Friday, July 15, 2011

Backyard Rock Classification

The soil in our yard is filled with rocks. While my husband and I found this frustrating, our sons were overjoyed. During multiple weekends adding landscaping beds to our backyard, the boys occupied themselves picking up rocks from the freshly turned dirt. Being the geeky mother that I am, I seized the opportunity to use my sons’ growing rock collection as an educational activity.

I hit the local library in search of books about rocks, but was discouraged by the overly technical details most contained. The non-fiction available there was WAY beyond my son’s understanding. I did grab Melinda Lilly’s “Read and Do Science: Rocks” book, though. It provided a brief explanation of the three types of rocks (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary). I also read "Let's Go Rock Collecting" by Roma Gans to my son before he began sorting, measuring, and studying his own rock collection.

I instructed my son to pick eight rocks of varying shapes, colors, and sizes from his stash. Then I gave him a ruler and a rock classification worksheet I’d made. He wrote the numbers one through eight on sticky notes and we placed each rock on top, to keep them straight.

Download a copy of this worksheet here.

Then one by one my son examined each rock. What color is it? Is it shiny or dull? Rough or smooth? How long is it? Does it look like metal or glass? When he’d made check marks or filled in the appropriate boxes on his chart, we moved the rocks (and sticky notes) around on the table, putting them in order biggest to smallest and wrote the corresponding numbers at the bottom.

I planned this activity to teach my son about observation, but instead the lesson ended up being more about characteristics and measuring. It never occurred to me when I prepped for this, that my son wouldn’t know what shiny and dull meant or how to read a ruler (aside from the big numbers).

So what did I learn from this? That sometimes the best kind of learning is accidental.


  1. We have accidental learning around hear all the time. I'm having to teach myself to just go with the flow. When we went rock collecting, it turned into an art project. I taught my 4-yr-old how to do rock rubbings and she ran around making rubbings of every rock she could find. She had a blast!

  2. AWESOME-I just printed out the sheet, and I am totally using it next week with my kids. I love how your planned activity morphed into something totally different. . . wonder what it will be with my kids!?

  3. I like how you went ahead and made a worksheet, even though identifying the rocks was complicated. We have so many great rocks, but the geology books are very complicated. Great lesson!

  4. Spontaneous/accidental learning is definitely great!
    My girls collect rocks everywhere they go :)

  5. Sounds like a great "accidental" lesson--the best kind! It's so great when you can build on your child's natural curiosity!

    We're doing classification later this year so I was glad to see this post--and the awesome worksheet! Thanks!

  6. What a great idea!

    I, too, always have to remind myself not to assume anything. The kids seem so smart (and they are!) but there are some things that if you haven't taught it, they just don't know it yet! Thanks for stopping by the Smart Summer Challenge.

  7. It's called a "teachable moment." You just go with the flow and those moments happen more often than not! Thanks for sharing your idea with us on The Sunday Showcase !

  8. I love that worksheet it is perfect. We have insanely large amounts of rocks as well.

  9. What a great way to sneak in some backyard nature fun! Loved this idea so much, I shared it with my readers:

  10. I used your sheet with my dd today. Thanks for having such a great site.