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.

31 thoughts on “Make a Mud Kitchen for Mud Day – new guidance published today!

  1. Jan,
    What a great post – I too love mud and any kitchen that contains it! I could’t however get the Muddy Faces link to your booklet to work, through the above pdf link. Is it available any other way? Your resource range looks wonderful!

    • Hi Mandy – great to hear from you. the PDF isn’t available just yet as we’re waiting for the final images permissions – that’s what the blanks are on the online version. As soon as we have those (this week) we can load them and make the PDF live, so keep an eye out. The booklet is on Muddy Faces’ website as a web page – click on the muddy spoon on their home page. If you still have trouble, please phone Muddy Faces for help! The link on my blog does take you through to the web page booklet though – I checked it this afternoon. Happy mud kitchening, jan

  2. I vividly remember as a child creating our own mud cafe in a friends garden. Thanks to your blog and booklet I have convinced our nursery to develop a mud kitchen – we had our first mud kitchen this week and it was a huge success. Boys who have struggled to be engaged spent time “just being” creating magnificent mud pies. The addition of some dried lavender from our garden was very popular with all. I hope this is the start of convincing our nursery to embrace natural play – thank you so much.

    • Hi Kirsty, I was reading on online Orion article from David Sobel (about connecting children to nature through hands-on play) as your comment came in (hence the rapid response).
      Wow! It’s so exciting and gratifying to have helped this happen for your children – and your team. I’ve been wondering if mud kitchens could be the doorway to enabling natural play in settings – and you’ve added to the evidence base! I’d love to hear from you about any transformations in the understandings or attitudes of practitioners and parents in your nursery. Where are you? Please keep in touch! (my email is janwhite56@hotmail.co.uk)

  3. Hello we are in the process of making our mud kitchen and we are very excited about it. However I can’t find loam soil is there anywhere I can get it, or is there an alternative?

    • Hi Debbie, great to hear that you are inspired to make a mud kitchen. The soil I suggest is just ‘topsoil’ which should be available in any garden centre or place like B&Q (loam is the lovely soil that is equal in parts of sand, clay and organic matter – it’s the stuff you find just under grass turf). The important thing is not to buy ‘compost’ as this has too much organic matter to mix well with water and make a useable mud mixture. Just look for ‘topsoil’ on the bag, or ask at the garden centre. Happy mixing!

  4. Jan
    Such a fantastic article, thank you. I am looking at setting one up at my setting soon!

  5. Hi,
    I’m a mum with an outdoor kitchen that I made for my daughters birthday (she’ll be 6 in five weeks).
    The garden has evolved and the kitchen has evolved into a mud kitchen with my daughter and her little brother moving sand from the sandpit,, a whole by son (nearly four) has been digging over the last few months.
    I am now starting a research project for my early years degree at my son’s pre-school, setting up a mud kitchen with guidance from your publications, inspiration from my children attending Waldorf Steiner Kindergartens and their teachers and my own kids outdoor play over the years.
    I’ll be keeping up with the website, Facebook, twitters and hope to make this a great experience for all the children, practitioners and my own journey.
    Thank you for your inspirational books and ideas

    • Hi Kate, thanks so much for letting me know about this – it feels fabulous to know I’m helping this to happen, and I would really love to know what you find out for your research project. The Mud Kitchen needs a PhD to dig deep into what it does – but it certainly seems to be opening up a doorway to natural play in early years settings and homes. For this year’s International Mud Day, Muddy Faces are setting up an online map (will go live late April I expect) so that people can add a balloon for their own mud kitchen, and comment on whether our booklet contributed to their inspiration and creation. I hope you’ll be one of the first to add yours – http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk (under mud kitchens). We’ll also be setting up an online pack to support people to celebrate Mud Day this year on 29th June. Please keep in touch! Jan

  6. Fantastic pictures of muddy play, especially the top one! My kids would never play that way. My son even would not feed himself when he was ~1 because he didn’t want to get dirty . I’ve read here: http://www.mums-dads.co.uk/education/mud-is-good-mud-kitchen-even-better/ , that it’s proven that playing in the mud is beneficial for kids, but there were no reference to that research…

    • Hi – thanks for the link to mums-dads.co.uk. If you follow my link through to the full “making a Mud Kitchen” booklet online you’ll see that we included the references to such biological benefits – research suggests that bacteria in soil help to develop a healthy immune system and also that they cause the production of serotonin (a very important neurotransmitter) that makes us feel happy! It’s not at all surprising really since we evolved in contact with the earth over many millions of years, so we are fine tuned to gain from it. Mud kitchen play is also fantastic for all aspects of thinking and learning – many early years teachers are including areas for this in their outdoor spaces and letting us know just how well they are working educationally. If mud is too messy, try sand to start with – hope you’ll try this at home…

  7. Hi – A colleague brought me a present from the Waldorf Steiner Conference – Your Mud Kitchen Booklet – It is very popular and has been viewed by staff at my son’s pre-school that have developed a mud kitchen and are now building another one in their nursery school, three childminders have borrowed the book for inspiration, a parent that comes along to our Steiner Parent and Child group has set up one in her garden I’ve only had it a couple of weeks! We are planning Mud Day here in Accrington – Lancashire.

    • Hi Kate – fabulous! As I’ve said before, it’s so gratifying to find this booklet is having such an inspiring effect: that one little booklet can do so much for our children! I think this fits very well with Steiner education, but it’s also taking hold in mainstream schools and could be the much-needed antidote to the awful things afoot with the current government’s lack of interest in play in education… You can get more booklets to give out by contacting Muddy Faces (sorry – only in the UK, but coming soon in Portugal at least) at info@muddyfaces.co.uk – seems like yours might be little worn by now. Could you put yourself on Muddy Faces’ online Mud Day map as well – go to their website http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk Please let me know how your Mud Day (29th June) goes – I’d love to hear, Jan

  8. We’ve just had great fun setting up our mud kitchen! After making birthdays cakes for our seeds (obviously with lots of mud and all the things those little seed love) we decided we were defiantly missing something from our different play areas! NOT ANY MORE! What a brilliant idea, very easy to set up and really beneficial to children’s development! I’m looking forward to seeing how the children develop it and what wonderful creations the make 🙂

    We will defiantly be joining in mud day next year!

    Many thanks for the great tips and ideas


    • Hi Alice, thanks so much for letting me know! The mud kitchen is definitely making a comeback and opening the door to the kind of play young children need. Are you a group setting – and farm based? It would be great if you’d put your mud kitchen onto the mud map on Muddy Faces website http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk – look under the Mud Pack resources for mud day. Here’s to many a mud pie and mud-filled days for your children. jan.

      • We are Farm based. My family grow willow as a renewable energy crop! I am a primary school teacher and have developed the maze/forest school with my step mum who has recently retired from 40 years in teaching and one of her colleagues who is forest school trained.

        Growing up on the farm I totally took for granted being able to play outside, and since starting my career have been quite shocked at the lack of quality outdoor play children have access to. The willow is a fantastic setting, we have secret gardens, giant willow lady birds, bales, willow dens, willow tunnels, bug hunts and spaces for children to just play! The mud kitchen is the icing on the cake and really supports our ethos and aims! I will add our kitchen on now!

        Many thanks
        Alice 🙂

  9. I love this! Our outdoor play kitchen revolves more around water, but I’m thinking about how to make it muddier!

    What a great idea for a thesis…. I would have loved to study that type of thing in more depth.

    • Hi Cathy – Yes, and I have a friend I’ve been working on to do just this (did her Masters thesis on play in a muddy puddle) and she’s just applying for a bursary to take things forward. I’ve got my fingers crossed she goes ahead… (I’ll be the unpaid super-keen co- supervisor of course!).
      I’ve just signed up to follow your blog – your PhD subject looks amazing – have you published from it yet? Also, it looks like you’re in the States – where are you (I’m presenting with Mary Rivkin at NAEYC in Washington DC in November – just wondering if you’re anywhere nearby?). Great to have linked up, Jan.

  10. Hi Jan,
    I am very interested in your MA course, any updates on this?
    Heard you speak at a conference and was inspired!
    I am an Early Years advisory teacher and and keen to see mud kitchens in all our Nurseries.
    Kind regards
    Tahirah Gynn

    • Hi Tahirah. The MA module Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood went really well this year with 11 participants from all over the UK. it’s running again for 2013-14 and we are recruiting now – start date is 14th Oct. I am also running a new module called Children’s Physical Development from birth to seven – starts 16th Oct. Contact CREC http://www.crec.co.uk for information and registering. Hope to meet your there! Jan

  11. Pingback: The Mud Kitchen | Unlocking the Gate

  12. Any issues with tetanus?

    • Hi Claire, the booklet has a health and safety section and references to other relevant documents. I agree that tetanus (and other pathogens) is a hazard when working with soil, so precautions must be in place – here are a few thoughts: Covering any cuts in exposed skin would be part of sensible risk management to enable the play (benefit-risk management) – if a child had a deep cut, I’d probably suggest they did not play with soil until it had healed sufficiently. Using ‘sterilised loam top soil’ purchased from a garden centre seems likely to reduce the level of risks from pathogens (including from animal faeces), verses soil from a garden. Hand washing is an important expectation that should be set up as part of washing up the muddy pots and carried on through into learning to make thorough hand washing (with warm soapy water and rinsing under running water) after play become a habit. We have to balance risks and fears with the health promoting benefits of soil, whilst making valuable experiences available to children in a safe enough way. If you want to research this issue some more, try the NHS website – it’s really useful for advice.

  13. What can i say?!
    You have converted me!!
    I am currently working within a setting with children aged 9 months to 3 years and I am studying for my Foundation Degree in Early Childhood…and have always hated mud…always been an area I asked staff to swap with me with.
    I had to film myself with the children and ended up in the mud. (Awkward video) now I’m finding out all the benefits about play and experimenting (or should i say concocting) with mud, I am beginning to love it. Whats more, I am now digging out pallets, old units and microwaves to have a mud kitchen for my 2 year old daughter to have at home!
    What an inspiration, Thank you!!

    • Hi Lucy, welcome to Natural Play – I hope your journey continues and you have lots of fun in following it! Have you seen the Mud Pack on Muddy Faces’ website? And do you plan to celebrate International Mud Day on 29th June? Jan

  14. Awesome mud kitchen idea for kids outdoor play. They can play and make a huge fun. At the same times, they can pretend that they are cooking all kind of dishes. This type of activities will help your kids a lot for improving their creativity and imagery thoughts when they just spend times in outside area. Thanks for sharing this idea. I just back in my childhood.

    • Hi Rosa, thanks for the comment. You might like to know that the Making a Mud Kitchen booklet is now available in Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Spanish, Italian and German on Muddyfaces’ website http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk in their Mud Pack, and will also be available in Greek in a couple of weeks time, for this year’s International Mud Day (29th June)!

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