Hands-on unplugged play key to kids’ learning - Education Matters Magazine
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Hands-on unplugged play key to kids’ learning

Mud Kitchen

They’re big, bold, unplugged and ideal for schools, museums, and community spaces looking to inspire a generation of creative thinkers, problem solvers and collaborators. 

Sydney-based business Mud Kitchen was founded five years ago by Liz Rossiter who had a passion for unstructured, screen-free play that allowed kids to create their own world.

Following months of research, travel and product curating, Mud Kitchen was born. Rossiter says the name was inspired from the childhood classic mud kitchens and hopes when people hear the name they are reminded of the memorable playful moments as kids.

Growing up in the US, Rossiter spent summer holidays travelling around with her family going to children’s museums where her imagination came to life.

It was these experiences that she drew on when she started to see the gap in the Australian market and began curating a collection of resources and equipment to spark Australian kids’ imaginations.

“Kids in classrooms deserve to have playful opportunities that are screen-free and unplugged that aren’t about digital experiences,” Rossiter says.

“I love the idea of a balance. We live in the modern, technology-driven world world where there is a strong need for balance to that in the classroom. We find equipment from all around the world that encourages hands-on experiential play to offer that perfect, unplugged balance.”

When searching for new equipment and resources to be part of Mud Kitchen, Rossiter says she looks for things that are high-quality, are unique to Australia, foster play-based learning, and are inclusive and gender-neutral.

“I think to me one of the most important things is that they aren’t prescriptive. There isn’t just one way to play with them…they need to be open-ended,” she says. “It is this type of play that is perfect for inspiring imagination because it has a million and endless combinations.”

“That then allows kids to feel empowered, learn at their own pace, enjoy the process of learning and failing, and be challenged.”

With a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths (STEAM) learning concepts, Mud Kitchen also ensures its products encourage thinking, learning to enjoy the process of play, and encourage engagement.

Within the last two years the company secured exclusive distribution rights in Australia and New Zealand for two globally acclaimed play-based educational product ranges that are helping schools, educators, and community groups around the world engage children in learning through fun and their own unlimited imaginations.

Rigamajig and Big Blue Blocks are two products designed to inspire kids to create and learn through collaborative, screen-free, hands-on, open-ended play.

Rigamajig is a series of large-scale wooden building kits that inspire children to follow their curiosity through engaging, creative, and playful STEAM learning.

The colourful wheels, cogs, nuts and bolts combined with gears, pulleys and ropes are intuitively designed to give children the freedom to create three-dimensional, mechanical contraptions that are only limited by their imaginations and sense of invention.

Big Blue Blocks from US-based company Imagination Playground is a collection of mega-sized bright blue arches, bends, planks, and cylinders, accented with chutes, channels and other uniquely shaped loose parts that children can stack, line up, move around, sculpt and connect in endless combinations.

Made of aerospace-grade, lightweight, waterproof foam, the scale and tactile nature of the Big Blue Blocks allows children to become immersed in their play, inspiring them to invent their own worlds, environments and activities – and have fun at the same time.

“Rigamajig and Big Blue Blocks are fantastic, unplugged loose-parts play products that provide an outlet for unleashing that creativity – transforming any space into a playground that encourages children to have so much fun they don’t realise they have been learning valuable STEAM skills the whole time,” Rossiter says.

“At Mud Kitchen we are continually talking to teachers, educators, parents and community groups who are looking for proven, evidence-based teaching resources that will engage children in STEAM-based learning as a balance to digital or screen-based activities.”

Rossiter says she knows that children find the creative freedom of playing in a low-tech way incredibly empowering when so much of their world today is technology based.

With schools setting up STEAM hubs within the classroom, she says the spaces are usually heavy on robotics, coding and screen time and believes there is a need to put more hands-on play equipment into those spaces.

As a supplier of US-based company Kodo, Mud Kitchen also sells its Magnet Walls which include a wide range of STEAM learning benefits.

“The Magnet Walls are a vertical metal backing board with magnetised ramp, tube, and chute accessories that you can create an endless range of ball runs,” Rossiter says.

“The product can be implemented into teaching coding for example. If you have a ramp, it can be viewed as a piece of code and when you create a pathway for a ball run, using a variety of ramps, tubes, or chutes, that pathway is like a completed bit of code, and if it’s successful, the ball gets to the bottom and drops into a bucket.  If it’s not successful, you have to go back and work out the variables that will make it run smoothly – using if/then statements, and working through challenges in a playful way.”

Rossiter says all three products also create opportunities for teachers to see how students learn in different ways.

She says the products allow students who want to visualise and investigate and discover see that process and apply it to something more theoretical. This also offers the chance for students to build skills in resilience, problem-solving, and team work.

“Kids learn through touching and seeing and some of the more conceptual ideas like technology are difficult for those who learn more visually,” she says.

“Everyone enjoys playing and it gets students collaborating and talking. From this, teachers can see students emerge as a leaders who might not outwardly engage in a normal classroom environment.”

Rossiter says studies show that when children engage in high levels of engineering play, they are more likely to exhibit 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.

“Mud Kitchen brings together the best hands-on unplugged play-based learning resources from around the world, inviting Australian children to collaborate, communicate, create and think critically in fun and engaging ways,” she says.

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