How to…Invent a Recipe with Kids

invent a recipe with kids

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

How do you involve your kids in the kitchen? Have you tried letting them loose with ingredients? How did it go?

Yeast and Sugar Experiment

yeast experiment

yeast experimentI’ve been baking bread just about every day for the past three weeks (nothing too crazy since it’s all done in the bread maker), but last week my 3.5 year old and I got into a discussion about the properties of yeast.

We like to tinker and  experiment – big surprise, I know — and decided to see what would happen if we mixed yeast with warm water. N took this job very seriously, poured the water into a bowl, added a couple teaspoons of yeast, and waited a few patient minutes before she said, “it makes a brownish color.” True, and to make it bubble like it does in bread, we needed to activate it with sugar.

So we took about fifteen minutes to clear some space and set up what would become the Yeast + Sugar Experiment.

What’s so great about an experiment like this is that it’s easy to do with household materials, and it’s ripe for authentic child-generated questions and observations. When I asked what she thought would happen if we added sugar to the yeast she said, “I don’t know! Let’s mix them and find out!.” And when we finally attached the balloon to the bottle she wondered, “will it fill up all the way and blow off the bottle?”

yeast experimentWhat you’ll need

  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
  • Balloon
  • Warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40.5-46 degrees C)
  • Mixing bowl + funnel (we used a cocktail shaker instead)
  • Bottle that you can fit a balloon over

yeast and sugar experimentMix the yeast and sugar into the warm water and stir. I noticed that N was sniffing the concoction and asked her what it smelled like. She said “poop.” I could see what she was saying. Consider yourself warned.

Once it all dissolves, pour the mixture into the bottle and cover the bottle with the balloon.

yeast experimentAfter a few minutes you’ll be amazed by something like this!

yeast experimentN wanted to feel it as it filled with air. She noticed the balloon was getting bigger and wanted to know how big it would get.

yeast experimentMy handy-dandy ship captain sister (no joke — that’s her job!) was visiting, and put herself right to work as chief measurer.

yeast and sugar experimentOnce the bottle filled up completely, we moved the whole operation to the sink. The bubbles were slow-moving, and there was nothing to worry ourselves with, but N enjoyed pulling the balloon off and watching the foam slowly pour over the bottle’s top.

As we went through the process, I thought of a few fun extensions for older kids or those who want to take this further. You could play around with food coloring/liquid watercolors, have a few bottles going at once and compare the results of different sugar:yeast ratios, or compare the results of different water temperatures.

I found my recipe at The Exploratorium’s Science of Cooking series, where we also learned that as the yeast eats the sugar it makes carbon dioxide, which is essentially the same process that yeast goes through in our bread dough.

Mmmmm. I’m off to eat some whole wheat cranberry walnut oat bread. Toasted. With butter and Maldon salt. How do you like your bread? And have you played around with yeast concoctions?

This is shared on It’s Playtime

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Microwave Marshmallow Experiment

microwave marshmallow experiment

Have you heard of the microwave marshmallow experiment? It’s really simple and a fun way to explore how the volume of gas expands a marshmallow as it heats up. My kids also enjoy this experiment because it mixes science (+ fun) with a sugary treat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment Supplies

  • 4 (or more) Marshmallows
  • Paper Towel or Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave
  • Paper to jot down observations (I’ll share my 3-year old’s observations in italics below)
For this microwave marshmallow experiment, we’ll microwave three marshmallows for different periods of time, and then  compare what happens to the marshmallows as they heat up, and then cool down again. This is an engaging way to involve children in scientific observation and discovery, it raises lots of questions, and doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean-up. Are you with me?

Step One

Microwave one marshmallow for 10 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare it to an uncooked marshmallow and describe how it looks. How does it feel?

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabObservation: It’s small, shorter than the other marshmallow, but fatter. It’s gooey.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Two

Microwave the second marshmallow for 30 seconds and remove it. How does it compare with an uncooked marshmallow? What happens to it as it cools?

Observation: It’s a little bit larger than the other one. It got dry as it cooled.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Touching the second marshmallow.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Cool, a little hole showed up in the middle after it cooled down a bit.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Three

Microwave the third marshmallow for 50 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare to and uncooked marshmallow right away and after it cools. How are they different? How does this marshmallow feel?

Observation: It’s huge and wrinkly and dry. It’s brown. That means it burned. That means it’s good to eat. Crunchy to eat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabYou can see all three marshmallows here. We noticed that the 30 second and 50 second marshmallows got hard and crunchy as they cooled, and N decided to taste them for a flavor comparison.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabThe 50 second marshmallow was brown, crunchy, and caramelized. Have you ever tried astronaut ice cream? It had a similar texture.

The science behind the activity is explained clearly over here at The Exploratorium. In essence, the volume of gas in the marshmallow increases when the temperature increases, and then decreases as it cools down. The Exploratorium suggests not microwaving marshmallows for longer than 2 minutes, less you want a dark, stinky, burnt mess on your hands.

This project was inspired by a book we found at the library: Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow?

Have you ever microwaved anything and been surprised by the outcome?

 

Seven Ways to Make a Gingerbread House

gingerbread house from scratch

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? 

Last year, my 2-year old and I made super simple graham cracker gingerbread houses. I’m not even sure if you can call them gingerbread houses since they were made from graham crackers. Hmmm.

But making a real, bonafide gingerbread house: this was new territory for me, and I wasn’t prepared for how much trouble I would have with it.

After a few tears were shed and lessons learned, I thought I’d share my experience and a host of others so that you won’t have to go through the growing pains I went through.

pressing the Gingerbread house dough

Use a gingerbread house mold

To make our house, we started with a Gingerbread House Mold similar to this one.  You simply make the dough and then press it right into the mold. Brilliant!

To make it even simpler, we made a batch of gingerbread with the recipe from the Trader Joe’s gingerbread baking mix. So easy.

My kids enjoyed pressing it into the mold and my 3 year old helped pop the cookies out once they cooled. So far, so good!

Gingerbread house candy

 

Candy Toppings for Gingerbread Houses

While the dough was cooling, we went candy shopping! Mmmm. This may have been the funnest part.

Since this was mostly new to me, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and they had the BEST ideas (clearly, my fans are professionals).

Gingerbread house

Are you ready for this?

Candy for Gingerbread House Decorating:

  • gumdrops
  • M&M’s
  • marshmallows
  • mini candy canes
  • rainbow nerds
  • dried fruits and nuts
  • life savers
  • ribbon candy,
  • colored frosting
  • gingerbread men/trees to add to scene
  • pretzels for a fence
  • sweet tarts and those candy necklace candies
  • Christmas Captain Crunch with tree shapes
  • star shaped cookies from Trader Joe’s
  • skittles
  • jellybeans
  • cut out fruit strips into shapes
  • gingerbread shaped marshmallows
  • tootsie roll for a chimney, Pretzel squares for windows
  • crystal like sprinkles for a special touch of snow
  • sifted powdered sugar and cotton candy to look like snow
  • Twizzlers
  • red hots and mint
  • swirled red and white mints.

Gingerbread house frosting

I made a batch of royal icing, the same way I made it for our gingerbread cookies, but I added a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it. Traditionally, royal icing is made with egg whites, but because I knew my kids would lick their fingers I opted to go with this meringue powder version instead.

RECIPE FOR ROYAL ICING

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

Gingerbread house kids table

I made individual houses out of graham crackers for our neighborhood friends, and we all worked on the big house as a collaborative project.

Gingerbread house graham crackers

Oh, we ran out of graham crackers, which is why some of the houses have this funky shape. Sigh. Maybe next year I’ll be more prepared!

Thankfully, our friends didn’t let on if they minded. We’re lucky to have such kind neighbors.

Six More Gingerbread House Ideas…

Graham Cracker House on a Milk Carton

This is the recipe my friend made for our toddler play date last year, and it was perfect for little ones. I know my friend had a hard time collecting milk cartons for all the children in our group, but once you gather the milk cartons, they’re easy to assemble. From Martha Stewart.

Gingerbread house with milk carton base

Gingerbread House from Scratch

Mama Smiles shows us how she made her house with a toddler (no small feat!) from scratch!

 Gingerbread House from Graham Crackers

Caked Alaska shows us how to make a beautiful graham cracker house (unlike my ramshackle shanty town houses). And this post from Kelley Moore is also lovely.

gingerbread house from graham crackers

Tiny Gingerbread House Perched on the Rim of a Mug

Oh my goodness! These are most definitely not for making with little kids, but what a show stopper! Couldn’t resist sharing these beauties from Not Martha.

Gingerbread House from a Kit

Or, take the easier route with a store-bought kit. A Spoonful of Sugar Designs shares their Ikea kit. Lovely.

Matzo House

Not exactly gingerbread, but we made these jelly bean matzo houses earlier this year and I couldn’t resist sharing, just to show that with some icing and candy, you can turn just about anything into a house.

Matzoh gingerbread house

Your turn! What’s your favorite way to make a gingerbread house?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links

 

Drizzle + Paint Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies with kids

Mmmm, gingerbread cookies. After making our salt dough ornaments (and having one of our friends try to eat one…yikes!), we thought it was high time to make real, edible cookies. My mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe is truly the best one I’ve tried, but when I discovered that the Gingerbread Cake and Baking Mix from Trader Joe’s could be adapted to make cookies, and all I had to do was add an egg + butter, I was sold.

We rolled out the dough, selected our favorite cutters, and cut our shapes. If you’ve never made gingerbread cookies, give yourself an hour to chill your dough before you plan to work with it. Even with refrigeration, the dough is pretty sticky and required a fair amount of flour to keep it flexible and off the counter.

I filled a piping bag with royal icing (dry hard icing). My MIL uses more of a buttercream frosting, which is delicious, but I thought we’d have some fun “painting” with the royal icing. Most of the royal icing recipes you’ll find ask you to make it with raw egg whites, but I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I’m feeding these sugar bullets to kids! Instead, I used meringue powder. I happened to have some in the pantry, but you can find this at specialty groceries and Michaels craft store (so I’ve heard). And low and behold, it can be found on Amazon.

Recipe for Royal Icing

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

I fit the disposable piping bag with a small, round #4 tip, gave my daughter a few suggestions on how to hold and squeeze the bag, and let her go to town. We started with white icing, and then I mixed the remaining icing with all natural yellow food coloring on my daughter’s request.

Once the icing firmed up, we moved the cookies to a nice, clean plate where we could admire our handiwork.

And eat some cookies.

Mmmm, I hate to say this, but these gingerbread bites rivaled those from the original recipe.

I picked up three more boxes today. Yum yum.

Next up: Ginger Bread Houses!

What are you baking for the holidays (with or without the kids)?

Feel free to add a picture with your comment!

 

 

Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 1

dry salt dough ornaments cookie sheet

Raise your hand if you’ve made or plan to make salt dough ornaments this season! Yep, I see a lot of you out there. It seems we’re not the only ones, but in case you haven’t committed to this yet, I have one piece of advice for you: Give yourself some time!

I used this recipe on ParentDish by Anna Ranson, who blogs at The Imagination Tree. You’ll need 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of salt, and up to 1 cup of water. I mixed the dry ingredients and then added a full cup of water. Gulp. Did you catch that bit about adding up to 1 cup of water? The dough was sooo sticky, so I kept adding equal amounts of salt and flour until the dough held together without sticking to my hands. Okay, back on track…

My 3 year old and I both rolled out some dough and got busy cutting shapes with our favorite cookie cutters. I also gave her a small bowl of flour (you can barely see it at the top of this photo) for her to flour her workspace at will. She loved that, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before. Her ornaments are less than perfect, but she proudly made them herself. Awwwww.

We followed Anna’s suggestion of using a straw to add a hole in each shape that we could later hang a ribbon through. Of course N saw no good reason to stop at one hole per ornament. And why should she?

The next step is to bake them at 100 C for 2-3 hours. OMG — just caught that it was Celsius, and here I was cursing my oven for not going below 170 Fahrenheit. Haha! Now I know why it took, literally, all day to bake these. Okay, so I could have just put my oven at 212 degrees and it wouldn’t have taken forever.

After they were dry, N sorted all the ornaments into hearts, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread men…and then, of course, her little sister stepped in to mix them all up.

Ready for painting. Click over here for the next step: Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2.

What kind of ornaments are you making?

“E” is for Experiment

experimental

My bloggy friend Deborah over at Teach Preschool just reached her 20,000th Facebook fan. Can you imagine? TWENTY-THOUSAND! She’s awesome in so many ways, and is especially extraordinary in that she runs a preschool and also finds/makes/squirrels away time to tweet/facebook/blog and generally keep the whole online preschool community together in one special place. Not to mention she’s one of the kindest bloggers out there.To celebrate this big social networking milestone, Deborah invited her early childhood education friends to contribute a letter, in the form of a blog post, to the “ABC’s of Teaching Preschool.” Given the nature of my blog, “E” for Experiment is what I have for you today. Oh, how I love a good creative experiment!

So can you imagine my surprise when I spotted this very truck TONIGHT on our evening stroll? The kids were in the wagon, happily playing with handfulls of leaves, and I did the biggest double-take. Circled back down the street and snapped this shot.

Serendipity, right?

Experimentation is at the heart of learning. When children are curious about something new they may ask about it, test it, try to figure it out, look at it from a different perspective, fail, or try something different. Last night I watched my almost one-year old work at putting a lid on a bottle for close to ten minutes. She flipped it over, moved her hand to get the right grip on the lid, missed the mouth of the botter, made contact, succeeded, put it down to clap (!), and then did it all over again.

About eight times.

Experimentation.

Here are three of our all-time favorite kitchen experiments–a little sample of what makes us happy at Casa TinkerLab. There are MANY more — just type “experiment” into the search bar and see what comes up! If you have a favorite experiment, I’d love to know what it is — by no means have we exhausted the possibilities.

Corncob Popcorn Experiment

Perfect for fall. Collect some dried corncobs and pop them in the microwave.

The Butter Experiment

Grown-ups may have to do most of the work, but the results are pretty spectacular.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This project is so much fun that you’ll want to buy a gallon of vinegar in preparation for the requests for “more.”

If you’re not already a Teach Preschool Facebook fan, click right here and join the 20,000+ party.

Painting on Ice Cream

painting ice cream

If you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance that you’re in the middle of a terrible heat wave. While I can’t make it cooler (sorry about that), I’d like to offer up this cool lesson in color mixing…and it all happens right on top of a chilly scoop of ice cream, sure to help you forget the heat for at least 5 minutes.

Tools

  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Food Coloring. Because I like to keep it natural, my new favorite food coloring is India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors. They’re pricier than supermarket food coloring, but they last a long time, the colors are wonderful, and you’ll feel good about feeding your family with natural coloring.
  • Bowls
  • Ice Cream Scooper (optional)
  • Assorted sprinkles and syrup (optional)

Drop food coloring directly onto the ice cream.
Blend it around in whatever way you like.
After you marvel at the rainbow colors on your ice cream, pour on the jimmies, rainbow sprinkles. colored sugar or syrup. Yummy and cool.

Enjoy!

Fine Tuning the Mud Pie Kitchen

mud pie kitchen

In case you’re one of the few who doesn’t read my blog religiously (gasp!), we’ve been building a mud pie kitchen in our yard. It began in part as a way to lure my child into our yard, but its popularity with our resident 3-year old has organically turned this into one of our summer’s bigger projects. And the biggest surprise is that it’s been almost entirely child-driven.

About a month ago we started with this. A couple crates, some sand toys, and lots of big ideas. Two weeks later the kitchen was still going strong, so we piled into the car to drive to the Goodwill to search for mud kitchen treasures. 

This is how it looked after our thrift store trip. But did you know that my daughter likes things in their places? I was aware that the hodge-podge pile of dishes and scoopers might eventually keep her away from the outdoor kitchen, so I pulled out a jar of nails for us to hammer in “hooks” for our pots and utensils.

What I didn’t anticipate is N’s interest in hammering the nails in HERSELF! But I should have. This child has three (3!!) wooden hammers and couldn’t scramble into the house fast enough to get one.

She hammered in a few nails, but really enjoyed directing me to hammer nails in specific places.

N’s friend came over and the two of them were so industrious in this new space. It was actually very difficult to turn off the caramel-maker and break up the party at closing time!

And now I think we’re done! I love the order that the hanging utensils brings to the kitchen.

Thrifting for the Mud Pie Kitchen

water play in the mud pie kitchen

This magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it; but man will never on his heap of mud keep still.  – Joseph Conrad

Did you know that yesterday was International Mud Day? One of my fondest childhood memories is pretending to feed my friend Alexandra’s cat the ooey gooey mud pies we made in her garden, and my hope is to instill my own child with a similar joy for mucking around and being comfortable in nature…and mud, even!

I wrote about our new Mud Pie Kitchen two weeks ago, and since it’s still a popular place to hang out I thought we could move into phase two of our kitchen remodel. This, of course, involved an educational trip to the Goodwill for some new tools and appliances and N was eager to go.

My two little kids and I scooted quickly past the fragile knick knacks and dishes (phew!), and made our way to the metal and wood aisle. N picked out everything you see in the basket while I acted as her guide, making suggestions and occasionally vetoing her choices (she really wanted that pizza wheel up there, which was smartly taped off). The biggest score was a pink and blue plastic toy called the Fluff Factory, which you can see buried in her basket. It was reminiscent of a meat grinder, and I couldn’t wait to find out what its original purpose was. It turns out that it’s used to fill teddy bears with fluff. How awesome is that? N had no idea of its purpose, but she saw potential in it and I love that even more!

When we got home there was the requisite costume change into the tutu bathing suit (for her, not me) before unveiling the new pots and pans. And while these new goods were for our MUD pie kitchen, it was all water play without a speck of mud in sight. N loved her new coffee pot (just $3!), kid-sized REAL frying pan, and of course, the Fluff Factory. To accomodate our expanding collection of dishes and such, we added some more counter space, which helped tremendously.

She spent the rest of the afternoon pouring water and dropping flower petals into the little factory and turning the crank to push the water through. Problem solving at its finest. Oh, and maybe next time we’ll actually play with mud!

More Lessons Learned on Building a Mud Pie Kitchen

  • Shop for materials at a second hand store. You never know what you will find, which can help you (and children) see the potential in surprising objects.
  • Involve children in the design of the kitchen. Purchasing her own kitchen supplies raised N’s eagerness to use them. She talked about playing with her new pots all the way home and couldn’t get into her bathing suit fast enough.
  • Include interactive Tools that can work like appliances

There are so many good ideas for exploring and playing in mud…just take a look at these other posts for inspiration!

Happy Mud Day!

This post was shared with It’s Playtime

Mud Pie Kitchen: Beta Version

mixing at mud pie kitchen

This may not look like much, but we’ve been testing our mud pie kitchen and getting a fresh perspective on what works. It used to reside in another part of our yard, and I thought that moving it might make it more accesible. And it did!! I fashioned the stove/sink from two wooden crates I found at a craft store last summer. Next, mud pie tools were gathered from our sand box: buckets, bowls, and a jello mold picked up at a second hand store for a dollar. We got the measuring cups at our last trip to IKEA, and carried pots and pans outside from the indoor play kitchen.

I filled the big green tub with water and we called it the “sink,” and N got busy making soup. She owned the kitchen right from the start and there was no end to what she wanted to create.

The sink got muddy pretty quickly, so she requested another pail full of clean water. Some kids love the mud, mine tolerates it.

The kitchen was set up next to some flowery bushes, which made for a convenient food pantry.

She carefully pressed flowers into the mud like sprinkles on a cake. The contrast was gorgeous. We started this pretty late in the day, and she would have played out there all night if she could have. She actually told me that she wanted to skip dinner because she wasn’t hungry. So I guess the whole test kitchen thing went well!

When she was all done, we poured the dirt back into the ground and the kitchen is ready for our next cooking adventure.

What I learned about making a Mud Pie Kitchen

  • The Mud Pie Kitchen is an incredible way to encourage imaginative play, which can lead to creative thinking, curiosity, and experimentation
  • The kitchen does not have to be elaborate to work
  • It should be child-height
  • It’s nice to have multiple levels or surfaces to work on
  • Set it up directly in or next to dirt/mud/sand
  • Have a water source nearby
  • Fill a large container with water
  • Useful tools: spoons, bowls, spades, colander, pitcher
  • Use real kitchen tools to reinforce that play is work (to children, it is!)
  • Include something fancy like a jello mold
  • If there aren’t natural materials nearby (like flower petals), forage for them ahead of time

More Mud Pie Kitchens

Amy at Child Central Station has been busy scouring the internet for mud pie kitchens, and you can see her comprehensive list here.

And Jenny at Let the Children Play is a master of the mud pie kitchen. Here’s one of her round-ups, full of good ideas for getting started.