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What’s cooking in the mud kitchen?

Posted on May 22, 2018 at 6:00 am

Abra (middle) and her two sisters in their mud kitchen when they were children

By Abra Cole

In the last month, my garden has gone from looking like the dark side of the moon after the zombie apocalypse to a lush green jungle of happiness. Many plants I forgot I had planted last fall have popped up to greet the sun.

I already know that I want to plant many more peonies, more tulips, and more daffodils. Who knew bulbs would be such a wonder?

I went the Master Gardeners Annual Plant Sale in March and attended the Plant Starter Exchange at North Spokane Library earlier this month. My garden has been prepped, tilled, weeded, and rearranged multiple times.

Although we are only barely clear of the last average frost date here in Spokane, which happens around May 10, I have planted my tomatoes, peppers, and squash starts in their assigned beds.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I would spend hours in our overgrown California backyard, taking our Barbies on jungle adventures and fashioning them new leaf-inspired ensembles, creating and destroying entire worlds in the sandbox, and climbing the fig tree to spy on the neighbors’ doings.

In my current backyard, the DIY sandbox idea for my little guy was automatically given the green light by my partner, but it took some convincing before he was on board with a low counter complete with a working kitchen sink and free space for our son to play in however he sees fit. I’ve slowly been turning the space into a mud kitchen for our aspiring mini chef.

My son loves pulling his boots on and stomping out to the yard, regardless of the weather. Right now, his favorite activity is to repeatedly fill a small metal pitcher I found at a yard sale with water from his very own sink and water everything. EVERYTHING. He waters the plants, the sidewalk, the chair. Even the inside of the garage has gotten a good soak. I am okay with it—it’s just water, right?

If you’re feeling hesitant about giving your own kids free rein with the hose and your yard, consider my top ten reasons for letting your kids play in the mud:

  1. Mud is great for your mood. No, really! Studies have found friendly bacteria in the dirt that increases the serotonin levels in your brain. Lifelong gardeners will confirm that an evening spent in the garden after a difficult day at the office is excellent therapy for a stressed mind.
  2. Playing in the dirt can make you healthier in other ways too. Letting your kids get familiar with all that germy goodness in the backyard is good for their immune systems. There is also evidence showing that exposure to allergens early on in life may reduce allergies.
  3. Providing outlets for imagination and creativity to expand are crucial for a child’s development. A mud kitchen definitely falls into this category. It is not possible to “fail” at mud. Even if you don’t want a permanent kitchen in your yard, you will be amazed with what some preschoolers can do with a running hose, two buckets, and a serving spoon (along with all the magical things they can collect in the yard!).
  4. Introduce your kids (and maybe yourself too?) to nature. We depend on this planet for our lives. And yet so many of us live without much contact with the outside world. There are great hikes, for all hiking styles, in our area. Google what’s near your house! Maybe there is a little trail you never even knew was there. You can even take a hike through your own backyard.
  5. Let your kids take the time to watch mud ooze through their fingers, or discovering for the first time those little purple flowers in your yard perfect for decorating the mud cake, or following a single ant from his treasure trove all the way back to his home in the crack in the sidewalk. Their awareness of the tiny world around them will broaden their world view by introducing them to a different way of seeing.
  6. Mud is an excellent sensory tool. Sensory play means using all of one’s senses. Even adults use mud for sensory experiences in the form of mud masks, mud foot soaks, and that glorious feeling of squishing mud between your bare toes! Not to mention those 5k runs where you will look like you just crawled out of an ooey-gooey mud pit—because you did!
  7. Your whole yard is an ongoing science experiment. Let your budding scientists discover a rare breed of roly-poly bug!
  8. Dirt + water = mud. It can’t get much simpler and cost-effective than that, can it? If you’re desperate for a way to keep your kids out of your hair for a while, why not give them mud? It will keep them cool, occupied, and you might even get a mud dessert out of the deal!
  9. One of my favorite mud memories is from when I was about 7 years old. My two sisters and I donned our swimsuits and headed out to the backyard after a heavy rain (supplemented by the hose). We stomped in the mud, we rolled in the mud, we made mud castles, we had a mud fight, and we had the best time. My mom snapped a photo of us together, covered from head to toe in mud with the biggest grins on our faces. She used it on our Christmas card that year.
  10. Mud is fun. Seriously fun. Dirt and mud takes on so many different forms: dry, gooey, hard. You might hesitate at first, but after you see how much fun your kids have with creating things from mud, you will want to kick off your shoes and jump in too!

These are just some of the great benefits of allowing your kids access to free space to play in nature, even if it raises your own blood pressure a bit (Just take a deep breath and remember you can hose them down when they’re done. Fun!).

If you are in need of inspiration on how to get started, we have great books in our collection that will help you get your mud kitchens, fairy gardens, and butterfly gardens off to a roaring start this summer!

You might also consider enrolling your kids in programs such as Tinkergarten or Free Forest School to introduce them to the wonderful world around us, right outside your door.

I wish you happy exploring!

Abra Cole

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