20 STEM Activities Young Children can do with Their Rocks
Rocks are natural treasures that are found everywhere in a child’s world and are, in most cases, free for collecting. Rocks are solids made up of different materials and the study of rocks falls under EARTH SCIENCE. Children possess a vast amount of intuitive, informal STEM knowledge. Our job as adults is to assess their prior knowledge, build upon their strengths, and guide them through an enjoyable learning process. Try not to bombard children with questions. Gently prompt and only ask a question when children stall in their self-directed activity.
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.
1. Gather rocks and invent new and unique ways to transport them.
“What do you have there?”
“How did you think of that?”
“Why do you think the rocks were there?”
“Why are we looking for rocks outside?”
“Why do you think the big rocks are hard to lift?”
“What is the easiest way to carry/move your rocks?”
“How can you move the most rocks at one time?”
2. Examine rocks. Add a magnifying glass.
“What do you know about rocks?”
“What else do you notice about your rocks?”
“Why do you think your rocks look like that?”
“How do your rocks differ from each other?”
“How do the rocks feel in your hands?”
“Which rock is your favorite? Why?”
“Why do you think rocks are hard?”
“Why do you think rocks have cracks/chips/things stuck to them?”
“Why do some rocks feel rough and others smooth?”
3. Compare rocks to each other and to other things.
“What do you notice/see?”
“Why does this rock look like that rock?”
“How do your rocks differ?”
“Why do you think rocks look different?”
“How are your rocks the same?”
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 them up?”
5. Scratch rocks using different objects to test their hardness?
“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?”
“Why do some rocks break apart easily?”
“What do you hear when you scratch the rocks together?”
“What happens when you squeeze a rock?”
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?”
7. Toss rocks into a puddle/pond/bucket of water and see the effects they cause.
“Where did the rock go?”
“Why do you think rocks go down instead of up?”
“What happens when your rocks hit the water?”
“How can you make the splash bigger?”
“Why does the water rise after you drop in the rock?”
“What will happen after you take your rocks out of the water?”
“Why do you think you see bubbles when some rocks go 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?”
8. Wash and polish rocks.
“What if we used/didn’t use soap to clean your rocks?”
“What came off of your rocks?”
“Why do your rocks look different when they are wet versus dry?”
“Why do some rocks shine and others don’t?”
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 do you know how many there are?”
“How do you know which group has fewer/more/the most rocks?”
“What if you lined up more/fewer rocks?”
“What if you only counted the ones that look alike?”
11. See if any of your rocks will slide or roll.
“Why do you think some rocks slide and some roll?”
“How can you make your rocks roll/slide faster?”
“What happens after your rock rolls/slides to the bottom?”
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?”
13. Weigh rocks on a balance scale.
“How do you know how many rocks to put on each side?” “What else can you put on the other side?”
“How can you make the sides level?”
“What can you do to make one side go down lower?”
14. Stack and balance rocks to make a cairn.
“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?”
15. Cover a rock with clay, foil, plastic, paper, fabric, tape, sand, or other material.
“Which material covers rocks the best?”
“What else can you use to cover a rock?”
“Why do you think that 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 & lower case, colors, dots and numerals, lines, etc.)
17. Mold rocks out of clay or press a 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."
"What would you have to do to make it bigger/smaller/longer/shorter?" "How do you know that is a circle/oval/heart/rectangle, etc.?"
20. Look under rocks. Explain what they found?
“What do you think you’ll find under the rock?”
“Tell me about what you found.”
“Why don't we find things like that when we move rocks that are inside?”
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 any 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)
Find it in our music store: https://www.abridgeclub.com/shop-early-childhood-music
Angela Russ-Ayon is a mom-preneur, children’s author, interactive trainer on the subject of early childhood, and award-winning artist/producer of music for young children. She presents educational strategies to child care providers, parents, and teachers nationwide for AEYCs, Resource and Referral agencies, and the like. She is a member of the Recording Academy and is the sole owner of Russ InVision Records. For more information on Angela, her workshops and accomplishments you are welcome to visit www.abridgeclub.com. © 2020, Russ InVision. All rights reserved.
For information: Contact: Angela Russ