22 STEM Activities and 150+ Open-ended Questions About Rocks: Young Children | Early Childhood
Updated: Sep 17
Rocks are natural treasures found everywhere in a child’s world and are, in most cases, free for collecting. They are solids made up of different materials, and although the study of rocks falls under EARTH SCIENCE, they can be used to introduce many STEM concepts. Children possess a vast amount of intuitive, informal STEM knowledge. Adults can assess their prior knowledge, build upon their strengths, and guide them through an enjoyable learning process by asking open-ended questions. Try not to bombard children with too many. Gently prompt and only ask a question when children stall in their self-directed activity. You may only have to ask one.
There are plenty of questions and areas of focus from which to choose, depending upon where children are focused at the time. Give them plenty of time, space, material, and opportunity to explore, experiment, and think for themselves. Materials don't have to be expensive. Children can use rocks for scientific discovery, fine motor exercise, arts and crafts, improving math skills, tracing shapes, numbers, and letters, and much more. Here are 20 simple STEM ideas, along with suggestions for open-ended inquiry about rocks.
1. Examine rocks. Add a magnifying glass.
How do you know that's a rock?
What do you know about rocks?
What else do you notice about your rocks?
Why do you think your rocks look like that?
What are those specs in the rock?
What are those specs/lines/shiny things in the rock?
Why do you think the rocks are shiny?
Why do you think the rocks are jagged/smooth?
How do the rocks feel in your hands?
What happens when you squeeze a rock?
Which rock is your favorite/least favorite? Why?
Why do you think rocks are hard?
Why do you think rocks have cracks/chips/things stuck to them?
Can you tell if the rock is old or new? How?
What would happen if you dropped the rock?
What would happen if you broke a rock open?
What is a fossil?
Why do you think there is a fossil in the rock?
How do you think the fossil got there?
2. Gather rocks and invent new and unique ways to transport them.
Where can we find rocks? Why?
Why are we looking for rocks outside instead of inside?
What do you have there?
Why do you think the rocks were/are there?
How do you think the rocks got here?
Why do you think the big rocks are hard to lift/carry?
What is the easiest way to carry/move your rocks?
How can you move the most rocks at one time?
How did you think of that?
3. Compare rocks to each other and to other things.
Why does this rock look like that rock?
How do your rocks differ from each other? How are they the same?
Why do you think the rocks look different/the same?
Why do some rocks feel rough and others smooth?
Why are some rocks small and others large?
Why are some rocks warm and others cold?
Why do you think rocks come in so many colors?
4. Sort and classify rocks by their characteristics: shape, composition, color, length, width, condition, etc.
Why did you put those rocks together?
How can you tell they are the same?
How else can you match the rocks up?
How can you put the rocks in order by size/shape/color?
5. Scratch rocks using different objects to test their hardness.
Why do you think rocks feel like that?
How do you know what hard/soft means?
What happens when you rub two rocks together?
Why do you think one object scratches your rock and another doesn’t?
What else do you think you can use to scratch a rock?
What do you hear when you scratch the rocks together?
Why do some rocks break apart easily and others don't?
What do you have to do to break the rock apart?
What tools can you use to break a rock? Why?
6. Use rocks to scratch different surfaces: concrete, other rocks, wood, etc.
Why do you think the rock left a mark?
Why do you think one rock scratches more than the other?
How can you draw something using your rock?
Tell me about what you drew.
7. Toss rocks into a puddle/pond/bucket of water and see the effects they cause.
Where did the rock go?
What happens when your rocks hit the water?
How can you make the splash smaller/bigger?
Why do you think your rocks sank to the bottom/floated on top (pumice)?
Why does the water rise after you drop in the rock?
What do you think will happen after you take your rocks out of the water?
Why do you think you see bubbles when some rocks submerge in the water?
Why do you think we can still see the rock in the water? Or not?
Why is your rock sticking out of the water? Covered by water?
How can you make the water cover your rock?
How can you keep from getting wet?
8. Wash, polish, or paint rocks.
Why are your rocks dirty?
What can you use to clean/polish/paint your rocks?
What happens when you spray water on your rock?
What came off of your rocks when you cleaned them?
Why do your rocks look different when they are wet versus dry?
Why are some rocks shiny when they are wet and others dull?
Why do you think you should clean your rocks before you paint them?
Why did you choose those colors to paint?
Tell me about your design.
9. Use rocks to recognize and extend patterns.
What different patterns do you see on the rocks?
How can you use your rocks to make a pattern?
What do you think comes next?
How can you change your pattern, so it looks different?
10. Line rocks up and count them.
How can you organize your rocks, so they are easier to count?
How do you know how many rocks there are?
How do you know which group of rocks has more/less?
What if you added more/took away rocks?
What if you only counted the ones that look alike?
If you mix up/move the rocks around, do you think your count would change?
How can you find out if your count is different or the same?
11. See if any of your rocks will slide, roll, or skip.
Why do you think some rocks slide/roll/skip?
Why do you think your rocks don't slide/roll up?
How can you make your rocks roll/slide/skip faster?
What happens after your rock rolls/slides/skips?
How can you make your rock skip across the water?
What happens when your rock stops skipping?
Why do you think your rock doesn't come back on its own?
Which rock slides/rolls/skips the fastest/slowest/easiest?
Why do you think this rock is the fastest/slowest/easiest?
12. Make rubbings using the texture of various rocks.
Why do you think your paper looks like that?
What happens if you press harder/softer?
Why do you think that rubbing looks different/the same?
What if you rub with something else?
13. Weigh rocks on a balance scale.
What is a scale?
How does a scale work?
How can you find out how much something weighs?
How can you tell if something is heavy or light?
Why are some rocks heavy and others light?
How do you know how many rocks to put on each side of the scale?
What else can you put on the other side of the scale?
How can you make each side of the scale level?
What can you do to make one side of the scale go down lower?
What does it mean when one side of the scale drops lower than the other?
14. Stack and balance rocks to make a cairn.
What is a cairn?
What does balance mean?
Which rocks stack the best? Why?
How do you know which rocks to put on the bottom/top?
What do you have to do to keep your rocks from falling?
How high do you think you can make your cairn?
What other things can you use to stack and balance?
How can you balance your body on one foot?
15. Cover/Wrap a rock with clay, foil, plastic, paper, fabric, tape, sand, or other material.
What do you have to do to get the material around the rock?
Which material covers rocks the best?
What else can you use to cover a rock?
Why do you think that material worked/didn’t work?
16. Paint or draw a design/number/letter/line on the rocks. You can also print a design and tape it on with clear tape.
What do you think we should do with these beautiful rocks?
How can you put the rocks in order?
How do you know which one goes first/next/last?
How can you match the rocks? (upper and lower case letters, colors, pips/dots, numerals, lines, etc.)
17. Mold rocks out of clay or press rocks into clay.
How did you know what size rock to make?
How did you know what shape to make your rock?
Why do you think the clay looks like that?
Why do you think some clay stuck to your rock?
How will you get the clay off of your rock?
18. Use rocks to design and construct habitats for animals/insects/toys or structures like a cave, arroyo, bridge, or different lines and pathways.
How do you know how high to make the wall/bridge?
How do you know your animal/insect/toy will fit?
How will you keep water from flowing through the rocks?
Describe what you made.
What other material will help you build your rock structure?
What things can you think of that are made of stone?
19. Use rocks to trace a drawing or build something in our world: animal, insect, shape, letter, number, face, body, house, car, etc. Find natural shapes in stone.
How did you figure out what you wanted to make?
Tell me about what you made.
Tell me about how you made it.
How did you trace/draw around the rock?
How did you get the rocks to fit/stay together?
What would happen if you took some rocks out/added more rocks?
What would you have to do to make your structure bigger/smaller/longer/shorter/wider/sturdier?
What materials can you add to your structure?
20. Look under rocks. Explain what they found?
What do you think you’ll find under the rock? Why?
Tell me about what you found.
Why do you think that is/those are under the rock?
What kinds of insects live under rocks? How do you know?
Why do you think insects like to live under rocks?
Why don't we find things like that when we move rocks around in the basket?
21. Rock climbing
What is rock climbing?
Why do people climb rocks?
Have you ever climbed a rock? Tell me about it.
Have you ever seen someone climb a rock? Tell me about what you saw.
What kinds of rocks are easy/hard to climb?
What kind of equipment do people need to climb rocks?
Do you think climbing rocks is safe? Why? Why not?
Do you have to practice climbing rocks before you climb?
How high do you think people can go when they climb rocks?
22. Make a rock
If you wanted to make a rock, how would you do it?
What supplies do you think you need to make a rock?
Do you think the rock you make will look like the ones you've found? Why? Why not?
The final question to ask is, "What else can you do with rocks?” You will soon discover that children have more ideas about rocks than you do. Discover creative ways to connect rock play to a book, curriculum, activity, experiment, collection, or other aspects of a child’s life. Feel free to comment and share your ideas and experiences.
Companion song and physical activity: "Around the River Rocks" | CD: Toddler & Up STEM Songs and Steps (Walk around, step on, and jump over rocks)
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