Hybrid, online, home school and seat-based learning options available.
Check the website of your school of interest for available options during COVID-19.

Mud Kitchens: The Intersection of Play, Learning and Wellness

mud kitchen learner

“The best way to learn is by doing. The only way to build a strong work ethic is getting your hands dirty.”
—Alex Spanos, author, billionaire philanthropist

“You have to get your hands dirty if you want to change things.”
—Elena Ferrante, Italian novelist

“We can’t blame children for occupying themselves with technology rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn’t put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact, too often we tell them it’s dirty and dangerous.”
—David Suzuki, geneticist, broadcaster, environmental activist

Educators, parents and advocates of children know kids need to play to develop skills in deeper learning, leadership, responsibility, creativity and collaboration. One way to help kids grow in all these ways is by providing them with a mud kitchen.

A mud kitchen can come in many different forms: from a simple patch of mulch, dirt or grass to a design using crates, cinderblocks, tables or used kitchen sets. Regardless of the setup, a mud kitchen is all about exposing kids and their friends to different textures and sensations. Much like a sandbox — but dirtier — a mud kitchen can be a place where kids manipulate the earth into shapes, built it into objects, fill containers with it and more. Mud kitchens are fun not just for kids but for kids at heart too.

According to play-based learning experts, when children make-believe in a mud kitchen, they practice “grown-up” jobs like cooking on their own, which helps them feel more control, power, and independence. In addition, they develop early skills in science and art, using their imaginations to test ideas through observing cause and effect.

A mud kitchen can be used differently every time children enter, depending on their moods and interests each day, making it a great value for a low-cost play area that children can use and reuse.

A Great Place to Start

Children love to play, use their imaginations and get dirty. This commonality stirs up plenty of conversation at the mud kitchen, according to Lisa Latimer, a board of directors member at the International Play Association and school director of iLEAD Agua Dulce. Latimer said that mud kitchens are play-based centers that foster language development, academic skills, creativity, role-playing and collaboration, and they also serve as great stress reducers.

“I personally witness something beautiful taking place each time I go out to our mud kitchen. When you just sit, observe and listen to the conversations and see the children interact, it is really amazing,” Latimer said. “It is a reprieve from the hurriedness of the ‘grown-up’ environment, and it helps children make sense of the world around them.”

There are some strong psychological and developmental elements at play with a mud kitchen, according to Angie Nastovska, director of the PlayMakers Institute and director of humanities and innovation at iLEAD Schools.

“Simply, this is about allowing children to live life as-is without restrictions and boundaries. They need to touch, smell, taste,” Nastovska said. “The mud kitchen helps amplify these learning opportunities by stimulating inquiry, experimentation, learning by doing, mess and trial and error.”

The Learning

Mud kitchens offer a sense of wonder and excitement. Latimer said that there is never a sense of boredom because children rely on their limitless imaginations.

“There should not be a divide between play and learning. They are synonymous. When a child is in the mud kitchen, they are learning much more than we can predict,” Latimer said.

Mud kitchens offer a natural approach to developing fine and gross motor skills, immunity, language, collaboration, literacy, numeracy, cross-disciplinary connections, proprioception, creativity, wonder and an appreciation for aesthetics, according to Nastovska.

“Mud kitchens teach so many skills,” Nastovska said. “If we have learning targets and skills in mind, we just need to add prompts and intentionality.”

A mud kitchen may be one of the most consistent ways to have learners make immediate connections with nature, themselves and others, according to Nicole Huguenin, director of arts integration and play at the Maker Learning Network.

“Whenever I’ve built a mud kitchen and shown it to children, their eyes light up,” Hugeunin said. “They immediately start playing and having fun.”

Additional Benefits

There are mental health and wellness benefits too. Latimer said that getting one’s hands dirty can increase serotonin levels.

“Additionally, soil contains a specific bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which triggers the release of serotonin in the brain according to research,” Latimer said. “Serotonin is a ‘happy chemical’ and a natural antidepressant and strengthens the immune system.”

Aidan Bybee, iLEAD Agua Dulce’s outdoor classroom facilitator, believes that mud kitchens allow learners to shake off societal pressures through repeated experiences.

“They learn that it’s OK to make a mess, as well as be a little different,” Bybee said.

Beginner’s Guide

Although mud kitchens can evolve into more complex projects, they really can be a simple thing to start. Bybee recommends gathering some pots from thrift stores, along with some random kitchen utensils (wooden spoons, spatulas, etc.), and then letting the kids just play. Over time, items such as benches and tables can be added to a mud kitchen.

“Your child will do the hard work of creating and using their imagination,” Bybee said. “As an adult, remember that things will get messy and that is OK! Set expectations so kids can thrive in the environment.”

For additional resources, see the following:

Posted on April 28, 2021 in iLEAD Digest

Share the Story

About the Author

Michael Niehoff is a teacher, leader, blogger, learner advocate, and the Education Content Coordinator at iLEAD Schools.
Back to Top

Effective date: August 29, 2019

Maker Learning Network (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://ileadschools.org/ website (the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from the Service.

Information Collection and Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

We may use your Personal Data to contact you with newsletters, marketing or promotional materials and other information that may be of interest to you. You may opt out of receiving any, or all, of these communications from us by following the unsubscribe link or the instructions provided in any email we send.

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and we hold certain information.

Cookies are files with a small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Other tracking technologies are also used such as beacons, tags and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyse our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service.

Examples of Cookies we use:

Use of Data

Maker Learning Network uses the collected data for various purposes:

Legal Basis for Processing Personal Data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

If you are from the European Economic Area (EEA), Maker Learning Network legal basis for collecting and using the personal information described in this Privacy Policy depends on the Personal Data we collect and the specific context in which we collect it.

Maker Learning Network  may process your Personal Data because:

Retention of Data

Maker Learning Network will retain your Personal Data only for as long as is necessary for the purposes set out in this Privacy Policy. We will retain and use your Personal Data to the extent necessary to comply with our legal obligations (for example, if we are required to retain your data to comply with applicable laws), resolve disputes and enforce our legal agreements and policies.

Maker Learning Network will also retain Usage Data for internal analysis purposes. Usage Data is generally retained for a shorter period of time, except when this data is used to strengthen the security or to improve the functionality of our Service, or we are legally obligated to retain this data for longer periods.

Transfer of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to – and maintained on – computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ from those of your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Maker Learning Network will take all the steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organisation or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure of Data

Business Transaction

If Maker Learning Network is involved in a merger, acquisition or asset sale, your Personal Data may be transferred. We will provide notice before your Personal Data is transferred and becomes subject to a different Privacy Policy.

Disclosure for Law Enforcement

Under certain circumstances, Maker Learning Network may be required to disclose your Personal Data if required to do so by law or in response to valid requests by public authorities (e.g. a court or a government agency).

Legal Requirements

Maker Learning Network may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

Security of Data

The security of your data is important to us but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Our Policy on “Do Not Track” Signals under the California Online Protection Act (CalOPPA)

We do not support Do Not Track (“DNT”). Do Not Track is a preference you can set in your web browser to inform websites that you do not want to be tracked.

You can enable or disable Do Not Track by visiting the Preferences or Settings page of your web browser.

Your Data Protection Rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

If you are a resident of the European Economic Area (EEA), you have certain data protection rights. Maker Learning Network aims to take reasonable steps to allow you to correct, amend, delete or limit the use of your Personal Data.

If you wish to be informed about what Personal Data we hold about you and if you want it to be removed from our systems, please contact us.

In certain circumstances, you have the following data protection rights:

Please note that we may ask you to verify your identity before responding to such requests.

You have the right to complain to a Data Protection Authority about our collection and use of your Personal Data. For more information, please contact your local data protection authority in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), provide the Service on our behalf, perform Service-related services or assist us in analysing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyse the use of our Service.

Behavioral Remarketing

Maker Learning Network uses remarketing services to advertise on third party websites to you after you visited our Service. We and our third-party vendors use cookies to inform, optimise and serve ads based on your past visits to our Service.

Links to Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Child has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes to This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

Important information regarding confidential student data

There is ongoing litigation between the California Department of Education and the Concerned Parent Association. A notice issued by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson states, “The lawsuit accuses CDE of widespread, systemic non-compliance by local educational agencies with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. The CDE denies these allegations and is actively defending the litigation.”

The court has ordered CDE to release student and parent information to provide personally identifiable information (PII) – an act that can only be taken as an exception to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). As a result, we are providing notice of the court order and directions to anyone wishing to object.

Please be advised that CDE will notify parents or students of whom are required to disclose information and those individuals may object directly to the court regarding this disclosure using the PDF link below:


| iLEAD Math Policy
Translate »