I’ve had this gap in between my deck and storage shed for about a year. Grass doesn’t grow there and Roo loves to play in the mud and dig holes in the dirt. I decided that my next project would be to create an outdoor sensory play area for her there.
Originally it was going to be a mud kitchen. Roo’s favorite pastime during these warm spring days has been to play in the dirt and/or mud. She stays out all morning and returns filthy but worn out and happy.
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Here’s why I let my daughter play in the mud
1.) Mud keeps her entertained
Let me say that again for those of you struggling to keep your kids entertained: PLAYING IN THE MUD KEEPS HER ENTERTAINED
I know the mess is hard to watch and a paint to clean up sometimes. I know there’s bugs and dirt is dirty, but if someone told you “I can occupy your kids for literal hours while you get some stuff done for free, the only caveat is they’ll need a bath,” you would totally say yes.
2.) Mud encourages imaginative play
When I listen to Roo play in the mud and dirt, she comes up with the craziest, most imaginative stories I’ve ever heard. I’ve considered recording her while playing then transcribing what she says and turning it into a book…
Sometimes she’s a cat who hates dirt but eventually comes around to the idea, or a dog who LOVES to dig, or she makes mad pie and grass soup to feed the dogs. At four almost five years old, her imagination is growing at a rapid pace. Playing pretend is her full time job right now, and having a medium that encourages it is so, so important.
3.) Mud encourages independent play
Obviously don’t leave your two or three year old alone to play in the mud. They will eat it. Plus a vast number of other reasons you shouldn’t leave a young child to play unattended. At four, Roo can handle some alone playtime. In fact, we encourage it often. When she is outside there are three large windows facing the backyard so I can peak in on her without disrupting her story. Or my husband has taken to laying in our hammock with his handheld game while Roo plays.
This is one of the only activities that she doesn’t constantly ask for help, or get bored and ask for a snack every five minutes.
Independent play is important for kids, especially at this age.
4.) Playing in the dirt is healthy
It is universally accepted that playing and learning outdoors is healthy for children in particular. There is research to show that playing in the dirt specifically has health benefits to children aged 1-6. This article goes so far as to say a little mouthing of dirt is a healthy way to introduce germs and bacteria to a healthy immune system.
Of course this is organic soil without pesticides, chemicals or other dangers. Keep these things from your back yard and be sure to rake through your top soil regularly to check for glass, stickers, and harmful bugs.
Back to the Outdoor Sensory Play Area/Mud Kitchen
So now here I am planning out an outdoor sensory play area for that awkward space in my back yard. Why not a mud kitchen? The internet is full of wonderful ideas for DIY mud kitchens, and I’m pretty sure I looked at them all. But this blog post put into words the problem I was having with the idea of a mud kitchen.
Roo has a play kitchen from *I think* her second Christmas, she loved it when she was 2 and 3 but is kind of over it now. I couldn’t imagine her being too excited about another play kitchen sensory play area mud kitchen that was outside. No, that was too limiting a name for the area I want to build.
The outdoor area would ideal appeal to all five (maybe seven) senses and provide a safe place for her to explore them. Hence the name Outdoor Sensory Play Area!
Sensory Play Garden for Kids
The first element of the Outdoor Sensory Play Area I started with is the garden. A garden that would have flowers and leaves for crushing and adding to soups. It would also have bright colors and wonderful smells and some fun textures to feel too.
I bought a long window planter like this one and some potting soil.
I chose were basil and spearmint for their strong smells, especially when the leaves are crushed. You can try some others, but I knew these would do well in my climate since I already have them in my own kitchen garden.
Lavender and Chamomile are said to have calming properties and can be made into real tea to drink.
Cilantro, Lemon Balm, Mint also come to mind when planting strong smelling herbs for a mud kitchen.
A neat looking flower called Celosia was on sale at my local home improvement store and I thought it would be a perfect addition to our sensory garden. It has a bright colored plum that looks like a rooster’s head and is very fuzzy to the touch.
Finally I put in some marigold. Not only is marigold a bright colored flower, but it helps to keep the bugs away! Especially once it warms up more and the mosquitoes make their appearance.
Be sure your child understands plant anatomy. Like that they need their leaves to soak up sun and their roots need to stay in the dirt for food. And supervise them for the first few plays if you’re concerned that they will just pull the plants out, unless you’re cool with that.
If you don’t want to put in real flowers, or just need something to do while you wait for seeds to sprout, check out my garden crafts post!
That’s all for now
I have two more parts to the outdoor sensory play area to show you, but they’ll have their own separate posts!
Tell me, do you let your kids play in the mud?
Why or why not?
How do you feel about mud kitchens?