Pea gravel is commonly used to landscape playgrounds, providing a clean area around the play equipment. It is also an option for home landscaping, such as for walkways or for landscaped beds as a way to control weeds. Some parents even use pea gravel in their children's sandboxes. Pea gravel is often a safer choice for children than sand or mulch, but it still poses some risks.
Sand and mulch -- two items commonly used for playground landscaping or for sand boxes -- often contain toxic materials. Potential carcinogens in play sand include crystalline silica and tremolite asbestos. Mulch may contain arsenic or chromated copper arsenate. Pea gravel is a safer alternative because it is a natural material and does not contain toxins. It is important to choose a dust-free option that has not been treated.
For children younger than 3, pea gravel is a potential choking hazard. Any item that is less than 1.75 inches in diameter is considered a choking hazard for this age group, and pea gravel can be as small as 4 mm. Pea gravel would not be an appropriate choice for families with infants or very young children. Pea gravel would also not be an appropriate choice for families with children who are still putting things in their mouths regularly. When pea gravel is used for older children, smooth varieties should be chosen to reduce the risk of cuts.
Limitations of Pea Gravel
While pea gravel does offer new possibilities for sensory play, it also does not clump like sand. Therefore, it cannot be used to make sand castles or other shapes if it is used in a sand box or sand table. Pea gravel can also be more expensive than sand, which may limit its use for some families. If pea gravel is spread, such as from being sprayed, kicked or carried, it could end up in the yard and damage a lawnmower blade.
Caring for Pea Gravel
Just like with sand, pea gravel must be cared for to avoid potential contamination. If it is used in a sandbox, make sure the box is closed after use and inspect the gravel before play to look for sharp objects or animal feces. If it is used on a pathway where children have access, inspect it regularly for potentially hazardous or contaminating waste or other objects. Spray down the pea gravel regularly to keep it free of debris.