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Stack Stone Towers

Age: 3 to 8+ Time: <30 min
Materials: Smooth sea stones or river stones
Skills: Critical Thinking, Making Connections, Fine Motor, Focus & Self Control, Persistence & Grit, Science

You don’t have to be on a beautiful beach to do this, but beaches, riverbanks and other watery spots often bring with them the kind of flattened, smoothed stones perfect for stacking stone towers. Smoothed though they may be, their irregular shapes provide the perfect challenge and potential for learning. This one doesn't require too much direction. In fact, it's very similar to building with blocks—though using natural materials offer many educational benefits not necessarily embedded in neatly manufactured wood or plastic blocks. Once they get the hang of it, kids can continue to imagine and build kingdoms, neighborhoods and whole worlds.

The Guide

  1. Read a stone story: Read a book about rocks to plant the seed and spark interest. A recent discovery of ours is Rhoda's Rock Hunt by Molly Beth Griffin.
  2. Gather ye stones: Use a bucket, pail or pockets to collect stones from your favorite rocky corner of the outdoor world. We love to make a pile of all the stones we can haul, sorting them by color, shape, size, etc.
  3. Start stacking: Just start stacking stones and the kids will follow your lead, starting to stack stones with you or on their own.
  4. Set goals: Count the stones in your towers, marvel at how tall they are and set goals for yet taller buildings. Do this on uneven ground, and the challenge becomes even more difficult.
  5. Build buildings or whole communities: Kids may naturally do this on their own. You can plant the seed too by building your house or a tall building you all know well like the town hall or a famous building in your nearby city.
  6. Support the builders: You may need to endure some grunts and whines of frustration when towers fall, but, as much as possible, just let them rebuild. When asked, offer special services. For example, when our daughter decided to build her neighborhood, I offered to label the roads and buildings.
  7. Leave no trace: Once the building has run its course or it's time to hike on, take photographs of any structure that still stands, then dismantle and, as best you can, return your rocks to the part of the park in which you found them. This is a great lesson in leave no trace. If a favorite stone gets stuck in a pocket, that is okay too.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Simply the chance to gather rocks and move them about is engaging, and no wonder since transporting is one of the most common behavioral schema young children exhibit. Further, you can tell a kid all about weight and balance, but she'll never understand it without feeling it. Give her the chance to build, topple, and rebuild stone towers, and she'll really start to "get" these fundamental physics concepts. Kids will also practice thinking strategically. For example, most kids start out using any stones in any order, relying only on trial and error. Once they've rebuilt a few towers, they'll start employing more strategy, using stones in a certain order (like using the largest for the bottom) or becoming very choosy about the types of stones they will gather and use. This emerging sense of which stones are useful or not useful also helps kids learn to put things into categories—the very underpinnings of the ability to make connections between different information, a critical skill for higher level learning. Finally, stone towers can turn into castles, neighborhoods and whole worlds, sparking creativity.

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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