One soggy evening, after finishing the dishes after dinner, we went outside to see how the rainy day had transformed our backyard. After checking on flower pots, the bird pond, and the damp sandbox, the children gravitated over to the mud kitchen. Water pooled in a sink we had made months ago. Nyla made the discovery first, shrieked, and quickly grabbed a nearby broom and proceeded to stir up the contents in the basin: water and sediment. The sediment quickly clouded the water, making for a muddy concoction. The lattice above the nearby counter caught her attention, and she dipped the broom deep into the sink and then pranced over to the lattice and began to paint it.
Galloping—literally galloping—from across the yard in bright green rain boots, Silas charged to the sink. He swirled his hands in it for a moment, then he looked across the mud kitchen searching for something. Nothing seemed to register, and so he bent over and tried to pry open the oven. Nyla helped him dislodge the door, and inside he found what he was looking for: a stainless steel toy pot. Silas dipped the pot into the muddy sink water. Lifted it. Poured it back. And then he did that another couple dozen times, with Nyla weaving between pours to refill the paint on her brush to complete her refurbishing of the lattice.
After a counter, a sink in the mud kitchen is probably the next best piece of furniture that we’ve added.
Benefits of a Sink
- Provides a safe place for water to reside (that younger ones can’t accidentally trip and fall into).
- Builds on the mental model of the mud kitchen being an actual kitchen, as a sink is one of the defining features of kitchens.
- Introduces several new behaviors for children to model, including washing dishes, washing hands, drying dishes, and pouring and filling containers.
There are a variety of ways to make a sink.
If you aren’t handy or want to get started right away, the easiest way to make a sink is just to find any flat container, fill it with water, and put it on the ground or on some raised stand and pronounce that it is a sink. The children will respond well to this, and the only real challenge will be keeping it steady, which may or may not be too severe of a problem depending on the size/stability of the container, location, and how vigorously your children play with it. Of course, you can experiment with using five-gallon buckets and other deeper types of containers, but those are more difficult for small hands and arms to reach compared to shallow dishes.
Modifying Found Materials
The first sink that we created was inspired after we had already obtained the materials. Nyla had searched garage sales for months to find a table and chairs to add as the dining room for the mud kitchen. She found a rickety coffee table and bought it for $5. Michele had purchased some antique ceramic refrigerator drawers (about 9″ x 13″ x 4″ pans) that we used for doing dishes when camping and around the house at times for various things. One day, the children were using the drawer as a sink sitting on top of the coffee table, and we saw how unstable it was. Since the drawer had a lip on it, I cut a hole in the surface of the coffee table on one side, making for an awesome sink and counter for a drying rack.
There are a lot of ways to do this—just find furniture that can support things, and containers that hold water, and figure out how to combine the two.
The other option is to either purchase a pre-made sink or design one to build from scratch. These may turn out to be more aesthetically pleasing than the low-fidelity or modifying found materials option. Places like CommunityPlaythingsc.om have a wide selection of wooden furniture for play kitchens that are modular and can be used in an outdoor kitchen. I saw a sink there for a couple hundred dollars.
For an inspiring example of someone who built a sink with running water, visit Teacher Tom’s blog.