Rock and Roll

by Diann Gano, M.Ed


One bright fall morning, I notice that the noise level at Under the Gingko Tree is exceptionally low. A quick glance around reassures me that all of my early learners are safe and accounted for. Then I notice a quiet but intense play buzz happening in our rain garden, so I wander over to see what has captured the children’s unwavering attention for so long.

“See? We are using the log to make our hill!” Jameson explains to me. 

“We are rolling the rocks down the hill, but our hill has a tunnel!” giggles Noa. 

“They go in and then they roll down!” two-year-old Tariq tells me, trying to keep pace with his older friends.

“This rock is flat on this side. It won’t roll, just like Ricky!” Jameson reminds me. 

The rocks in the rain garden and a hollow log have triggered an idea from another one of our favorite books: Ricky, the Rock That Couldn’t Roll.

Ricky is a flat rock that can’t roll with his friends on their favorite hill. Ricky’s friends help him overcome his challenge and find a way for Ricky to play like everyone else.  


Suddenly we have piles of rocks that have the same names and characteristics as the rocks in the book. I love it when an idea takes hold and inspires creativity and collaboration as the children begin to plan an activity on their own.

We have a STEM morning unfolding in our outdoor classroom! When the children start using words like “in,” “down,” “over,” “under” and “next to,” they are laying the foundation for geometry. Oh, this is going to be a fun morning! 

As I watch the children design and develop models that represent their ideas, I think to myself, “This is what early math and science learning looks like.” Planning and carrying out simple investigations like this one will make your assessment nightmare seem like a dream. Math and science overlap so much in this morning’s quest for understanding. This is the kind of play that hones children’s problem-solving skills and enables them to meet important early learning milestones.

I see the young friends sorting and classifying piles of rocks—grouping the flat rocks together and then creating another classification for the rocks that will fit into the tunnel. I observe and listen as they demonstrate their comprehension of the sorting and classifying process by comparing and sharing descriptions. When children use words such as “short,” “wide,” “heavy” and “light,” they are using descriptors for measurement. When they are guessing, predicting, classifying and putting rocks in a specific order, they are engaging in early algebra. 

By making predictions, changing designs and collecting data for their next rock, the children are building the foundation for more advanced learning in data analysis and probability in the years to come.

“I think there is something blocking it in there….”  Jameson’s voice trails off as he inspects a rock more closely to see why it didn’t tumble in the way that he had expected. He has observed that the rock is encountering some resistance. This is friction!

This is how we lay the foundation of early science through childhood investigation and teamwork. Today, the children are learning about persistence and problem-solving, propelled by the simple but profound joy of creative play.

Now the children are discussing another STEM concept. “Should we flip the log on its other side or move it to a higher rock?” Jameson asks.

I introduce the vocabulary word for their latest STEM adventure: “elevation.”

“Like an elevator! It goes up to the top of the building!” Jameson declares.

I smile. It’s like throwing seeds into the wind. I never know which ones will land on a rock or take root in a little brain. Either way, this is learning through play. Changing the height (elevation) to get a faster roll is working with speed!

The children are also exhibiting a developing sense of spatial awareness as they work out where and in what direction the log should be placed.

“Maybe if we push it, it will go faster!” Sarah suggests.   

When you are working on those early learning standards, listen to the words that your students are using. When Sarah uses the word “push,” this is a change that leads to an action. The outcome of that action is an effect!

This is scientific investigation in progress. Words like “push,” “pull,” “launch” and “force” are all science action words

Ricky—the rock that started this play—is long forgotten. We have naturally moved on to racing our rocks down the tunnel. I am not sure that any child actually remembers which rock is “theirs,” but they know which rock came in first, second, third and last. These are the vocabulary words that tell us that the children are mastering rudimentary skills in numbers and operations. This is a morning of assessment magic! 

If you have ramps in your classroom, or this is the type of play that sparks your energy, try reading the book, Ricky, the Rock That Couldn’t Roll, aloud to the children. Then place some rocks that roll, along with rocks that don’t roll, in your block area. Observe the investigations that take place and check off some early learning standards of your own!

Happy November, my friends. Stay safe and keep playing!

19 Replies to “Rock and Roll”

  1. Competition is a great motivator- when children are “racing” their rocks it engages their interest and promotes their problem solving skills as to why their rock is not as fast and how to overcome that.

  2. the children in my class love playing with ramps. On our playground, we have some logs and tree stumps that they can use along with rocks to create ramps and explore gravity, friction, speed, etc.

  3. Rocks and nature are so much fun for young children and older children, too! Lots of great vocabulary words were used as the children have fun manipulating rocks while learning about math and science

  4. Love this! Something that the children discovered on their own! They investigate, observe and use alot of science vocabulary. They also recall the book they have read. Great fun!!

  5. Through this activity the children have also worked on the cocepts of comparing attributes and classifying. My class did a similar thing by sending small rocks and other objects they found in the playground down our small slide. We had a botttle lid, a rock, a wood chip and a small barrette in our slide race.

  6. Great way for children to learn different forms and areas in which tree stumps, and the movement of the inclines, and different size shapes and weights how they roll. Most definitely a great way to observe, compare, and examine science concepts.

  7. This collection of materials is teaching science, math, social, and emotional skills. Many times it just takes the right teacher giving the children the time to explore. And asking questions at the right times to get them thinking and expanding their vocabulary.

  8. What a fun activity! Can’t wait to read the book.

    As an extension, set up different items and a ramp in the classroom to answer the question of which will/will not slide down a ramp. Record discoveries.on a chart.

    Use cars and a ramp changing the elevation. Does elevation affect the speed of the car or the distance it travels?

  9. This project allowed my children to explore rocks in many different ways and in their natural environment. The children went rock hunting daily.
    During our walks they noticed rocks of all shapes, sizes and textures. After they finished collecting they painted their own pet rock.

  10. Loved this activity self created idea by the kids our boys do this all the time with leggos ramps and cars. Buts this was very creative and nature minded. Can’t wait to read the book

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