Hi. I’m Jamal and I love Jamie Oliver. My mum cooks us porridge every day in the microwave in our kitchen for 7 minutes. I have to be careful because it’s hot…

Play kitchens. At first, we all had them inside in the home corner with plastic food and dolls, and then we progressed to the all important ‘mud’ kitchen. When a number of years ago we broached the possibility of having a ‘mud’ kitchen with our headteacher, she recoiled in horror and said “Not for inside, right?”. Once it was okayed (tentatively), other colleagues tutted as they made sure none of it went near their white trousers.
These days there is barely a setting without a mud kitchen. And, of course it has become big business. Mud kitchens have islands and beautifully crafted wooden features. They’ve been painstakingly constructed from wooden pallets and sometimes display old-fashioned sweetie jars filled with gorgeous natural resources. They have vintage scales and every conceivable utensil and appliance. I’m embarrassed to say, that we too were so filled with mud-kitchen envy, that at one point we purchased an antique Italian samovar from Ebay – so much so was the pressure to create the most stunning mud kitchen…ever. The children were playing in a kitchen that looked better than the ones we had in our own homes, and theirs.
They did love the samovar and we did get some lovely ideas from all the photos and blogs that we were looking at, but somewhere along the line we forgot what it was all really for and what really could be gained and learnt from having what we prefer to term, an ‘outdoor’ kitchen.

So, let’s get back to basics in our kitchen. And let’s look at what constitutes a wonderful opportunity for highly-quality, engaging continuous provision at little or no cost. Firstly, it is key that it is a kitchen that actually looks like a kitchen, that children might have in their own home. It needs a sink and tap in a worktop scrounged from a kitchen refit; it possibly needs an old microwave or a disused kettle. Already, it becomes familiar territory for learners and therefore the children immediately re-enact their own, real-life experiences such as breakfast time or ordering in take-out pizza.

Then there are the ‘accessories’. You could spend a fortune or have to beg your head for some spare cash to adorn your kitchen. Otherwise, this is a great opportunity to reuse single-use packaging such as dishwasher tablet pouches or frozen pea packets – both of which are genuinely found in most kitchens. These in themselves are unassuming gems: they contain loads of text and numbers which are excellent for identifying and talking about.

Instead of gorgeous (but expensive) loose parts that need endless sorting and rearranging to look like they did displayed in the catalogue, you can add vegetable peelings from the school kitchen or get children squeezing used oranges or lemons. Smell, touch and even taste come into play and no food is wasted.
The writing opportunities are endless with the stimulus of a few take-away leaflets or menus that have been pushed through your letterbox, alongside some homemade scrap paper clipboards. Old water bottles lend themselves to colour-mixing with a touch of paint added to water, and they look appealing and inviting.

We sometimes forget why we set up things for our Early Years children. It’s not to take magnificent photos to put on Instagram, or to show-off to other practitioners that we could have been interior designers, or to keep up with educational ‘trends’. It is to give learners every opportunity to independently explore, talk, experiment, replicate what they know and play to thrive. We don’t need anything fancy to do that. Just the basics.

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Back to basics in the kitchen

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