Keeping it safe and healthy
Section 9 of the Making a Mud Kitchen book.
Age Range: all ages
Duration: less than an hour
Time Of Day: any time
Category: health & wellbeing outdoor play
Keeping it safe and healthy
First and foremost, children must be kept safe enough whilst they have access to the important experiences that they need for full and healthy development. Our job is to manage an opportunity to make it safely available – not to remove it in the name of ‘health and safety’. The requirement is to be ‘as safe as necessary’ rather than ‘as safe as possible’ (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).
The current official approach is one of risk-benefit assessment – better thought of as benefit-risk assessment: that is, consider why the experience matters and then manage to make it available. Much more can be found in the government endorsed document Managing Risk in Play Provision, available to download from the Play England website.
Contact with soil is actually beneficial as the bacteria in it help to build healthily functioning immune systems in young children, and research also suggests that this contact produces serotonin in the body – which makes us feel happy!
The medically-supported Hygiene Hypothesis suggests that contact with the beneficial germs that we have evolved with is vital, and that harm is done by over sanitising children as we currently do. Soil can, however, carry harmful pathogens, and care to ensure no contamination from cat and dog faeces is very important.
A useful approach for mud kitchens is to supply soil from purchased loam topsoil rather than from gardens or uncovered plant borders (all garden centres sell this; don’t try compost as it does not behave sufficiently like soil for satisfactory mud play). Freshly excavated mole hills also supply lovely clean topsoil! Sand in sandpits is also best covered with a light mesh out of hours.
Handwashing is important after playing in this way, so routines and expectations must be agreed with the children, set up to work easily and adhered to, to embed hand-washing as habitual. The best first stage to this is to establish the routine that children wash up the pots they have used in a large bowl of warm, soapy water!
Children also need to stay warm and comfortable – and mud kitchen work is likely to be wet and messy. Waterproof dungarees with wellies offer the best protection for most of the year in the UK – the best hot weather attire would be old shorts and T-shirt!
Somewhere to wash muddy suits down and hang to dry should be part of any well-operating outdoor provision.
The best risk management processes involve the children as a core control measure – always introduce new resources and experiences carefully, simply and slowly (one at a time, with plenty of time in between) with lots of emphasis on helping children access them safely and effectively. Less is always more with young children’s experiences!
Ask the children to look for things they think could be harmful and get their agreement as to the best ways they can manage these (with your support when needed), such as pots on the ground being a tripping hazard.
Pots and utensils need to be kept in good condition and will need to be washed and dried reasonably often to avoid them rusting and becoming unpleasant to use. Keeping them drained and aerated is a very good idea, and occasionally wiping a light coat of cooking oil (with paper towels or cloths) prevents rust and mould. Storing resources in open-net sacks or wire baskets is also a solution.