The Magic of a Backyard Mud Kitchen

A little girl plays in her outside mud kitchen on a sunny day wearing bright clothes

Header image credit: @playroom_riots

Maria Montessori believed that children needed to spend time in the natural world, “to understand and appreciate the order, harmony, and beauty in nature.” A child-size outdoor mud kitchen can invite exactly that, as your child is compelled to roll up their sleeves and dig into sensory play. 

When they play outdoors, children can experience embodied learning and use their senses to feel, smell, and listen to a different set of inputs than what they experience in their own playroom.

When you think about it, Montessori-aligned families work to curate their little one’s indoor play space, which often includes an area where their child has access to a limited supply of toys and materials that are geared to their current stage of development, so it makes sense to consider an outdoor space as well.  

mud kitchen
Image credit: @farmhousemoon

Benefits of a Mud Kitchen

Creating a mud kitchen provides a space for open-ended and pretend play as a child learns and grows. This type of play allows for exploration and problem solving to happen independently and organically. 

There can be a natural tendency to want to step in and help our little ones as they are working through concepts, but that is often the time when we need to step back and let our children figure it out for themselves. For example, if your toddler fills a bucket full of sand or water they will learn they have to use their maximum effort to pick it up, or figure out how to pour some out to make it lighter. Your child is developing a growth mindset as they work through these challenges on their own. 

How to Set Up Your Mud Kitchen

If you choose to set up an outdoor mud kitchen for your child, the possibilities are endless. Oftentimes families find an easy and affordable mud kitchen setup is to repurpose old wooden pallets and cinder blocks (always supervising your little one). One of mom or dad’s old, oversized shirts can be a great smock to hang on a hook nearby. Be sure to trim the bottom, so they don’t trip over it. This allows your little one to independently get ready as they literally dig into their play! 

mud kitchen
Image credit: @playroom_riots

Once your mud kitchen is in place, simply add tools to invite play. This can be as simple as old muffin and loaf plans, wooden spoons, pots and pans, and other kitchen gadgets you’re willing to part with (at least for the time being). All of that measuring and packing of mud is great exposure to STEM concepts. Your child will also be testing hypotheses as they add different amounts of water to soil for the perfect mud consistency. 

We recommend including a watering can and water source nearby, so your child can take the initiative to create more mud as they play. Toddlers love to exert maximum effort, so filling a bucket with water, mud or rocks and carrying it around the yard can be great fun for a little one—and help get the wiggles out as they burn that extra energy.

The Essentials for Setup

Gathered from around the house, fill your mud kitchen with the tools to inspire open and endless play. Use this list as inspiration but work with what you already have at home!

  • Colander 
  • Baking tins
  • Spoons and spatulas
  • Watering cans and small pitchers
  • Metal bowls and buckets
  • Pots, and pans
  • Kid-friendly garden tools
  • Garden soil (if you don’t have easy or safe access to dirt in your backyard)
mud kitchen expert

About the Author

Stacy Keane is an AMI Montessori certified teacher, M.Ed. and head of learning for Monti Kids. She contributes extensively to the Monti Kids curriculum and makes sure she stays relevant by working with new and expecting parents. “As an educator, I was surprised by the amount of support I needed as a parent, and it is my goal that every Monti Kids family receives this support from the very beginning—we’re in this together!”

This story was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of KIWI magazine. Click here to read more. Check out our other summer activities, like how to make your own bubbles!