Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years


Make a Mud Kitchen for Mud Day – new guidance published today!

Cooking up something wonderful again

I’ve been so looking forward to posting this post!  It will very soon be International Mud Day (29th June) and what better way to prepare for this wonderful celebration of childhood and nature than to create a mud kitchen with the children in your home or setting?

As a child, I experimented and played with mud, painted with it, dug in it, made mud pies and loved the feel of it on my body.  This fascination led me to study a degree in Soil Science and a lifelong love of the stuff of the earth.  As a four year old, my daughter’s summer was fully occupied with making innumerable ‘concoctions’ with substances from the kitchen, such as flour and sugar, and anything she could find in the garden: soil, gravel, leaves, berries, water.  She spent long periods of time deeply absorbed in grinding, mixing and decanting.  I looked on with delight and marvel at this wonderfully curious and imaginative child; and the scientist in her was clearly evident.  Now as a young adult she has a very enquiring, creative and resourceful approach to life – and is training in Fine Art! (1)

Having contemplated children’s fascination for mud play for many years, I have come to the understanding that everything is there – elemental materials, enquiry, fascination, transformation, alchemy, fantasy, agency and self discovery.  It seems to me that mud play is one of the most valuable and vital experiences we can provide for children – and it certainly should be a core offer outdoors in all early years settings.  Children’s mud play is worthy of attentive observation and focused research by early childhood professionals and parents – and I’d love to see it seriously researched at Masters or PhD level.

Choose the place and make the space

So, as my contribution to International Mud Day in this, its second year, I’m delighted to announce the global availability – as a free online resource – of my new ‘Making a Mud Kitchen’ booklet, published in collaboration with Muddy Faces and several mud kitchen enthusiasts across the UK and Ireland.

Below is an extract from the booklet and the whole document can be found on the Muddy Faces website, including a downloadable PDF.  Please share it widely, in the spirit with which it is published (please acknowledge the author and publisher).  There are hundreds of wonderful, homemade mud kitchens being shared on blogs and pinterest around the world – take a nice long tour and be enthused and inspired!

Making a Mud Kitchen – Just do it!  [© from Making a Mud Kitchen by Jan White]

There is little more important in our physical world than earth and water and they are truly intriguing things, especially when they interact.  Mixing soil, water and a range of other natural materials has a foundational role in early childhood which has deep importance, and endless possibilities for well-being, development and learning.  The breadth and depth of what these experiences offer young children is truly remarkable.

Mud kitchens provide something quite different to a soil digging patch, whilst also being much more easily managed.  A mud kitchen includes elements of the much-loved domestic corner and cooking from indoor play, which are then hugely enriched through the special nature of being outside.  Mud kitchens work well all year round, and need to be seen as a core element of continuous provision outside.

Mud kitchens do not need to be fancy and certainly do not need to cost much.  There is nothing to beat the simplicity and character of creating your own unique kitchen from scrounged, begged and discovered items.  And remember, the best mud kitchens are made in collaboration with the children who will be using them.

Fit it out

Delving into the Meanings of Mud Play [© from Making a Mud Kitchen by Jan White]

Young children are endlessly interested in – and biologically programmed to explore – the stuff of the earth, how materials behave and what they do.

Making connections through discovering and investigating cause and effect is the stuff of brain development and scientific process.  Curiosity, fascination and the pleasure of finding things out are fundamentally important to the human state: being human.

An even more powerful level of experience for the explorer is that they are the one making things happen – giving feelings of control and power, and over time, building a child who has a strong inner sense of agency (which itself is key to well-being and mental health).

The processes of making ‘concoctions’ bring the worlds of science and art completely together through possibility thinking.  The growth of imagination and creativity happens through building on concrete cause-and-effect experience to posing and predicting ‘what if…?’  Good scientists do this all the time, as do artists and all other innovators.

Even better, the experience of making concoctions brings the child into the realms of magic and fantasy – reminding us of the ancient fascinations of alchemy.

Get busy in it!

The best mud kitchens, and those which have the most atmosphere and character, are made from found, gathered and donated items – especially when these come from the children’s own families.  It’s important not to spend much money – what matters to children is that these things come from the real human world, to combine with the stuff of the real physical world.

In order to drive forward my campaign for a Mud Kitchen in every early years setting in the UK, Muddy Faces and I have also been working on a very thoughtful and inspiring range of mud kitchen resources for their online shop, and the first 6 collections have just been released (and discounted for Mud Day):

“The aim of the Mud Kitchen range is to deepen the understanding, importance, value and range of experiences from mud play as continuous provision and to support practitioners to achieve this.  Each set is a collection of beautiful items that wonderfully support young children’s natural desires to explore and discover, imagine and create, relate and interact.  Each collection has been carefully selected starting from what we know young children want to do and with strong regard for how children’s play and learning is best supported during the early years.”

I plan to make an area on this website for gathering useful and sharable materials to support the growth of mud kitchens.  Please do let me know of anything you think should be on there.



(1) text from Playing and Learning Outdoors by Jan White (Routledge, 2008)

All images (C) Jan White Natural Play and the photographers.  With great thanks to all these friends who share children’s passion for mud play as demonstrated in these images, and especially to Liz Knowles and Muddy Faces for their belief and commitment to the cause.