Tag Archives: Rocks

Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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Outdoor Babies – With Gravel & Rocks

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;

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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’

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Testing gravel on an incline plane

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Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience

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Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’

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I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative

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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.

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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.