Children today are lucky. I don’t want to say “in my day we had to walk barefoot for three miles just to get to school” as that is just not true, but it is true that kids today have it better than any other generation. Today, kids have the advancements in technology that allow them to start learning from an incredibly early age on a tablet device or computer. If a child was the only kid on his street twenty years ago, his social life was basically over, today that kid would be interacting online just like everyone else. While there is a lot to gain from these advancements there is something to lose too. That is why I want to suggest the best gift you can get your child this summer. It is not a tablet, it is not a computer, it is certainly not a phone. It is a mud kitchen.
A mud kitchen is an outdoor kitchen where children are encouraged to make a mess. The new generation of child that we are raising spends so much time indoors being tidy that when they go outside they are quite bad at actually playing. The mud kitchen is a play kitchen that you hand over to a child and tell them to do whatever they want. Mud is clearly a big part of it and the mess they make will be huge but that is the idea.
To build a mud kitchen doesn’t take much money or even much ability with construction. The first thing you need is a source of water, a hose is the most likely solution. Get some wooden paneling and stand it up. Then make a hole for the hose to go through it and place a plastic bucket underneath. You have just made your kitchen sink. Now add a worktop beside it and pop some hooks on the side to hang things from. Take a step back and admire your creation.
It likely doesn’t look like much. You may even be a little ashamed. Yet if you tell your child that this entire space is theirs to play with watch how their imagination fills in the blanks. Imaginary play is so important for children. Too often these devices fill in all the blanks and a child’s full brain is not being activated. By giving them an empty canvas like a mud kitchen you are basically saying “Go, create”.
Mud should be a key part of this kitchen too, its not just a name. Make sure your kids have access to all the mud they desire so that they can bake imaginary mud cakes and have kitchen mud wars. A recent study actually found that mud has lots of good bacteria that will increase serotonin production. This is just one reason why kids who play in the mud are happier.
There are other reasons too. Playing outside is also seen as hugely beneficial for a child’s mental health. In addition, exposing your child to germs, a young age will build a greater immune system for the future. Ignoring the health side, exposing your child to new ideas and new environments will make them more resilient too.
The real reason that your child needs a mud kitchen though is that it is crazy (the kitchen, not your child). A child’s life has more rules and routines than we realize and likely far more than we had many years ago. This routine and rule process is necessary but it is also a good idea to take the shackles off on some occasions and just tell your child to be free, to create, to have fun. If you regret you can always take the mud kitchen down. If you don’t do it then you will never know the possibilities.