They are an essential element in nature play spaces everywhere. What is it about the humble stump that is so enticing for children?
A stump is open ended magical possibilities, different in the eyes of every child.
For a baby, a stump is something to bang on. It is rough in parts and smooth it others. It can be used to pull up to stand and a support to take those first steps. Because babies eyes are so close to the ground, a stump is a rich environment full of textures and crevices and maybe home to an ant or a bug that a baby can watch with interest for hours. A low stump can be the perfect table at the perfect height for someone crawling. How often do you see a table 10cm high! A great place to put interesting things for a baby to play with and explore.
For a toddler, a stump can be very interesting. A challenge for the climbers and explorers, a place to be tall and high and to see what is happening in distant places. At a close inspection, it is the home of interesting creatures and dark mysterious places they can’t quite see, and need to explore further by poking in a stick, or filling up the holes with whatever is nearby. Stumps of different heights can allow toddlers to begin to explore jumping off heights. Starting at a level they feel safe and then getting higher as they feel stronger and more confident to jump further and higher. A stump is also a great place to explore balance.
For the kindergarten age child and older, stumps have even more uses. This is the age where the imagination starts to form play and a stump can be a tall building, a castle, a diving platform, a rocket, a table or chair for tea parties or a place to sit to read a book. Placing several stumps together or in a circle will encourage social interactions in this age group as they chat together, imagine a car or a boat or pretend to be stepping over a river filled with crocodiles. Jumping from one stump to another at different heights and distances is a great fun challenge that children at this age will enjoy over and over. Stumps can form a secret path through a garden that children will prefer to take over the normal grown up path. Stumps can be counted as children step in games and patterns can be .established with up down up down as a part of early mathematics. Tall and short stumps will create different shadows which can be measured and discussed. Stumps can have patterns and some can have their rings counted to talk about the age of trees and how nature is alive and growing. The beauty of a stump is also that they will decompose and break down over time as all living things do. Some will decompose in 2 years, some will take 50 years. They are not plastics and won’t last forever (oiling the timber helps though). This leads to learning about the life cycle and sustainability.
Of course it is a very sad event when a tree comes down and this can be discussed too. Trees are cut down or often fall down with age and in storms and fires. Sometimes they make way for buildings and mines and homes. If you are sourcing stumps, it is important to source them sustainable. Ask where they came from and why they are available. Ask about the type of timber they are and how long it will take for the timber to start breaking down.
Children can learn about planting new trees to replace the one that was felled and the importance of trees for the earth. At the same time, they will learn to appreciate even more how special the stump they enjoy so much is.