The opportunities for learning in the outdoor environment are plentiful and the natural environment is always an engaging and motivating space for exploring and communicating. Many of our pupils gain a sense of calm when working in the outdoor environment and they are also able to build their confidence through creative and imaginative play opportunities.
How to set up your mud kitchen or natural messy tray
At Cherry Garden School, we have outdoor learning spaces available throughout the school day and always have some sand, mud or water play available to explore. There are opportunities to work on every area of the curriculum through play with natural objects and natural messy play trays.
A mud kitchen or natural messy play area can be as simple or complex as you like. You can have hours of fun with just a few containers and kitchen tools, a big bucket of mud and a tap, or you might like to get a purpose built play kitchen.
It is important that there is enough space for the number of children you have to play without being crowded and that there are plenty of containers, pots and tools available to prevent frustration around waiting for resources. A water source is also very useful, particularly for getting cleaned up afterwards, but other than that you can let your creativity run wild! Pinterest has plenty of ideas if you are looking for inspiration.
It is a good idea to have a wide range of tools, containers and loose objects available in the area to facilitate creative play, choice-making and problem-solving. These need to be well organised, and we also label our resources with symbols to assist the pupils in finding and sorting things themselves.
It can be useful to set out a few objects ready in the mud kitchen or messy tray as in ‘invitation to play’ and to support those pupils who struggle to get started on an activity by themselves. Having numbers, letters or topic related objects available to add to the play can also be really useful as the play develops. Chatboards or the child’s personalised communication resources are essential to make sure that they are able to request and comment effectively with other children and adults.
How to be a good assistant.
During free-play, the adult can be a great play partner by following the child’s lead and facilitating their requests. It is best to spend some time observing the play of the child, so that you can understand what it is that they are enjoying and how they are responding to the things available. When the adult joins in with the child’s play, we often find that parallel play is one of the best strategies to use, playing alongside, rather than risking putting the child off by taking too much control. Commenting on what you or the child is doing rather than using lots of questioning also makes the play more enjoyable and often leads to the best results. Over time, the child may gradually start to copy or use the vocabulary you are modelling in their own play or start to take an interest in your actions and try something similar. Taking the child’s own actions one step further in your interactions can encourage them to stretch themselves and try something new.
Another good way of encouraging development could be by introducing a new tool, container or texture into the play. For example, getting a bucket of water that could be mixed with the mud, or offering a pot with holes in and exploring the problem-solving of filling it up. This can be a good way of extending a child who engages in repetitive actions or always uses the same tools. Most important of all is that the adult also has fun! If you play with a new item in an exciting and engaging way, they may be persuaded to try it themselves.
There are so many great mud, sand and water play ideas available to keep things interesting and motivating. We have gathered a selection of our favourites here: