Our custom mud kitchen!

Happy Fall my blog friends!

I would like to share with you a special post about a tiny problem I had encountered with our outdoor learning space.  It was very organized, interesting for the children, and modern, however, not weather proof by any means! As a result, every single day I patiently (sometimes not so patiently) covered it all with these plastic tarps and still the rain would somehow sneak inside or the strong winds would totally blow them off.

I knew that I needed a transformation, and thought that I would start slowly with the kitchen area...

If you have been following along my journey, you probably know that I have two small children (1 and 2 years old) and I recently opened up a studio space for ages 0-8 years to attend programs with their families. In my typical style, I kind of blew the budget while designing the inside. With little left to work with outdoors, I tried to re-use some of my older furniture from the classroom or shop on apps like Let Go for temporary pieces.  Of course indoor furniture is not built to last with weather conditions such as rain, snow, extreme heat or humidity.

Here are some photos of our first outdoor kitchen - which was not weatherproof: (These original photos by @clarkylaura)

This rod iron piece was from my parent's house and temporarily in my classroom.

As you can see most of our original mud kitchen came from indoor furniture!

This is part of a children's play kitchen.

This came from a unique find on Let Go.

There was a kitchen counter missing so I added a basket and mirror, which eventually both ended up falling apart.

I really loved the rustic farmhouse feel with the white sink, brass accents,
and dark brown wooden shelves.

Slowly I began noticing that the furniture's paint or sealer began to chip...  Our outdoor mirror peeled off its frame, and many of our chrome trays started to rust.

It was time to make some decisions around what we could do to transition our outdoor space into one that could be enjoyed all year around and with the Canadian weather.  I have really big plans for the whole area, but have to pace myself!!!

I remembered that a teacher I had met during the Kindergarten AQ course that I taught at York University was building her own mud kitchens.  I have been fortunate to meet many educators this way, but Michelle was one that stood at in my memory.  She always came to class with this huge warm smile, and I remember thinking, I wish my children could have a teacher like her someday...

Fast-forward to this Summer and we had Michelle visit our studio to show her the current outdoor kitchen situation and to seek her professional help.

She arrived with all of her tools and instantly my son began to explore her power drill.  I told her that we loved what we had, but that in my heart I knew it wouldn't last.  At the same time, I was having a hard time letting it go since some parts of it still seemed okay...

My request to Michelle was to try and re-purpose what we had and make it feel like what it was originally - but BETTER!

I started to collaborate with her and looked at what she had made in the past for her previous customers. 

My design suggestions included:
  • reusing all of my brass knobs, brass sink, brass hooks, and stove top elements from the first kitchen I had
  • acrylic mirrors that are shatterproof throughout so that the children could see themselves while cooking
  • a farmhouse style sink using my clear Wal-Mart bin that I could cover with the lid or empty easily for cleaning and to add various sensory experiences (coloured water, jello, ice, etc.)
  • cupboard doors for our infants and toddlers who love to open and close them or hide objects inside
  • farmhouse curtains under the sink using plastic shower curtains that can get wet
  • more counter space than I currently had by creating two kitchen units side by side to fill our space in front of the beautiful green wall of vines
  • fresh white paint resemblant of my old kitchen and at a lower height for infants who are learning to walk or toddlers to reach its surfaces and use it

Michelle gracefully took all of these suggestions and made pure magic when creating my custom mud kitchen!  She is insanely talented and I admire her very much!!! I am also secretly happy that by repurposing my old kitchen, together we made a one of a kind space. Having unique pieces that aren't easily replicated has always been a secret thrill of mine!!

Michelle Gikov is a Kindergarten teacher from the York Region District School Board.  She is also the owner of @KreativeKitchenz, a company that believes in creating and cultivating authentic learning environments outdoors.

Michelle's first mud kitchen sale!

Here is a little history with her words:

"The idea to create my first mud kitchen was inspired by pictures I had come across in my beginning years as a Kindergarten teacher.  After sectioning off an area of our Kindergarten pen with wood chips, planters, and pretend houses, I was constantly inclined to continue adding to this area.  My intention was to create an area which cultivated a deep sense of nature and an everlasting curiosity for it.  The only thing missing was a mud kitchen.  I built the first two out of skids, re-using the wood as a way to stay cost efficient.  After being approached by numerous educators inquiring about whether I could build them for their schools as well, I started using pressure treated wood instead. With the help of my brother, I was able to build them in a more timely manner and eventually learned how to do it completely on my own.  I have recently started to paint variations of them, altering size to better suit the height of the children who would be using them. What started as a very basic model has now evolved into something much more captivating."

This is how our custom one of a kind mud kitchen turned out:

My son, daughter, and two nephews were the first four children to get to experience the transformed learning area.  It was an unexpectedly hot September day and perfect for some water play!

Michelle and I spoke about how it's a little sad that we often see young children in front of iPads at restaurants, medical clinics, or even during a drive in their car.  What happened to getting outside and breathing in the fresh air, creating play opportunities out of dirt, sticks, leaves, etc.? I remember spending hours under our evergreen tree in the backyard just sweeping up the old pines with a broom.  That tree was like my second home.  Sometimes when I think about it, I can honestly say I miss that first outdoor learning space and wish I could have something similar for my children to experience...

This inspired me to start reading the book "Balanced and Barefoot" by Angela J. Hanscom that had been recommended in my summer course "Environments that Support Learning Interactions" from outdoor learning enthusiast, researcher, and speaker Niki Belegrinis.

Here are some points that that stood out for me shared by author Angela J. Hanscom:
  • Children are starting to lose their desire and even their ability to play (p. 29)
  • "The cold hard truth is that when you compare today's children to past generations, they just can't keep up.  Children are getting weaker, less resilient, and less imaginative" (p. 30)
  • "We think that we know what is best for our children.  We are just trying to protect them. However, by constantly rushing children, restricting their movement, and diminishing their time to play, we could be causing more harm than good" (p. 60).
  • We need to provide outdoor learning environments that are engaging and as parents/educators our presence is valuable however we need to try not to interfere or distract the independent play (p. 215)
  • "Active free play is critical for developing healthy bodies and minds. It allows children to develop creativity, independent thinking skills, confidence, emotion regulation skills, strength, and healthy sensory and immune systems" (p. 87)

    Thank you to Michelle (Twitter - @KKitchenz) for this collaboration and to my sister-in-law Laura @lemondropzphotography for the stunning photos of our children with the new outdoor kitchen transformation reveal!  

    To my loyal readers- thank you - I appreciate you, and I apologize for my struggle balancing the content for this blog with studio work, PhD work, and life!  I have so much that I want to share, but I have to start being more realistic and stop promising or putting pressure on myself! 

     Until next time...

    Overcoming our fears and the tendency to keep children entertained 

    are the first steps towards encouraging active, independent play outdoors.  

    This type of play is further enhanced when children given plenty of time 

    for free play on a daily basis and are offered inspiring outdoor environments to explore.

    -Balanced and Barefoot, Angela J. Hanscom, p. 215

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