Creating a Rock Garden

By Sharon Katz Cooper


April showers may bring May flowers, but the slightly warmerair brings an urge to get outside once again! Creating a rock garden is a simple, fun activity that can involve kidsof all ages. It’s a great way to get outside, learn about collecting, anddiscover a little about how nature works.


Collecting rocks can create adventure for young children.Ask them to try to find rocks of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Encouragethem to think of places where they might find interesting rocks. Is there astream near your house? A park? A playground with a gravel area? These are allplaces where interesting rocks may be found.


Creating collections is a great way for children to beginthinking about comparisons and contrasts. They can gather rocks that lookalike, and those that are quite different. They can also experiment withtexture and shape. Ask your child what a particular rock feels like. Encourageher to describe it with questions like – What do you feel? Is it smooth orrough? Round or with sharp edges? Is this rock the same on all sides?


Collecting also gives children a sense of ownership andpride. Collecting rocks for a garden gives children a chance to gather itemsthat they chose themselves, and that represent colors, shapes or othercharacteristics that they personally like. Rocks are abundant and varied inmost areas, can be small, and are usually free in nature, making them excellentobjects for a child’s collection.


Starting a child on the path to gardening is also awonderful introduction to the way nature works. Watching seeds grow from tinypods into real, live plants provides an opportunity to build appreciation forwhat plants need from nature (sunlight, water, soil, nutrients), and can lead tointeresting discussions about the world around you.


Grab a few moments, a paper bag or box for collecting, anddon’t be afraid to get a little dirty!



Here’s What You Need:

  • 8-10small to medium sized rocks, depending on the space you have available
  • Severalseeds or small plants
  • Somepotting soil
  • A goodspot for a garden in a yard, or a ceramic planter for use on a balcony oreven indoors



  1. Haveyour child arrange his or her rocks in a circle in a spot in your yard (orbalcony) that gets at least partial sunshine. If you don’t have a yard,you can build your rock garden in a large ceramic platter, or even use alarge, but sturdy paper plate for a small one. The circle of rocks shouldbe large enough to leave an open space for soil in the middle.
  2. Helpyour child place the rocks close together, so they will hold the soilbetween them.
  3. Scoopout some potting soil and help your child fill the circle in the middle ofthe rock circle with the soil. Cover the rocks up at least halfway, sothey’ll stay in place and look like a part of the garden. Pat the soildown gently.
  4. Plantseeds or small seedlings in your soil. Help your child to water his gardenenough to get the soil damp.
  5. Waterthe soil at least a couple of times per week and watch how it grows!


This Helps Develop:

Creating collections helps to develop cognitive skills bystimulating awareness, observation, and reasoning. Comparing and contrastingitems encourages the development of skills that will be useful for science,art, and mathematics.


This activity also develops fine motor skills – the use ofsmall muscle movements in the hands that occur in coordination with the eyes.Fine motor skills are built when parents encourage children to pick up rockswith their hands, examine them carefully and place them into a pattern.Selecting and planting seeds, patting down soil, and watering also develop finemotor skills.


Social emotional development involves a child’s feelings ofself worth, confidence, and pride as well as their ability to get along withothers in a group setting. Children love to create something that belongs tothem and enjoy sharing it with others. As your garden grows, your child willdevelop a sense of achievement. Encouraging your child to describe what he orshe finds and collects, why she chooses each particular rock, and how she takescare of the garden will also enhance your child’s communication skills.




This monthly family activity series,”Hands-on-Kids!” is brought to you by a partnership between theChildren’s Science Center (CSC) and FAMILY Magazine. For more activities youcan do with your children to spark their love of learning, visit the CSC website, Ontheir web site you will also find information about CSC and how you can becomeinvolved. CSC is committed to building a place where our children can freelyexplore and develop a lifelong love of learning. Sharon Katz Cooper is a museumeducator and freelance writer in Fairfax. She is a volunteer with CSC.



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