A week ago, I was planting in the garden when, before I knew it, 4-yr-old Chloe was stomping naked in the mud. Her 7-yr-old sister joined in (clothed) and began to make a collection of mud pies decorated with geranium and calendula petals. My mother-in-law saw her worst nightmare, but for me — and my kids — it was instant soul-salve.
There’s something about mud that beats sand. Maybe it’s the increased viscosity, the ‘sculptability’, or maybe it’s the deep color, but my kids can’t get enough measuring, shaping, pouring, and decorating. I remember as a girl enjoying not only the process of creating a mud masterpiece, but cocooning myself in a story to go along with it. Are we ‘lost children’ making pies? Should we gather berries and nuts to store for the winter?
And so our mud kitchen was born. It took us 15 minutes and we didn’t buy a thing.
The educator Maria Montessori believed that natural objects allow children to better understand abstract ideas; they see a wooden bowl and can understand that it was first a tree. And natural materials also have the additional benefit of reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals, so I prefer wood, woven material, metal, and the occasional sturdy glass object in our play.
For our kitchen, we gathered:
- Two old tables pushed together for a surface
- A basket of old spoons in different sizes
- Metal bowls and plates, an old colander, a muffin tin, a metal pitcher for pouring, an old whisk
- an old wine rack to hold plates
- child sized chairs (not really needed, but still used)
In a world where we organize children from one activity to the next, just setting aside the free time to enter the kitchen — knowing we’ll need mud-off baths afterwards — feels like a peaceful accomplishment. The process of actually touching the earth feels so grounding. I see it in my 7-year-old after a long day. I often find her calmly patting mud in that cozy garden spot.
Whenever I meet another parent who, with a gleam in their eye, understands the beauty of mud on little toes, the doorknob, the kitchen floor, and the bathmat, I smile. And when my daughter recently quoted my favorite line: “You’re not really dirty unless the water runs brown” I laughed in glee. But what do you think? Am I just a mud romantic, or are experiences like this important?