Wood chips and wood shavings are amazing loose parts available in many colors, textures, and sizes. Children invite these little hunks of wood into all kinds of play and exploration. Kids dig in them, haul them, throw them, kick them, use them as props in dramatic play and small world play, and more.
Natural wood chips were once a mainstay on playgrounds, but more and more are being replaced by rubber mats or Poured In Place (PIP) surfaces and Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF). According to Jay Beckwith:
To this day there is no experimental or statistical evidence that adding EWF or PIP actually reduces injuries. It was known, or should have been known, that human behavior is complex, especially when it comes to play and playgrounds. There were, at the time of these changes, risk management studies that tended to support the notion that when things are made safer, children often tend to behave badly because they have a natural tendency to think that nothing will go wrong for them; that safety measures are for the other kid. “1Jay Beckwith
Removing wood chips from playground’s may or may not make those play spaces safer–and it certainly reduces the number of available loose parts. A playground covered in wood chips is a play space with tens or hundreds (or millions?) of individual loose parts ready and willing to play.
Congratulations if your outside play space is wood-chip rich! You can support playful learning by allowing kids to engage with the chips as they see fit. Create a space where it’s OK to haul them, roll in them, dig them, throw them, and more. That doesn’t mean no rules and chaos. For example, wood chip throwing can be OK as long as you don’t throw them at people who don’t want wood chips raining down upon them.
Providing tools like shovels, pails, wheelbarrows, and scoops is another way you can support wood chip play.
If you don’t have wood chips, they’re easy to find in most areas. You can buy bags of mulch at most home centers or even get them (possibly for free) from a local tree service. This is a bit of a humblebrag, but I happen to have two Wood Chip Guys who will happily dump a truck load of chips in my driveway whenever I need them. Partly because they’re nice guys, but mostly because it saves them from paying the landfill fee.
Bring Them Inside
Wood chips and shavings play nice inside too. For example, here are some shots of shavings I made with my bandsaw mixed with water and set up for sensory play. They have an interesting texture and sweet earthy smell.
In the wilds of outside, wood chips and shavings invite nature like toadstools, worms, and insects–and the things that eat them. They also serve as mulch for classroom gardens and flowerbeds. This is great because it’s an invitation to all kinds of STEM play, exploration, and discussion.
I hope this post inspires you to dig into wood chips as a viable loose part for your play space and would love to see your questions, insights, experiences, and photos in the comment section.
Support Playvolution HQ
creating free content isn’t free
If you find our content here useful, entertaining, or interesting, consider ways you can support the site and our efforts to keep the content flowing.
For example, using our affiliate link when shopping Amazon is a great way to help-you pay the same amount and we receive a small percentage that’ll help keep the site up and running.
You can also support our work by becoming a patron via Patreon