you don’t have to worry about damage to pricey kitchen gear.

Outdoor Play

Playing outside has proven to be enormously beneficial for kids of all ages. Key benefits of outdoor play for children include:

Sensory skill development

For young kids around the ages of three to four, playtime can impact sensory development. Outdoor play can spur greater sensory skill development than indoor play. From smelling the flowers in your flower bed to seeing a bird in a tree and touching the rough tree bark, young children gain new experiences when they play outside. In contrast, when kids play inside using devices, only the senses of sight and hearing are stimulated.

Improved immune strength

Children who play outside receive direct outdoor light. This is known to activate the pineal gland in the brain, which contributes to a strong immune system. As an added bonus, pineal gland stimulation has shown to boost feelings of happiness. So, when kids play outside, they may feel happier and in a better mood than if they were to play inside.

Lengthened attention spans

Outdoor play encourages kids to control their own activities and continue with those activities for longer. This promotes curiosity and a developed attention span. Since outdoor play presents a wider range of activities and playing options than indoor play, it can have a major impact on children’s ability to focus.  

Mud kitchens provide a structured environment for outdoor play. With endless options for games and activities centered around the mud kitchen, it can keep your little ones entertained for hours on end. Nowadays, when so many kids are absorbed in digital devices and online games, interesting activities like mud kitchen play can help lure them outdoors. Thankfully, once kids start to enjoy outdoor play, they’re more likely to choose it over a computer game.

Sensory skill development

For young kids around the ages of three to four, playtime can impact sensory development. Outdoor play can spur greater sensory skill development than indoor play. From smelling the flowers in your flower bed to seeing a bird in a tree and touching the rough tree bark, young children gain new experiences when they play outside. In contrast, when kids play inside using devices, only the senses of sight and hearing are stimulated.

Mental Health Benefits

Did you know that playing in mud has natural benefits for your mental health? It’s true! is a bacteria that’s naturally found in dirt, and it’s been proven to have stress-relieving benefits. This bacteria encourages the body to release serotonin, a chemical and neurotransmitter that benefits your mood. Serotonin promotes relaxation and a sense of calm. 

 So, playing in mud can have therapeutic, mood-boosting effects on both you and your children. With a mud kitchen in your yard, the whole family can join in on the fun of playing in the mud for stress relief.

Unique Learning Opportunities

In a kitchen, you must measure, count, and interpret recipes. For kids, these tasks can translate into valuable mathematical learning. Additionally, kitchen play leads to experimentation as ingredients are combined to create exciting dishes. Experimenting in the kitchen is much like a science project, giving your kids the chance to exercise their creativity.

With a mud kitchen, your children can gain these kitchen, science, and math skills without the worry of making a mess. As they measure, mix, and plate up their dishes, your kids will also be developing their motor skills through mud kitchen play.

Why Are Mud Kitchens Important?

Mud kitchens are important for children’s development in several ways. For one, mud kitchens promote communication between children. Outdoor play areas are naturally suited to group play. So, your kids can learn how to work together, collaborate, and communicate effectively through outdoor play. Communication skills are essential in every stay of life, and mud kitchens can help toddlers start to develop these crucial abilities early on. 

Sensory development is another factor in the importance of mud kitchens. As we mentioned earlier, when kids play with digital devices, they only use their senses of sight and sound. Playing outside with a mud kitchen provides a sensory experience with not only sight and sound, but also touch and smell. Sensory play can help develop children’s cognitive abilities, ultimately helping them with more sophisticated learning tasks.

Playing is Important, Period.

Everyone knows that children love to play. But, few may realize that play is an incredibly important activity for child development. 

Young children are exceedingly creative. For that creativity to shine through, they need an outlet that allows them to freely explore their ideas. Through playing, kids can investigate new scenarios and ways of thinking. This spurs developmental growth that will benefit your little ones for their entire lives. From communication skills to problem solving and judgment, playing is an irreplaceable component of kids’ mental and emotional growth. 

The set up of a mud kitchen provides complete freedom for kids to play and use their imaginations. Since the kitchen is outside, your child can make a mess to their heart’s content. This type of playing, which provides the opportunity to freely use the imagination, can help children grow leaps and bounds.

How Do You Make a Simple Mud Kitchen?

Anyone can create a mud kitchen in their own backyard. You can change up your mud kitchen according to the materials and equipment that you have at your disposal. But, to create a simple, kid-friendly mud kitchen, follow these steps.

1. Get a used sink. 

An old kitchen sink will provide a vessel for your kids to safely handle mud. If you don’t have an old sink hanging around in your garage, check out a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells used home improvement items at very low prices. Other thrift stores or flea markets with home items may have sinks for purchase, too. 

2. Get wooden boards to make the table.

Home improvement stores sell wooden boards that you can use to create the legs and tabletop for your mud kitchen. The amount of wood that you’ll need will depend on the size of your mud kitchen. We recommend 2×6-foot boards for the tabletop and backboard, as well as 4×4-foot boards for the table legs. Don’t forget to pick up a few boxes of wood screws, too. 

Wooden pallets can also be used to make a mud kitchen. Pallets are inexpensive and easy to come by. You may even be able to find pallets for free from local businesses such as hardware stores, garden stores, grocery stores, and pet stores. 

3. Construct the mud kitchen. 

You’ll need a power drill to create the structure for your mud kitchen. Be sure to measure your sink’s depth, then map out the dimensions of your table accordingly. Typically, you’ll need:

  • Four boards for the table legs, with the back legs about double the height of the front legs
  • Four boards to create the perimeter of the table 
  • Four boards to create the surface of the table
  • Three boards to create the backboard

4. Add the finishing touches.

Once you’ve built the structure of your mud kitchen, it’s time to add on the finishing touches. These additions will excite your kids and inspire them to get into the kitchen.

Hooks for pots, pans, and cooking utensils are one of our favorite mud kitchen additions. Hooks are simple to install onto the backboard of your mud kitchen – you can typically just attach them with a screw or two. Or, you can simply add a few nails to the backboard, which can be used to hang kitchen equipment from. With their mud kitchen gear hung up on the backboard, your children will be able to easily access everything they need. 

Flower boxes are another fun extra that you can add to any mud kitchen. Colorful flowers in flower boxes will add visual appeal to the kitchen, as well as provide an added activity for children. Your kids can take on the task of caring for the flowers. Watering the flowers and ensuring that they receive enough sunlight can teach your kids about responsibility and routine.

5. Stock up your mud kitchen.

The final step in creating a mud kitchen is stocking it up. Most households have old kitchen gear that never gets used or may not be safe for cooking real food. For instance, pans with chipped nonstick coating should no longer be used in the real kitchen, but are perfect for your kids’ mud kitchen.

Rummage through the back of your drawers and cabinets to find seldom-used items for the mud kitchen. In a pinch, you can also purchase inexpensive kitchen gear at local thrift shops or online.

Here are some examples of items to include in your toddlers’ mud kitchen:

  • Pot
  • Pan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Colander
  • Muffin pan
  • Cake pan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula
  • Ladle
  • Plates, cups, and cutlery 

These are just a few of the many types of kitchen equipment that you can use to stock up a mud kitchen. Your mud kitchen can be adjusted according to the items that you have available. 

How Do You Make Mud for a Mud Kitchen?

Making mud for your kids’ mud kitchen is the best way to ensure that it’s safe for handling. Plus, by getting creative with mud materials, your children can create several different varieties of mud. Creating mud in different colors and textures can spark ideas for all sorts of mud recipes.

One excellent strategy for creating mud for a mud kitchen is to combine bagged topsoil with water. Bagged topsoil is sure to be safe and free from weeds, insects, or animal droppings. Plus, you can simply pick up a bag of topsoil at your local gardening or home improvement store, making it an accessible option for your mud kitchen.

Gravel, wood chips, and sand can also be combined with water to create mud for your mud kitchen. If you get these materials from around your house, just check them for droppings and other unwanted debris before letting your kids play with them.


Other Natural Ingredients for Mud Kitchens

Other natural materials around your yard and garden besides mud can provide more recipe options for your toddler. Colorful plants and leaves make particularly good garnishes for mud pies. 

Here are other ingredient ideas for your mud kitchen that can be found around most yards:

  • Flower petals
  • Wildflowers
  • Herbs
  • Grass
  • Stones and pebbles
  • Twigs
  • Acorns

Is It Okay For Kids to Play in Mud?

Many parents question the safety of having children play outside in the mud. You can’t control the critters and insects that run around in your yard, and weeds or thorny plants could prick children’s skin. 

To make sure that your kids stay safe, you can create mud for the mud kitchen using bagged topsoil and water. This strategy ensures that no weeds, insects, or animal feces make their way into your kid’s playing mud. 

If your kids want to source their own mud for the play kitchen, they can do so safely. But, be sure to check the mud around your yard before allowing your children to dig in. Keep an eye out for animal droppings, and keep the area weeded – weeds can easily prick and cut children’s skin. 

Additionally, make sure that while they’re playing in the mud kitchen, kids wear clothes that are okay to get dirty. Aprons are a practical and cute way for kids to stay clean while they’re out playing with the mud kitchen.

When is The Best Time to Make a Mud Kitchen?

Since playing with a mud kitchen is an outdoor activity, it makes sense to set it up during spring or early summer. At this time, the weather will be warm enough for you to comfortably construct the kitchen outdoors. Plus, this timing ensures that your kids have the bulk of the summer to play with their mud kitchen out in the sunshine. 

That said, kids can also play with the mud kitchen throughout the year. So long as it’s not snowing or raining, there’s no reason why your kids can’t bundle up and play with the mud kitchen year-round. Just make sure that your toddler has warm clothing that can get messy, too. 

Where Should I Set Up a Mud Kitchen?

A mud kitchen can set up wherever you have ample space. But, if you have a spacious yard and are unsure of the best location for a mud kitchen, follow these guidelines:
  • Positioning the mud kitchen against a wall, hedge, or fence can help keep it out of the way, leaving ample space for running around in the yard. 
  • Setting your mud kitchen up in a corner can give it a cozy, secluded feel that kids will enjoy. 
  • Your mud kitchen doesn’t have to be set up near a source of water. Your kids can use small buckets and pails to carry water from a water source to the kitchen. 
  • If your yard contains an ideal mud material, you may want to set up your mud kitchen close to that material. That way, your children can easily get the mud “ingredients” that they need, with minimal mess.

More Mud Kitchen Tips

  • If you have a toy kitchen that your kids no longer use, it might make a great, easy mud kitchen. Just make sure that the materials are durable enough to withstand the elements.
  • Provide buckets or baskets for your kids to use to forage for non-mud ingredients. Pine cones, stones, acorns, and similar outdoor items can be collected and stored for future recipes.
  • An old spice rack (with expired spices, if you have them) can be an excellent addition to your mud kitchen. Your kids will have a blast adding spices to their recipes and may even learn new culinary terms in the process!

Mud kitchens are a fantastic way to encourage creative, outdoor playtime for your kids. With the information provided above, you can create a mud kitchen in your very own backyard.

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