Any fly on a wall would tell you how much fun both children and families enjoy through outdoor learning… and what brings more smiles, awe and wonder and an abundance of fantastic learning opportunities, than mud and water and pots and pans in a mud kitchen?
Which other simple activity can teach language and social skills, develop knowledge and understanding of the world, provide opportunities to use and apply maths and problem solving, at the same time as allowing the development of scientific, investigative and motor skills as well as instigating writing for a purpose?
Here are some simple, quick and easy ideas that demonstrate just a few of the benefits of learning through nature in a mud kitchen, both through free exploration and more structured investigations.
With so many opportunities to use and apply mathematical skills through exploration in a mud kitchen. Children will naturally start to measure, calculate and quantify. By providing outdoor maths equipment, children can practise using scales and balances, graded and ungraded containers for comparing size and capacity in a purposeful environment. They will choose to use clocks and timers in their imaginative play, if they are readily available.
Children can investigate symmetry, doubles and arrays by using old bun baking trays etc. They will start to apply addition, subtraction, multiplication and division through natural and purposeful play.
The availability of whiteboards and clipboards allow children to make and record observations and calculations, both pictorially and through use of numbers and symbols, depending on their stage of development. Even money concepts/calculations can be introduced, if mud kitchen menus/lists are labelled with prices etc.
Siting some water play resources near your mud kitchen, enables the seamless integration of purposeful water play for mixing and measuring etc. A moveable, magnetic water play area can allow children to investigate, design and develop their own fun and creative water supplies for a real reason.
Science/ Knowledge and Understanding of the World:
A mud kitchen provides so many opportunities for scientific discovery. Children can hunt for ingredients around their school grounds and learn about the local native plants and trees, as well as learning about plants that have been introduced by plant hunters in the distant past. There are opportunities to learn about materials and their properties and how materials can change state and that some processes can be reversed.
Children can learn about the importance of conservation and find out about interesting plant uses. They can learn about natural medicines i.e. how dock leaves can be used to treat stinging nettle stings etc. They will learn to name and recognise the different parts of plants and observe what a plant needs to survive. They will develop an understanding of the need to look after their local environment and start to relate this to looking after the wider world.
There are also opportunities to develop a child’s ability to use their senses. Developing a herb bed, vegetable patch or fruit trees etc. near your mud kitchen would enable children to plant, tend and select plants for mixing for making potions and mud pies as well as to use in edible treats for their friends and families, i.e. by making soups and fruit salads etc. The provision of magnifying glasses and observatories can enable the children to make careful observations of the world around them and notice changes over time.
Having a crushing station with rocks and pebbles with fabric scraps, enables children to crush leaves etc to learn about natural dyes. They can observe the structure of a plant and even learn about the chlorophyll inside a leaf! They can use this technique to create their own natural napkins, table clothes, buntingz\ or nature pictures with natural plant dyes, to compliment their mud kitchen area.
Social and Emotional Skills:
Children learn social skills like listening, sharing, taking turns, discussion and debate in a fun and purposeful environment. They develop decision making and daily life skills like clearing up, laying tables, cooking and using tools. They will develop knowledge and understanding about health and safety, personal hygiene, risk assessing and caring for our natural world, through purposeful play. A mud kitchen provides them with a space to enjoy being creative and messy, as well as a place to feel safe, secure and happy, where they are in control of their actions and experimentation.
Adults and young people also enjoy getting close to nature and being free to experiment and investigate in this way. A mud kitchen frees the mind and soul and takes away life’s time pressures and constraints!
These are just a few of the benefits of allowing children and families to access learning through playing and investigating in a mud kitchen environment…it is fun and educational and the opportunities to use and apply learning are limitless!
Mud kitchens are certainly a great way to encourage and develop concentration, observation, discussion and team work skills and the excitement of new discoveries and the sense of awe and wonder derived from the nature around them is priceless.