Do you have sand, mud kitchen and digging play spaces or at least one of those in your outdoor play environment? Perhaps you have been thinking of adding one of these areas but need some inspiration or a few simple ideas to help you take action and actually do it!?
Did you know that those outdoor play areas that draw children in to explore, experiment and build upon, are those that usually have a mix of fixed spaces as well as lots of opportunities to access loose parts and open ended materials that they can move around, rearrange and add to the spaces in different ways to extend upon their play. They invite investigation and play using all the senses.
Imagine if you knew how to make your outdoor learning space more interesting with the addition of just a few interesting materials or sensory spaces - without needing a big budget?
In my Empowered Educator Community on Facebook we have many hard working members who regularly share their play areas and projects with us and each month here on The Empowered Educator website we feature a collection of some of the wonderful ideas that have inspired us in the community – and I hope by sharing they also inspire you to perhaps try something different in your early childhood environment or backyard.
In this post I'm highlighting a variety of different sand, mud and digging spaces and you'll see that it doesn't matter whether you have a large or small environment, there is always a way to incorporate opportunities for digging, scooping, pouring and more...with just a few simple materials and very little setup required as the children will decide how to use the space and resources available to them.
Keep in mind that everyone has a different space, skillset and budget to work with and the idea of this collection is not to leave you feeling overwhelmed with what others have created but to help you come away with a few basic ideas and a little inspiration to create something that might work for your unique play area in a different way.
Easy Mud Kitchen & Outdoor Cafe Ideas
Outdoor kitchen areas encourage role play, imagination, investigation, problem solving and group games. They can be made up of one piece of equipment or many, but all invite play!
Try to make sure that they are easy to access and provide opportunities for children to add to the space with other materials from around the yard or garden.
Don't have much space but would like to add a sand or mud kitchen you can easily move around the yard? Try our small backyard sand kitchen project - it's made of just a few pallet boards and you will have it built and ready for play before you know it!
If you have the space and some basic handyperson skills you might like to try our larger pallet kitchen project - I walk you through the steps to build it here.
This mud kitchen was shared by Empowered Ed Community Member Carlene. What an amazing space, and the sign is perfect too! There are so many simple elements here to engage the senses and prompt investigation!
Gwen from our Facebook group shared this picture of her mud kitchen. I just love how all children are directing their own play and working in different areas of the kitchen here. The focus is high as they role play and create!
You definitely don't need to be fancy to invite engaging play opportunities with mud and sand kitchens - this simple mud kitchen from Helen would be easy to set up with items you probably already have.
I'm sure we would all love to have an outdoor setup like this one that was shared by Empowered Ed Community member Karen. The urn and campfire cooking are such creative and surprising additions aren't they?
Even if you don't have the space or budget for an area like this you can still think outside the box when it comes to adding materials to the outdoor learning area.
Outdoor kitchen's aren't just for summer - I love seeing the snow on this one that was shared with us by Laurie. My own children would be over the moon to see snow in their outdoor kitchen or sandpit!!
Sue-Ellen shared her backyard kitchen set up for some interesting potion making play (coloured water and natural materials) with us too.
Our outdoor cafe/market stall complete with a 'specials chalkboard' has long been a popular part of the outdoor space and has been many things including a video store, library, fruit shop, garden centre, chemist, IGA and so much more! It's a simple project built from scrap timber onto the back of our backyard pallet fence. Read more about this project here.
Inviting Sand Play Areas - Inspiration for Educators
I know not every educator or parent loves adding sand to the play area but it is such a wonderful medium for children to explore and use in their outdoor 'work'. The sand area doesn't need to be huge....even a small tub provides opportunities for creative little minds and fingers.
Perhaps some of the spaces and materials shown in the photos below will help to inspire you to give sandplay another try!
You might also like to look through my collection of 10 easy activity ideas using sand here.
Christine filled her sand pit with natural materials to make a very inviting play area. No two days of play would look the same in this lovely space!.
An inviting and calming shaded sand pit and kitchen area from Helen's Home Early Learning. Love the water wall element on the fence too!
Tamara adds nature and colour to her sand play invitations with simple but interesting loose parts for the children to choose from.
What an amazing natural space that Sandi has for the children to play in! The provision of loose parts in the sand area challenges children's imaginations and problem solving skills while also giving them some ownership of the space as they rearrange, build, take apart and engineer.
Jenny shows us that you don't need a lot of space for to create an inviting sand play area - how cute is this little world using sand in a tyre with a few smaller materials to move around.
Many children, (especially those with some sensory challenges), can easily become overwhelmed with large sand or dirt areas, especially if there are a lot of children with loud voices around, so creating small spaces like this throughout an outdoor play environment can provide a calming space for solitary play.
Nicole introduced some logs of various thicknesses and lengths to her sand play area to add another dimension to the play and exploration.
Elizabeth added some additional sensory spaces to investigate with this DIY dry river bed right next to the sandpit.
If you have the space, than a lovely large sand pit like the one that Casey has offers many opportunities for solitary, parallel and group play for a range of different ages and stages!
If you don't have an outdoor sand area you can always set up an indoor sand play area like Jackie did in the image above.
Discover Ideas to Encourage Digging in Dirt and Mud
Even if you only have a small outdoor space I encourage you to create a digging, dirt or sand area if you can and don’t forget to add some loose parts for extending the play!
You can also add in some stones, pebbles or bush rocks for climbing and don't forget gravel, dirt, mud! Let's take a look at how other educators are doing it....
You don't need anything fancy to play with mud - Gracie from our Empowered Ed Facebook group shared this picture of the children making wombat stew - all you need is a bucket and some spades.
Children love to dig so if you have a garden bed like Angela add a few 'real' but child size gardening tools and let them have at it!!
Jennifer showed us her digging and building dirt patch - love the introduction of the stakes for the children to investigate and incorporate into their play!
So much digging and sensory play in this yard! Thanks to Lindianne for sharing these pictures with us.
Janelle used her sand pit to introduce a fire pit invitation to play. I'd love to listen in on this thinking process....so much concentration!
Amanda uses her tuff tray to make a digging and scooping activity with some sand and water. Even I want to get in there and start mixing!
All of the simple materials and spaces featured in this blog post can invite children to explore, investigate and create using their senses in many different ways. And the best part of these spaces being outside is that children can get as messy as they like and you can leave the play setup for another day!
if you would like more ideas and some step by step guidance to designing, setting up or modifying your outdoor learning environment read through this blog post.
Do you have a sand or digging area? What could you add or take away from this space next week to renew and reignite the children's interest, problem solving skills and imagination?
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A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.