You all will be so proud of me! I’ve gone outside with my kiddos every day for at least a week (wow, that is a pitiful thing to be proud of!). As you know, though, the great outdoors and I are not the best of friends, and so this is quite the accomplishment. I must give all the credit to our new mud kitchen. Before the arrival of the mud kitchen, I was making an effort, but it was tough. Our green space is not fenced and is surrounded by what I can only assume is deer tick-infested wilderness on one side and an accident-waiting-to-happen parking lot on the other. I’m open to walking around in our little wooded area (with proper clothing, of course), but sometimes I need to hang out in the patio and feed Peter. This is when things were getting scary–not content to just play on the grass, Ben would go exploring. He’d skip across the parking lot or go trailblazing through the bush. I needed something to anchor him near our house, and decided that a mud kitchen would be a great idea. If you haven’t heard of a mud kitchen, it’s like the slightly wilder cousin of the sand and water table. You provide some sort of counter space, a basin, bowls, spoons, and–most importantly–water and dirt, and let your kids go crazy. Mud kitchens can be as simple as a couple of overturned crates or complex, fully-plumbed affairs. I don’t think it really matters. The point is that kids are allowed to make a mess, they get to use their imaginations, and they spend time outside (here is a great blog post about the benefits of muddy play). My mud kitchen plan fell somewhere in between basic and fancy. I found a bunch of Pinterest projects that used pallets, which are typically free or very cheap, and second-hand sinks. I showed my husband, explained that this was how he would be spending his weekend, and we loaded up the kids and drove to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for supplies. We splurged a little on a $25 stainless steel sink, but we figured that since the pallets would be so cheap, it was okay. We found one pallet at the ReStore (free!) and two more at our local Asian grocery for five dollars each. Once we returned home, I set to reading about how to prep pallets, and was mildly horrified by several blog posts warning about the host of unsavory chemicals, bacteria, and spores in the wood. My husband only rolled his eyes at me a little when I told him we would be making a late-night pallet return to the grocery store.
After that, we bought a bunch of wood from Lowe’s, and Bob got to building. I had the delightful task of clearing out the garden bed. It was not fun. I forgot to take a true before picture. Just look at how crummy the following photo appears, and then mentally add a ton of dead leaves and plants. And stinging nettles.
This project also allowed me to live out my dream of having a yard with tree stumps. Yes, that’s weird, I know. But I wanted my kids to be able to climb on them, use them as table and chairs, and to pretend that gnomes and fairies live inside. I posted on all my local Facebook pages, and a lady let us go into her yard and haul away a bunch.
We made the big reveal on Ben’s second birthday, and it was a hit. He now plays outside for at least an hour every morning, and I don’t have to worry about him dodging cars or ticks. I bought a Tuffo Muddy Buddy to protect his clothes and keep him dry on cooler days, and this has greatly aided me in my quest to calm down about getting messy. The mud kitchen was also a success at Ben’s birthday party. It was great to see his friends make soup and coffee and cakes of the muddy variety. I can’t recommend building a mud kitchen enough; remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Give your kids some water and dirt and permission to get as grimy as they possibly can, and sit back and enjoy the sounds of a happy childhood.