There has always been gravel in our outdoor play space. Way back in 1997 when I first opened my childcare home we didn’t have a ‘natural’ outdoor area. We did however have pea gravel as a fall surface under the wood and plastic play structures.
I’ll admit that back then I was one of those ‘OMG, what if they eat the gravel?’ people. Consequently I never let babies play in the gravel area. So today, when parents seeking childcare visit/tour my childcare home and express concern over the letting their babies play with gravel and rocks, I can honestly say ‘I understand’. There was a time when I only let babies play here;
There was a two foot tall fence dividing the deck area from the gravel area and I never let the babies go past the fence. I even had some wire mesh on the bottom portion of the fence so they couldn’t reach through the fence boards and get a handful of gravel. I was keeping them ‘safe’.
In fact, it wasn’t just infants and toddlers who were prevented from entering the gravel area. I considered children ‘old enough’ to play in the gravel area when they could reach over the fence and open the latch without assistance – most children were three or four years old before they could ‘pass the test’.
Looking back now I realize that the ‘test’ was ridiculous because their ability to open the latch is irrelevant to what they may do with the gravel. In fact, I discovered that the longer I prevented them from playing in the gravel, the more harmful their behaviour could be. Overexcitement in the new environment meant throwing gravel was a major issue.
In the last ten years since I began allowing the infants and toddlers to play with gravel and rocks I’ve discovered that many of them actually never try to eat it. Those that do occasionally put gravel in their mouths do so for only the first week or so and then move on to more constructive gravel activities.
Activities like making ‘gravel rain’
Testing gravel on an incline plane
Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience
Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’
I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative
Walking on gravel and rocks can be a challenge for young children and gives them the opportunity to further develop their balance and gross motor skills.
Yes, eating or throwing gravel can be an ongoing issue for a small percentage of children but it isn’t limited to infants and toddlers. By not allowing young children to experience and experiment with gravel and rocks we’re not ‘protecting’ them. We are preventing them from learning about textures, weight, gravity and more.
With a combination of supervision, guidance and opportunities for experimentation gravel and rocks can offer many benefits for the infant and toddler development that outweigh any concern for safety.