In a corner next to our entrance lies a triangle full of promise. For this is where over the coming weeks and months our new Natural Kitchen will take shape. Our aim is to create a welcoming and safe space devoted solely to messy play. A space that young children will naturally gravitate to, where their imagination can take flight and their senses can be stimulated. A space where they are in charge and can get on with the important business of playing.
What is the point? It is well documented that play-based learning in the outdoors has a myriad of benefits for child development, in terms of gross and fine motor skills, physical and emotional health, creativity and imagination, self confidence and general well-being, to name but a few. It is the perfect antidote to screen time. As a charity devoted to learning through growing and growing through learning, it makes sense to start with our youngest visitors, to give them a space where they can connect with nature, feel comfortable surrounded by plants and putting their hands in the soil. Who knows, these children may just be the gardeners and conservationists of the future.
Why here? It does not take much space for a child to feel free and wild. This corner of our site has been neglected for some time and is awkward to use for other purposes. It is also handily located next to the entrance and railing, so creates a desire line for children and families walking past. Another benefit is that the plot lies opposite our circular bench so parents and carers can sit in comfort nearby and watch their children play.
To set the scene, the Natural Kitchen will boast a ‘mud kitchen’ fully equipped with work tops, oven and hob, pots and pans and a dining area. There will also be trays and buckets full of natural materials to touch, sort, mix, stir and sieve. The lower end of the triangle will become a secret den – a willow wigwam with log seating where children can hide from the Gruffalo or look for fairies. There will also be welly boot planters, digging pits and a weaving loom, plus anything else that comes along as this project evolves.
Of course all of this will not appear overnight, so this is the first in a series of posts charting our progress. So far, we have ferreted out a range of materials from our site that can be re-used and upcycled for this project, and this Saturday, 21st January, we are holding the first of two public workshops to kick-start the construction, so if you are handy with a saw or creative with a paintbrush, do come along! The workshop is open to adults and children aged 7 and over. It is free to attend but please book so we know you are coming.