It’s August, weeks from the start of school. Your kids have been to camp, done baseball and goofed off to their hearts content. Now what?
How about helping them make a lasting gift for Mom? Making a garden stepping stone is not difficult or expensive, but does require some adult supervision.
Each year I try to help my kids teach their kids about personal finance. We have a week long Grandma Money Camp during which we have activities, games, books, movies and lessons about things related to personal finance.
Teaching The Gift of Giving
This year the grand kids are 5 and 8 years old and I want to demonstrate the pleasures of giving.
To do so, at their ages, I thought the project needed to involve activity and be something that someone close to them would love to get. Moms always love anything their kids give them!
So, I checked in with my daughter-in-law to see what she thought they would have fun doing and that would be fun for her to get. She suggested that it might be a fun project to have them make a garden stepping stone that commemorates Money Camp or our family trip to Yellowstone National Park, or just provides a canvas for their boundless creativity!
What Is a Garden Stepping Stone?
Just in case you are not acquainted with these, a garden stepping stone is a big stone, or cement molded to look like a flat rock, that is decorated and then placed on the ground or in a garden to walk on – so you don’t tromp the plants.
Garden Stepping Stone Craft Kits
Hobby Lobby had several versions of kits to create a stepping stone. The most expensive was around $20. Our local Walmart also had a cheaper version of a stepping stone kit.
I looked over these kits pretty carefully to see what was in them and what the directions were. As it turns out, the ingredients are pretty inexpensive and the instructions pretty simple.
Since I already had some sandrete (a kind of cement I use to fill the lines in my brick sidewalk), I decided to wait on getting a kit and do a bit more research.
What You Need to Make a Garden Stepping Stone
When I got home, I searched the internet to see what I could find out about how to make one and found out that the main requirements are cement and a mold to put it in. Of course, you can add all kinds of stuff to it to decorate it.
Here are some of the supplies suggested:
- Cement (a kind that makes a nice smooth surface, not the really gravelly kind)
- Water and a stir paddle to mix up with the cement.
- A container to mix it in.
- A trowel or some other tool to get the cement out of the container and into your mold.
- A mold to shape your garden stone to the shape you want.
- Petroleum jelly to slather on the inside of the mold, so you can get the concrete out and reuse the mold.
- Something to use to write messages on the wet cement.
- Pretty things to embed in the wet cement.
- Time to let the cement harden so that it is strong enough to hold weight.
I used the sandrete I already had. I cut the top off of a rectangular plastic ice cream container for the mold (I used the bottom and 3 inches on the sides). I bought 2 little bags of colored glass bits from Hobby Lobby to decorate and used a popsicle stick to write on the wet cement. I already had the Vaseline ,a wooden paint paddle and the water was readily available.
- Laminated pictures
- Pretty rocks
- Coloring for the cement
- Mosaic squares
- Cookie cutters to make designs
- Contact paper (if you want to embed stuff by putting it in the bottom of the mold before you put in the wet cement)
- Hardware cloth (to put between layers of the wet cement to make the final product stronger)
How to Mix The Cement
Unless you are a contractor or do it yourself-er, you may not have mixed cement. You can buy just enough cement for one or two garden stones at places such as Hobby Lobby, but you can get a whole bag of it just as cheaply from a building supply store, such as Lowes or Home Depot.
You can get white or gray cement and it comes in different textures. You probably want the smoothest you can get – so that you have a nice palette to work with.
The concrete mix will be heavy and messy, so protect your work area, use a mixing bucket you can ditch afterward if need be and consider using gloves.
I usually use an old measuring cup to scoop out the concrete mix cup by cup and put it into my mixing bucket. Then I make a hole in the middle of the mix inside the bucket and put the water in the hole. When I think I have enough mix for my mold, I add water, a cup at a time and mix well with the paddle after each cup. I was filling a 7” by 7.5” mold, filled to a depth of two inches and it took 7 cups of mix with 2 cups of water.
The consistency you want is much dryer than you wold think. I like to get it so it is about like creamy peanut butter – or even a little dryer.
Pouring The Cement Into The Mold
Once your cement is mixed with your water (and you have added the coloring if you are using it). It is time to pour the cement into your mold.
You will need to leave your mold in place for quite some time, so if you want to be able to move it around, you might want to put it on a board or something that you can pick up without disturbing the setting concrete in the mold. Also protect your work surface with plastic or heavy paper so you don’t have unintended concrete puddles there when you are done!
Make sure your mold is coated with Vaseline inside, then simply start troweling the cement into the mold. Use the edge of the trowel to cut into the depth to help you re-distribute the mix evenly in the mold.
If you are adding strength with hardware cloth (this is metal mesh – usually with squares ¼’ across), place your pre-cut piece of hardware cloth into the mold after pouring part of the cement, then put the remaining cement on top prior to smoothing.
When you have it spread evenly, start smoothing the top surface with the bottom of the trowel until it meets your satisfaction. You might see some water start seeping up to the top….don’t worry about it as long as you mixed the cement well it shouldn’t be a problem.
Tap all sides of your mold to try to get any bubbles out of your mix. Some people suggest putting the mold on top of your washing machine as it goes through a couple of cycles, but I wouldn’t want the cement in the house – in case of spills (especially when working with kids on the project!).
Now you wait. You have to let the concrete set up enough so that you can put on your decorations. But before you get too comfortable, clean your tools up – and don’t wash any of the cement down your drains!!!! It took my practice project about an hour to set up enough to decorate.
Decorating Your Garden Stepping Stone
Remember that the shape of the mold itself can add to your decorating scheme – circles, squares, triangles, heart shapes or specialty shapes can all be used.
You can embed pretty things into your stone a couple of ways.
- Put them in the bottom of the mold before you pour in the concrete.
One way to do this is to cut a piece of contact paper to the size of your mold, put it down with the sticky side up and place your pretties in your desired pattern onto the contact paper, letting the adhesive hold them in place. Obviously, you do this before pouring in the concrete and this method eliminates the possibility of writing on top of the stone.
- Add them on top of the mold after the concrete is set.
Once the cement is stiff enough to hold lettering (just try it, you can always smooth the concrete flat again), write your message into it by pushing the stick into the cement mush and pulling it straight back up, then pushing it down again to continue the letter – this makes fewer ridges in the concrete. You can use cookie cutters to imprint designs, Kids’ hands or tiny feet to make keepsake stones, dog bone treats to make borders or really anything that can be pushed in and pulled back out to make a design.
Some people make up a design ahead of time and follow that when decorating.
Push decorative items deep enough into the mix so that they will stay put once you take your stone out of the mold. Sometimes it can be hard to push them down, you can use a stick or screwdriver or other tool to help push them in.
I putt some colored rocks and some pennies in mine and wrote “Money Camp 2012” on it in printed capital letters.
Let Your Garden Stone Harden
It will take at least 24 hours (preferably for 3 days) for the cement to harden – during which time you don’t want to move the mold around. Spritz it with water periodically to help the hardening. Check on your design from time to time and fine tune it if needed.
Even after you remove it from the mold, you should continue to let it harden, spritizing it once or twice a day. It’s best to harden it for another week before putting weight on it.
Take Your Stone Out of The Mold
You should be able to pop the stone out of the mold easily with the petroleum jelly you used. If it gets stubborn, try taking a putty knife down the sides to loosen it, then turn it over and tap the bottom (kind of like getting a homemade cake out of it’s pan).
Plant Your Garden Stepping Stone
Bury your creation so that only about a half inch is above ground, so that people don’t trip and so that it stands less chance of breaking.
Teaching The Gift of Giving
It was fun making my practice stepping stone. As I worked on it, I pictured by grand children laboring with love over smoothing the concrete and decorating their stone and I anticipated the lift they will get from presenting it to their Mom (as well as the pleasure she will derive from getting a special gift from her kids). For a total cost of less than $3.00, I made a garden stepping stone.
How do you teach your children and grandchildren the benefits of giving?