This is my favourite time of year; when we skip right into summer on the Highveld. Days are longer and smiles brighter.
One of my happiest childhood memories associated with this time of year is baking mud cakes with my sister and our cousins. It would take stealth and careful planning to get past my mom and granny to grab a selection of whatever kitchen utensils and containers we could find. Once we had the equipment outside it was mission accomplished; by the time a grown-up saw what we were up to we would already be on the third batch of “delicious” mud creations.
We would literally spend hours outside, getting muddy and wet in the wonderful spring weather, creating and decorating cakes of all sizes with flowers, grass and whatever else we could find. And oh the delight when my uncle would play along, tasting our cakes and even giving some advice on “ingredients”!
I love this sand mousse recipe from Alison Wedgwood sourced from Pinterest: Lots of sand mixed with a good amount of water and lots of bubble bath. It makes for great “frosting” for your mud cakes or excellent messy play on its own.
Now that I have a little one I’ve realised that my mom and gran probably never really cared about the washing up anyway; I can’t imagine anything more fun than watching my little girl play in the mud. For a while she didn’t like getting dirty but luckily I realised a few weekends ago while gardening, my toddler is not broken! She got right into it and enjoyed getting dirty in the mud, which got me thinking of ways to inspire dirty play with my dainty girl.
I am proud to say that, thanks to social media, we can all embrace the idea of the outside play kitchen, one-upping our parents by negating the messy home and kitchen due to muddy feet searching for more plastic containers.
It’s easy to corner off an area in a bigger back garden to create a wonderful space for your little one, but what about those of us living in estates and complexes? I have some ideas and tips to create a great-looking mud kitchen for your little one, no matter the space and complex rules you may have to work around.
Go to town, if you have the space
If you are lucky enough to have a bigger garden you can really create a wonderful space that will inspire your child to go outside and get dirty! It doesn’t have to cost much or even anything if you are able to use old and recycled items you already have around the house.
The easiest and most ideal would be if you have a little bench or table around the home that you no longer use; this can be recycled and painted a fun colour to be the outdoor kitchen workspace. Add a backboard with some hanging space for old kitchen utensils from your own kitchen and you are good to go. This DIY tells you how, in an easy step-by-step guide.
Creating a room or café in a bigger garden will really inspire creativity and enable the whole family to get involved in the mud creations. Often your garden will have the elements in place already – a tree trunk or rock makes for fantastic café seating. The great thing about inspiring this type of play is the fact that this will likely be the catalyst in creating a lifetime of love for the outdoors in your child.
Keep it simple
For smaller spaces such as complex gardens or even on a patio or balcony, simplicity is key. Using a large plastic bucket or old baby bath as the play area is really all you need. If you want to spend some money you can buy one of those plastic shells available in bright colours from most major toy shops. Fill the container with mud and give your child a bucket with water. Armed with some utensils and various other smaller containers from your kitchen, magic is sure to happen.
I think for us, we will simply move the inexpensive plastic play kitchen my toddler has lost interest in outside. It’s plastic so should clean easy enough and it will breathe new life into a toy she seems to have grown out of.
The best way to inspire creativity is by getting creative yourself. I love the idea of painting rocks to be food items in the garden. Getting your children involved in the painting creates a whole new fun learning experience on its own.
Repurposing a few wood pellets to make a great outdoor kitchen is fairly easy if you, or someone in the family, has limited carpentry experience. Remember to help your children create wonderful mud cakes by collecting, sorting and storing various ingredients with them. Here are some storage ideas that I love, thanks to Let the children play
I also picked up on this great idea of using old tyres to create a fun messy play area.
I think the key to creating a really wonderful space that will be used by your little ones is to involve them in the process. Let them direct the process, telling you what they want from the space. If there is painting or building involved, let them help!
Your creation also does not have to be limited to a mud kitchen. Add some cheap plastic animals and you’ve created a farm, and your child can now have fun “harvesting” imaginary crops while looking after their sheep, cows and pigs. Or make a race track around the kitchen area, creating a fun restaurant for a day at the races. Another fun idea is using two or three old tyres to create mini worlds inside each, like this idea for a dino world, and construction yard.
The possibilities are endless! Create the space and watch your children transform it into a magical stage where anything can happen during the long summer days ahead.