A Recycled Sandpit Kitchen

13 September 2012 · 7 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Early Years Outdoors

Last week I was facilitating an evening training session up at Gardenstown Playgroup. It is one of the privileges of my work, that I get to visit different settings and to see lots of different ideas in action. I particularly like seeing what settings do with small outdoor spaces.

At the end of June, it was World Mud Day. This event was celebrated by Muddy Faces with the publication of an inspiring booklet written by Jan White. It is well worth downloading. The staff and children at Gardenstown liked what they saw. At the same time, some kitchen items from a nearby school were being thrown out. So these were immediately “rescued” and have been given a second life.

Because the white goods are child-sized, they make a great addition to the playgroup for role play.  The setting has a woodland area and Forest School site adjacent to the outdoor space so mud was not needed. Instead, they applied the principles to create a one-tonne sandpit kitchen. I think the area demonstrates beautifully the concept of re-using items and making a playspace on a shoestring budget. You may have noticed overtones of the Cowgate Under 5’s Centre and the planted tyres surrounding one wall too.

The other part of their outdoor space which was endearing, is their woodland space. It is also tiny, but the children love this area very much. It’s great to see features such as the fire pit, climbing shelter and tyre swing in an outdoor space. If you look carefully, you will see that some of the bird nesting boxes are at child height. Two were occupied this year! Imagine that!

In the current economic climate, and with the need for all of us to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, it is great to see examples of practice such as this. It’s the simple pleasures in life we often enjoy and the simplicity of these child-friendly playspaces are there to be celebrated. Thank you Gardenstown Playgroup.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C September 13, 2012 at 20:39

What an amazing & inspirational space, thanks so much for sharing it with us – lots of great ideas to ‘copy’, thanks again Juliet.


janwhitenaturalplay September 14, 2012 at 11:38

I’m thrilled to see the Mud Kitchen leaflet being shared and especially inspiring practice – just what we were aiming for. I’ve just had an offer for it to be translated into Portuguese which is also exciting! Great stuff Gardenstown Playgroup – I’d love to know how it goes – and thanks Juliet for spreading the word, Jan


Mrs. West September 15, 2012 at 09:55

I absolutely love the mud kitchen inspiration. What do you think the Health and Safety issues would be with this type of provision? That is, in terms of metal/wires/etc. with old appliances. I’m just thinking about what questions or concerns I could possibly be faced with in the even of acquiring such resources!


Juliet Robertson September 15, 2012 at 11:41

Hello Mrs West

This is a valid point.

Common sense says that indoors or out, the plugs need to be removed so that there is no chance of hooking up the appliance to an electrical outlet. Batteries should also be removed too to avoid them leaking. The washing machine is too small for a child to crawl inside.

I suppose if there was any wires sticking out, then folding or tucking them in and away – using duck tape, etc is probably the sort of measure I would take. I would also be having a conversation with children about what an item was and how we take care of it. I would ask children’s advice around playing with this. They come up with allsorts of suggestions and you can ask them to tell an adult if any wires were around that needed fixing.

Generally with items like this I find it helpful to bear in mind the HSE and RoSPA advice about making play as safe a necessary and not as safe as possible. I’m not sure if any of these items would cause death or permanent disability if used for play purposes which appear to be the main criteria – maybe I’m missing something 🙂

Many pre-schools and early years settings have tinkering tables where children can take apart a range of appliances and explore how they are made including clocks, musical instruments, bicycles, and electrical appliances. This is a lot of fun and also worth considering.


janwhitenaturalplay September 18, 2012 at 11:05

I agree with everything Juliet has said here, but I’d also like to comment that the ‘kitchen’ in mud kitchen is about concocting and making – rather than recreating a physical adult kitchen, the focus is about giving children the support and space to do all the actions and explore all the possibilities for working with natural materials, all the experiences of alchemy in transformations and all the role play of real life through food making, giving and sharing. I think it’s about providing a ‘laboratory’ for children to explore their two main passions – the physical world and the human world. So appliances are not at all necessary (and need to be carefully thought about to ensure no risk of death or serious injury), but could well be part of the experience we create for children – as in this lovely example. In the ‘making a mud kitchen’ booklet there is also a fabulous example of a small Baby Belling-type cooker that has the most satisfying swing and bang to closing the door on your cake, pressing the buttons and opening the door again with a flourish when it’s done. An important feature of mud kitchens is that simple, open-ended resources are used that leave all the room for children’s own imaginations – simple is best and less is more! Jan


Juliet Robertson September 19, 2012 at 07:26

Thanks for a brilliant insightful comment, Jan!

I also think the whole point of an outdoor kitchen is that it’s not replicating the indoors or even a “real” kitchen but providing an alternative approach which encourages the inherent inventiveness of children their role play.


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