Nature Rocks


Ah, summer. Long days, warm sunshine and our fabulous planet busy playing host to life in every nook, cranny and space imaginable. Summer beckons us to come out to play, explore, kick back a bit and enjoy ourselves.

When we play and explore with our kids outside, we not only gain the health benefits of fresh air, exercise and a dose of vitamin D, we also provide our kids with an opportunity to fully engage their senses as they take in the textures, sights, smells and sounds around them. Outdoor play also stimulates young, growing minds on the highest of cognitive levels, providing opportunities for the brain to wonder, imagine, hypothesize and experience an environment much more vast than the world found inside four walls.

Summer is a perfect time to play with, explore and wonder about rocks a bit.

Rocks are easily taken for granted because they are so very familiar, so commonplace. But have you ever picked up a rock and really given it much thought? “Each rock, even a tiny grain of sand, has a story involving travel and time, a history unique to it.” – excerpt from “I Love Dirt! 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature”.
Being underfoot and an easy to find staple across the globe, rocks can create a solid foundation for summer fun.
What can you and your kids do outdoors this summer that rocks?

10. Look for Fossils

Fossils can be found anywhere: in your garden, landscape rock, shores, trails – anywhere. To find a fossil, the only tools and materials needed are your eyes. However, you may also want to use a magnifying glass and have a bag handy (to carry your collection). A small bowl of water may also be handy to rinse of any layers of dirt.
Finding fossils requires patience, as you will pick up many rocks and view each one carefully for signs of imprint and fossilization. But picking up many and scouring each with your eyes is half the fun, too!
Take your fossil hunting a step further and catalog each fossil you find in a simple “summer nature journal” and document:

  • Where it was found
  • When it was found
  • What you think the imprint may be from (plant or animal)

Display your fossils on a tray or in a dish and enjoy them for seasons to come.

9. Collect Rock Faces

Pareidolia is the term for finding human and animal faces in inanimate objects. It’s something we humans have a natural tendency to do. My family, friends and I have made a tradition on our annual canoe trip to seek out rocks with face characteristics. It is remarkable what you can find! Water habitats, such as seashores or rocky river banks, are ideal for finding “face rocks” as the water wears at the rocks over time, creating pockets and textures that may resemble eyes and a mouth. How many different facial expressions can you find?

  • Happy face
  • Surprised face
  • Scary face
  • Angry face
  • Silly face
  • Old-looking face
  • Curious face

Looking for rocks with faces with your family will put a happy face on your child.

8. Explore gravity

Do all rocks, regardless of size or shape, fall at the same speed when dropped from the same height? Experiment with your kids and find out. To play and experiment safely, you need only drop them from waist high. I do not recommend using large rocks either (watch out toes below!) It is a bit tricky to accurately drop two different items at exactly the same time, but simply have fun with the process. As an extension, do a little investigative reading on Galileo and gravity.

7. Create a rock garden

Now that you have a few fossils, rock faces and other rocky treasures from outings and explorations, create a rock garden. It needn’t be a huge area – simply a designated area.

How to Create a Rock Garden

First, designate an area in your yard that will contain your garden. This may be an area near or adjacent to a garden bed, a potted or container garden on a patio, porch, deck or balcony, or an actual garden bed.

There are several ways you may then establish your rock garden:

  • If using a spot of land in your yard, first outline the perimeter of your rock garden with medium to large size rocks, about fist sized, to designate the area. Then, over time, add and display rocks to the interior space to show off rocks you have found and collected. Display rocks by color, texture or in any way you and your child find interesting.
  • If creating a rock garden in containers, which is ideal for smaller spaces such as a porch, begin by collecting containers, such as a flower pot or an old wagon. Get creative! Place soil in the containers almost to the rim. Then, display rocks in various containers for viewing enjoyment. Perhaps one container may have sparkly rocks while another displays rocks that resemble faces or fossils. Of course, when you begin collecting rocks and studying them with your child, you will note each is unique and beautiful in its own way, so finding rocks to display will be simple and fun.
  • Embellish a garden bed with gathered and collected rocks. Then, as you and your child enjoy the plants growing in your garden bed, you may enjoy the rock collection growing there, as well.

6. Build a fort, or even a town, with rocks

Gather rocks of various sizes and use them to outline paths, roads and houses for creative play. Leave openings in the outlines for entrance and exit doors. The more people you can recruit, the more fun! Perhaps you can create a town with a few shops, such as a lemonade and snack shop, or even a jail? This project may become as detailed and extensive as your imagination will allow it to become over time. A great source of inspiration for this activity is the wonderful children’s picture book, Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran (Harper Collins, 2004). One of my favorite children’s books of all time, hands-down.

5. Sort and classify rocks

Gather rocks and sort them by their characteristics, noting sizes, colors and textures. Spread them on a flat surface, such as a sidewalk or on a towel. Or better yet, use an empty egg carton or empty cigar boxes to house sorted rocks, while noting similarities and differences. How many rocks are the same? Is there one characteristic that is more common than others? Are some rocks see-through when held up to a light? Use a field guide on rocks to help you identify the type of rocks you have found, noting the attributes geologists use to classify rocks in science.

4. Have an “Ugly Duckling” Rock Contest

Many rocks are dull and dusty when dry. However, once wet, they tell a completely different story, visually.

Have water handy for this activity, via a small to medium size bowl or bucket.

Each person participating needs to select one rock in nature that doesn’t stand out in any particular way, visually.
Study and view each rock in its dry form. Select which one appears to be the prettiest or most interesting.

Then, submerge each rock in water.
Re-examine each rock.
How did the appearance of each change?
Which rock is now the prettiest or most interesting to view?

Place the rocks back in nature and select new ones to experiment with.

3. Pan for gold

My father used to outfit my sisters and me with pie tins on a creek bed where we would keep busy panning for our fortunes while he graded papers for his college classes. I speak from childhood experience: even if you don’t find any gold, it’s fun to pan for it!

How to Pan for Gold

Gold is heavier than water, so tiny particles get trapped in stream and creek crevices.
First, scoop up a bit of sand and water in a pie tin.
Then, gently swirl the pan around, back and forth and around, so the sand particles separate. Lighter materials will spill out easily, leaving heavier material, such as gold, in the tin. Eureka!

2. Play hopscotch

Grab some chalk and a rock or two and you’re good to go. This is a classic and here is how it plays out:

First, draw the hopscotch. Single square, single square, double square, single square, double square, single square.
Number each square, starting at the base, from 1 – 8.
Rules: One foot per square, and rock must land within square to count. If the rock falls outside of a square, the player loses his turn.

To begin, the first player tosses his rock into square one, (after that, square two, then square three, and so on…).
Once the rock lands in the correct square, the player hops the course on one foot, skipping the square the rock occupies. Double squares may be straddled (both feet), unless there is a rock occupying one or both of the double squares.

The first player to get through the entire hopscotch course wins.

And last but not least,

1. Read a book about rocks.

I may be a nature nut. But I am first and foremost a lover of words, books and writing. That said, let me recommend a few of my favorites. And why not read and enjoy them on a blanket, outdoors? If it’s breezy, anchor your blanket’s corners with – you guessed it – rocks.

A Gift from the Sea, by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001)
A Rock is Lively, by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 2012)
Everybody Needs a Rock, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall (Aladdin, 1985)
If You Find a Rock, by Peggy Christian, photographs by Barbara Hirsch Lember (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)
Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerren, illustrated by Barbara Cooney (Harper Collins, 2004)

Photo credit: Rebecca Stetson-Werner