I love reading Lauren’s blog, and am completely guilty of checking it 100 times more often than there is a new post, so I was very excited to be asked to write this post! Its an honour to be here!
I thought I’d share with you my latest creation… our mud kitchen, which my 18month old is LOVING! Outdoor kitchens are lots of fun, great learning opportunities, good for team or individual play for many ages and they’re pretty cheap and easy to put together. So I thought I’d share mine and some tips etc to hopefully inspire you to start on one in your backyard!
Let me take you on a tour...
Every kitchen needs spices and ingredients! I decided to involve Miss E in the process here instead of just surprising her with a beautifully finished kitchen, and I think this really added to her enjoyment of the kitchen once it was finished, as she discovered all the jars of treasures we had collected over the weeks before.
Together we washed out jars and filled them with all sorts of things. You can use anything as ingredients really, we collected driftwood, sand, sawdust, black tea, many different types of nuts, small rocks, shells, and I cut some wattle branches into little circular disks. Other fresh ingredients can really add to the sensory experience of cooking – fresh herbs, coloured water, real vegetables or fruits like lemons or whatever you have an abundance of in your garden. Think about texture, colour, aroma, size and try to collect a variety. If you have plants you don’t want picked often, you will need to set very clear boundaries about what can and can’t be used in the kitchen.
Another favourite part of our kitchen was the oven and many many cakes and muffins have been baked and checked on here already! Our oven is simply an old dresser with the draws removed and some knobs attached. There are many fancier ovens out there, but this one works quite well for us, and as she is only little, having no door makes it very accessible with two hands full of muffin tray –especially when that muffin tray has been ever so carefully loaded up with banksia nuts and pinecones topped with grass cuttings and daisies. Below the oven shelf is tray storage and above is a simple stove top because you have to have somewhere to boil your kettle and use that frying pan!
Lots of hooks for hanging various utensils are always fun, and while these are tricky for little hands, they’re great practice! With littler people bigger hooks are better, make sure your hooks are at an easy to access level –they may look better hanging on the back wall above your sink etc, but won’t be very accessible at all if your chefs are small. Don’t feel limited to just the back wall either, use the sides of your benches, nearby trees, whatever takes your fancy!
Clearly you HAVE to have a sink! But it can be as simple as a tub that sits on the bench filled with water. Our sink is a sliding keyboard bench nailed onto two draws standing on end with their handles removed. The sink is simply a mixing bowl sunk into the bench. It pops in and out easily enough for refilling. Add some dishwashing liquid and dish brush for a bit of extra washing up fun! I hung a little curtain below the sink to allow for some extra hidden storage for all those messy Tupperware style bowls and pots etc that kitchens seem to collect which never stay tidy. It is also often used for storing stews that aren’t finished the day before! The curtain is a scrap of raincoating, so it stands up to the outdoors nicely. Miss E chose the apple fabric and I like the fresh kitcheny feel they add.
Utensils and tools are also important as they help with imagination and the possibilities of what can be created. Our favourites are a big yellow ladle, a whisk, a muffin tray, frying pan and a teapot. Obviously you need some standard things too like spoons, trays, mixing bowls, jugs etc but its good to have a few exciting things too like an interesting shaped jelly mould perhaps, or an ice block tray. We went on a hunt at our local op shop together and managed to get all our kitchen tools for $5.50. Miss E had great fun choosing with me. Remember your kitchen is outdoors, so choose plastic and stainless steel over things that will rust or perish quickly. Ceramic isn’t the best idea with little people either.
Not only does an outdoor kitchen help with fine motor skills, it develops imagination, creativity and vocabulary. Use it as an opportunity to talk about many things you would not usually discuss with your toddler, introduce new words, and as they learn more, use more specialist words.
While water is needed, it’s a lot of fun to transport the water in in buckets etc, however the closer your dirt source is, the better. If you can’t set up your kitchen right beside or IN your dirt source, make sure you have large buckets of dirt or sand or both on hand. It is easy to bring in other ingredients like grass clippings, leaves, blossoms etc as needed. And obviously the older the chefs, the less direction they will need in collecting and bringing these ingredients into the kitchen.
Miss E plays quite independently in her kitchen, but it is also fun to join her and suggest new ways she could use tools, or combine ingredients etc. However as your chefs get older you will need to assess the role you play in their kitchen activities, perhaps taking more of a silent observatory role as they become capable of creating and imagining new possibilities on their own.
Making an outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and there is plenty of inspiration out there on the web. It really matter how fancy it is though, just get started and have fun making it and I’m sure your little people will have a ball playing in it. After all, what kid doesn’t love playing in the mud? Get them involved in the creation of their kitchen and they might have more fun playing and creating in it!
Now I'm a firm believer in that sharing is caring. So to thank Benita for writing a guest post for my blog, I wanted to include a special shout out for her handmade wooden toys and puzzles - Little Bird in a Beehive. Thanks so much Benita!