Remember back to when you were a kid, how special it felt to play outdoors?
Getting your hands muddy, looking at creepy crawlies, and having an almost unlimited source of fun at your fingertips?
That feeling is the inspiration for this guide, which will show you how to build a kids mud kitchen for your garden. Somewhere for your kids and their friends to experience the wonders of outdoor play.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What a mud kitchen actually is, in case you’re not familiar.
- The many reasons to get a mud kitchen.
- Your options if you decide to get one.
- How to build a DIY mud kitchen.
- The materials you’ll need.
- The tools you’ll need.
- The steps to assemble your mud kitchen.
- The best place to put your mud kitchen.
- And some of our top tips for facilitating good outdoor play.
What is a mud kitchen?
In short, a mud kitchen is an outdoor play unit made to look like a kitchen, and designed to stimulate creative play. At a basic level they look something like this:
Kids can use a mud kitchen to cook up all sorts of dishes, from mud pie, to leaf salad, to bug surprise. While they are playing, they’re learning about nature, about how things feel and behave, about teamwork, and a whole host of other important life skills.
Mud kitchen designs vary, but most will include a bowl sink, a couple of pretend hobs (complete with pretend temperature knobs), space for a few utensils, and a chalk board for writing down today’s specials.
The only thing limiting what yours can include is your imagination!
Why build a mud kitchen?
If that description doesn’t convince you of the need to get a mud kitchen in your garden, here are some other benefits.
Kids love it. In an age where the temptation can be to plonk your kids down in front of a screen and let them get on with it, there’s real value in promoting traditional methods of play. A garden kitchen is exactly that: a way to get your kids out of the house, back into nature, and to let their imagination run loose.
There are real benefits to nature play: exposure to the bacteria in soil boosts the immune systems of young kids, and the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors are well-documented.
A mud kitchen gives kids so many opportunities to interact with nature and each other, and to ask “what if?”. With supervision and facilitation, their minds are free to wander.
Parents can sit back and relax, too. Kitchen games lend themselves to mild supervision rather than the active runaround required by tag, catch, hide and seek, and so on. Just pull out a patio chair, place the occasional order, and ensure the kids are obeying all relevant health and safety codes in their culinary adventures.
A mud kitchen is also easy and cheap to build; and once made, will provide hours of good old fashioned playtime.
Where to get a mud kitchen
If you’re persuaded that a mud kitchen would make a good addition to your garden, you have two options: buy one, or build one.
This guide is centered around the former, but if you want to buy one there are a few places you can look:
- Buy from a specialist vendor like MudKitchens.co.uk.
- Buy from a general toy shop like TPToys.com.
- Buy from a high street retailer like Argos, or an online retailer like Amazon.
- Buy from a second hand marketplace like Gumtree or eBay.
How to build a mud kitchen
This is the most fun option, let’s be honest. Bring out the tools and let your creativity flow.
As we’ve said, the mud kitchen design you choose is limited only by your imagination (and depending how big your imagination is, on the amount of wood you have).
A flat, raised surface could qualify as a mud kitchen in the mind of a child; but giving them a bit of variety helps to foster better play. Here are some things you could consider:
Adding a sink allows for water to be incorporated into play: vital for mixing and making mud!
A couple of pretend hobs give kids somewhere to cook, and pretend temperature control knobs let them adjust the pretend temperatures to get their dishes just right.
A vertical board behind the counter provides space to hang pots, pans, and utensils.
All the mud kitchens we looked at while researching this content had all of these features at a bare minimum, so our instructions will include them too.
The materials you’ll need to build a DIY mud kitchen
Whether you’re a dab hand at DIY or a keen amateur, building a mud kitchen is a nice and simple project. The list of things you’ll need isn’t particularly daunting:
- A washing up bowl, preferably one that can withstand the elements.
- A couple of pallets for the main structure, or similar amount of other scrap wood.
- Some wood offcuts for the detailing.
- A small chalkboard.
- Some string. Again, make sure it can withstand the elements.
- Pots, pans, and utensils.
When choosing pallets bear in mind the different types. Hardwood pallets are stronger and have a nice rustic look, whereas softwood pallets may be treated with chemicals that aren’t great for kids.
If you don’t have access to a woodyard like the one above, check alleys behind shops for used delivery pallets. It’s always best to ask permission before taking one home with you, as some shops return them to the delivery company.
The tools you’ll need to build a mud kitchen
If you don’t have everything in the list below, fear not! The rustic nature of a mud kitchen means that it won’t matter too much if things aren’t super neat, so slightly misshapen wood or uneven surfaces won’t be a problem.
Just make sure there are no splinters or exposed nails!
Here’s what we recommend using:
- A crowbar for jimmying pallets apart – watch out for nails.
- A jigsaw to cut the pallet into shape.
- A saw to cut the bits a jigsaw can’t reach.
- Nails to join pieces of wood together.
- A hammer to nail them in.
- Screws to strengthen nailed joints.
- A drill to screw them in.
- A sander to smooth the surface and get rid of splinters.
- Paint to decorate the mud kitchen.
- Varnish to protect the surface of the wood from decay.
The steps to building a mud kitchen
This is how to build a mud kitchen consisting of a raised, flat surface with a wash basin, two hobs, and a backboard to hang utensils and a chalkboard from.
Feel free to deviate from these instructions at any time. If your creativity wants to take over, let it! And if you’re looking for further inspiration, a quick search for mud kitchens on Youtube or Pinterest will do just the trick.
Step 1: cut the wood to size
Nice and simple, you’ll want to split the pallets into planks of the right size for building your mud kitchen. There’s no one-size-fits-all, so we’ve included some general guidelines for selecting the right dimensions.
When cutting legs, think about how tall your kids are now and how tall they’re likely to be when they grow out of this game.
The mud kitchen surface should be wide and deep enough for two or three kids to play together.
The vertical board behind the surface should be tall enough to allow good storage space, but not too tall that kids have to stretch awkwardly to grab stuff from the top hooks.
Step 2: construct the frame
Once the wood is cut to size, it’s time to join it together and assemble the frame for your mud kitchen.
Nailing joints first, then screwing them in to strengthen them is probably your best bet.
Step 3: lay out your surface
With a sturdy frame assembled you can nail pieces of wood across the top to form your mud kitchen’s work surface. Don’t worry about the hobs or sink for now: they’ll be covered later.
Step 4: attach the vertical board
In a similar fashion to attaching the surface, nail the pieces of wood for the vertical board to the back of the frame.
Step 5: cut a hole for the sink
Draw around the sink and cut this line with a jigsaw to create a hole in your work surface that’s the correct size. Drop the sink in to check it’s right, then take it out again and set it aside.
Step 6: sand everything
Sand all exposed surfaces at this point, until they are smooth to the touch.
Step 7: cut and sand hobs and temperature knobs
Using some wood offcuts, cut two large circles and two small circles of wood. These will be your hobs and knobs, respectively.
Sand these down before attaching.
Step 8: attach them to the work surface
Nails or screws will do the trick. Temperature knobs should be attached to the forward-facing side of the surface, rather than the top.
Step 9: put some hooks in the vertical board
Hammer a few nails, or screw in a few hooks. This is where pots, pans, and utensils will go, as well as the chalkboard.
Step 10: paint and varnish
If you prefer a colourful mud kitchen to the natural wood aesthetic, now’s the time to paint it. Make sure to use a paint that’s suitable for wood.
Next, add varnish to protect the surfaces against decay. Again, this is optional: wood will last quite a while outside, but a coat of varnish may help it last longer.
Step 11: give yourself a pat on the back
There you go! By now you should have a mud kitchen ready and waiting to be played with. The only thing left now is to position it in your garden.
Where to put your mud kitchen
For optimal results the mud kitchen should be – you guessed it – close to some mud.
To mix things up you can position it near a sandpit, if you have one. This gives kids the chance to experiment with different mixtures, and to enjoy different textures and colours. Watch their repertoire of dishes expand.
We recommend putting the mud kitchen somewhere that the kids playing with it will be fully visible. This means they can be supervised without feeling stifled by a grown-up watching their every move.
Top mud kitchen tips
Here are a few tips that didn’t fit into the other sections. These will help make playtime as fun as possible.
- If you’ve got an old chest of drawers laying around, why not whack that outside next to the mud kitchen? More storage, more work surface, more fun!
- Don’t worry if there’s not a water supply nearby: kids love filling containers with water and ferrying it around. The spills will probably add more thrills, too.
- Leave a bit of leeway when nailing in the temperature knobs, so that they can be turned.
- If you don’t have any wood offcuts, you can paint on the hobs.
- You can nail a tin to the side of the mud kitchen to give a bit more utensil storage space.
- The more varied utensils you include, the more types of play the kids will come up with.
- Despite what toy manufacturers would have you believe, expensive does not equal best. Building a fun and engaging mud kitchen doesn’t have to break the bank – in fact, many we found while researching this piece cost little more than a few pounds.
- Remember that anyone playing with mud should wash their hands afterward!
- If you’re inspired and want to read more about mud kitchens – and about outdoor play in general – Muddy Faces have a fantastic resource that’s free to download. We definitely recommend reading through.
And there you have it…
After reading this guide you should know all about the merits of mud kitchens, the different types, how to build one yourself, and tips for maximising the enjoyment they make possible.
We hope you found it useful!