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You don’t need fancy toys to engage your kids or encourage their STEM skills. They can play and learn with just about anything, even rocks.
If you’re outside, challenge your kiddos to find between five and ten decent sized rocks. Then ask them to stack them up.
Whenever I ask my kids to do this, I’m amazed at how they extend the activity on their own.
After doing a basic “quick stack,” they begin playing on their own, inventing new games, and having a ton of fun with just a couple of rocks.
How Stacking Rocks Grows STEM Skills
Stacking rocks is simple. All you need are some rocks and a surface to stack them on. But, while they work, they’ll be practicing these five important STEM skills.
You can’t just randomly place one rock on top of another and expect your tower to stay strong. Instead, you’ve got to plan out your stack, and think about how to make it balance.
As your child stacks rocks, they will be learning that:
- Smaller rocks work best on top of bigger rocks
- The flat side of angled rocks fits best on flat surfaces
- Building is easier on a flat surface
- You can increase balance by a change in placement
These skills transfer to other building materials as well!
2. Importance of Observation
Observation is using your senses to gather information. It’s an important part of STEM!
While stacking rocks, your child must really examine each rock. This helps them figure out where to place it on the stack. During this time, they’re also using their observations to make comparisons, even if they don’t vocalize them.
As they look at the shape and size of each rock, they’re using the power of observation.
They’re noticing small details that might otherwise go unnoticed. But more importantly, they are gathering information about what they’re working with and putting that information to use.
3. Creative Thinking
Stacking rocks can be boring. But, if you sprinkle in a little creative thinking, it suddenly becomes much more fun.
Once your child has successfully stacked the rocks in a stack that stays put for at least a minute or two, ask them if there’s anything else they can do with them. If they’re having a little trouble thinking of anything, you can ask them to try one of the following.
Each will require them to think creatively about what they have, and how to use the materials.
- Build a house
- Create the tallest tower that you can
- Start building on a different surface
- Build a rock monster
- Create pillars from two large rocks and build on top of those
- Stack your rocks while blindfolded, relying on the sense of touch
Creative thinking inspires kids to think outside of the box and try different things. It’s a really important soft skill!
4. Geology Skills
The S part of STEM is for science. Geology is a branch of science, so stacking rocks is a great way to learn more about rocks.
What kind of rocks do you have in your area? You can talk to your child about some basic geology in your locale.
To let your child learn more, have her:
- Sort the rocks before stacking
- Look for patterns in rocks
- Describe the color of each rock
- Look for common speckles or other identifying features
- Drop a rock and see if it fractures
- Use one rock to scratch another to test hardness
You never know, you may discover that your child really enjoys learning about rocks and other geological topics.
Are there any other materials around your child can stack? Ask your child, and stand back and let their minds get to work.
They may try something and realize it doesn’t work. That’s great! Recognizing what doesn’t work is an essential part of learning what will.
Don’t micromanage this time of inquiry. Don’t say “I told you so” when their stack of dandelion fluff comes toppling over.
You want your child to take risks and try new things, not to be so afraid of failure that they never try. Failure is not the end of the world. It’s only one way that didn’t work. Now they can try to think of something else that does.
As an Added Bonus…
In addition to practicing STEM skills, your child will be connecting with nature. They’ll be working on a task that isn’t screen oriented. They have to move their bodies to gather and stack rocks. It’s a very grounding experience, and I’ve found it’s very calming for my kids.
If we’re waiting outside and my kids are getting antsy, I ask them to stack rocks. It’s an activity they do randomly on walks, as we’re resting. Stacking rocks really is educational, and can be a lot of fun!