While not exclusive to children’s gardens, stepping stones walkways play a special role with kids. Stretching out like a game of hopscotch, they invite children—who are often conditioned to stay away from gardens for fear of trampling plants—to come in and explore. They can also beautifully complement the plants along the path, like jewels in a necklace.
If you’re planning a school garden or even a children’s garden at home or a neighborhood, you can make beautiful stepping stones for as little as about $3/stone. Here are a few tips:
- Get the kids on board: If you want kids interested in a garden, there’s no better way than to have them help plan and create it. When I was looking for a way to decorate a children’s garden at my daughters’ school, I enlisted my fifth grade Girl Scout troop at the time. Because the school started with preschool, we wanted the stones to have universal appeal. An alphabet path was the solution: Each girl was assigned 1 or 2 letters, and then asked to sketch on paper how they’d execute their design in cement.
- Devise a master plan. I found easy instructions online, along with a list of materials. Click here for some helpful hints on how to make personalized stepping stones, or you can check out countless other how-to sites or YouTube videos as well.
- If you’re on a limited budget, consider buying concrete forming tubes and cutting them into about three-inch rings for the molds. Laid on a layer of garbage bags with sand underneath, the molds hold the cement intact. An easier, albeit more expensive option is to use disposable plastic molds, aluminum pie or cake pans or other containers coated with non-stick cooking spray or petroleum jelly. Ready-mix concrete can be purchased at any hardware store. It pays to buy a container and stick that can be disposed of afterwards since the concrete will harden up quickly.
- Be resourceful: I visited bath and tile supply stores and asked for their remnant donations. We ended up with hunter green granite and porcelain tiles. My scouts also brought in odds and ends from home, such as chipped china, neon blue and orange aquarium gravel.
- Break it down: My Girl Scouts donned safety glasses, wrapped the tile and granite in old towels and whacked the stone with mallets into manageable pieces for the mosaics.
- The big day: On stepping-stone creation day, we enlisted parent volunteers to help with the concrete production (it sets up fast). Decorations were organized into easily accessible bins. Make sure not to press the decorations in too deeply (more than a half inch) or not deeply enough, which the decorations will eventually just fall off.
- Afterward: Let the stones dry for at least a 2-3 days, or longer if they are in a damp location. And finally, let your young artists place the stones in the children’s garden and make a special ceremony out of it. Step back and enjoy! Stepping stones can last for years, and allow their creators to leave their personalized mark on a garden.