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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.
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.