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My Box of Rocks: A Fun Outdoor Activity for Kids and Parents

By — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

This activity is fun for preschool, primary, and elementary school children. Doing it involves no out-of-pocket expense, and it is adaptable to local terrain in many places.

What Are The Benefits of Rocks?

Searching for rocks is an opportunity to dig in the dirt, discover squiggly critters, or even listen to the sounds of rocks as they clatter against each other. The visible physical characteristics of rocks  -  shape, color, weight, surface feel, and size  -  offer many opportunities for hands-on activities, such as finding just the right size rock to fit a small hand. Rocks can be compared to one another to identify what is different and what is the same, examined for their distinguishing characteristics, or simply counted.

Rocks as a Journaling Exercise

Almost 30 years ago my then seven-year old niece wanted to share her vacation with me. I was staying home to work and care for the animals while Miste, my niece, traveled cross-country with her parents and grandparents to visit relatives. Miste really wanted to collect souvenirs that would remind her of the locations she visited while traveling and of her experiences at each location. We always examined rocks in the yard and other places we traveled together, discussing the differences in color, size, weight, texture, and shape. Miste decided to collect a rock from public areas she visited and to keep a journal about her rocks. She described each rock, identified the location by state, route, or other descriptive words, and dated each entry. Upon their return I was then gifted with this wonderful box of rocks and a homemade journal of Miste's writings about the rocks.  The rocks from that box decorated a corner in my front yard and were appreciated by visitors when I shared their stories. When I relocated, my box of rocks moved with me and became the focal point in a corner of my new living area.

Environmental Education with Rocks

Recently, I packed up my box of rocks for Books and Blooms in the UT Gardens.  Books and Blooms takes place every Thursday in the Trial Gardens at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  We extend an open invitation to children of all ages to enjoy an environmental education experience -- including storytelling, hands-on activities, plays, and even live critters brought by outreach educators from our local nature center and zoo (Ijams Nature Center and the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, TN).

For this program, I included local specimens of rocks and uncut gem-pebbles given away by a local jeweler. The kids helped me arrange the smaller rocks while I worked with the bigger rocks. I introduced each rock using my niece's journal descriptions, and added details about the local rocks and uncut gem pebbles. We then examined the rocks from an experiential perspective. We touched and felt the differences in edges; examined roughness and smoothness; and compared the rocks for size, color, weight, and even smell.  The kids moved their hands through the pebble-size rocks enjoying their sound and feel, and one little boy carried around a rock that perfectly fit in his hand. I kept a close supervision of these activities to ensure the safety of the children.

My box of rocks again decorates my front yard and my niece's journal awaits its next environmental education storytelling event. In the meantime, I recommend you go outside with your son or daughter, pick up some rocks, fill a box, and together enjoy the wonder of rocks.

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