15 toddler and preschool play ideas with stones!

Feb 24, 2016

Our shared garden has lots of stones in it, and it’s been funny to see how much my kids love to play with them, objects so simple and mundane most adults don’t even notice them. I guess stones feel pleasant and are interesting to look at, since they’re all different and close to the ground (like little people). Well, whatever the attraction, we’ve found lots of ways to have fun and learn with stones! And why not? They cost nothing!


  1. Explore. Touch, hold, look (but don’t eat). At first picking up stones and looking at them was all my babies needed for a fun time. But they did want to mouth them, which isn’t great. So make sure your stones are clean and safe, and too big for your little one’s mouth. Simply describing what interests your child gives opportunities to teach first words like look, touch and hold. Stones can be used to teach description words from the very simplest to the most sophisticated. Big, little, heavy, white, grey, brown, smooth, flat, shiny, bumpy, round, clean, dirty, wet, dry, rough, crescent. Find a stone, find a way of describing it, and you’re golden!
  1. Count. Make groups or lines of stones to practice counting.
  1. Put them in a line to make a caterpillar. He starts off short, and gets longer.
  1. Make a pile. Race to bring stones from one place to another to make a pile. I don’t know why this is fun, but apparently it is. You can add leaves, flowers, sticks etc. to add variety. You could give your toddler a bucket to use to carry the stones. Talk about what you do together!
  1. Make groups of stones to talk about quantity: which pile has more stones, which has less, what happens when you take some away or add one…
  1. Bring in the toy trucks and diggers and for construction site pretend play.
  1. Set challenges: Can you find a round stone? Who can find the biggest stone? Which stone is the darkest, and which is the lightest?
  1. Balance stones on top of each other. Making a tower from natural stones is much harder than with blocks, so stacking just two or three will be a challenge for most toddlers. They will discover what makes some stones balance better than others: bigger stones should go at the bottom, and flatter ones stack best. They will learn about size and shape in a very natural, playful way.
  1. Make believe with stones. Find stones with colors and shapes that remind you of different animals and things. E.g. a white stone can be a polar bear, another might be striped like a tiger. This is a nice way to encourage symbolic thinking.
  1. Explore wet and dry. Put the stones in water, or paint them with water and talk to your child about how the stone is darker when it’s wet, and gets lighter as it dries. Many stones are transformed by water: their colors are richer and their surface gleams. Children may enjoy noticing these changes.
  1. Paint or draw on stones. We tried painting stones white for a small world snow scene. It wasn’t hugely successful, but worth a try!
  1. Make story stones. For young children you’ll probably need to do this for them. There are many ways to make story stones, as you can see in this post. Here’s how I made and used story stones to accompany reading The Mitten. You can use the story stones in imaginative play, or for sorting activities.
  1. Use stones as a prop in small world play. If your child enjoys playing with mini dinosaurs or animals, add some stones to the scene as a mountain or a cave.
  1. Have a picnic. Stones work just fine as a prop in all sorts of imaginative play. My youngest serves them up as pretend cake. Delicious.
  1. Make a treasure basket of stones. With your child collect some stones to bring home, then wash them thoroughly and put them into a box or basket. See what your little wants to do with them.

Most of the ideas I listed above actually came from watching how my sons played with the stones. I provided some prompts and lots of language, but they really led the way. It is often astonishing for me to watch their imaginations at work – I learn a lot!

When children enjoy imaginative play, plastic toys that already have a fixed identity can limit their play, whereas very open, unscripted natural materials are liberating. I suppose this is how the vast majority of human beings played as children, before plastic toys became ubiquitous. This isn’t meant to sound preachy, especially as we have heaps of plastic toys. I am probably guilty of spoiling my kids with stuff, partially because I enjoy playing with it too! But seeing them play with a pile of stones does make me wonder if I make the right choice when I click buy on Amazon. Either way, it’s refreshing to see how even an area as simple as the rather bare communal garden at the back of our block of flats can inspire toddlers to explore, play and discover.


This post is shared at Montessori Monday and Let Kids be Kids.


  1. Let Kids Be Kids
    March 1, 2016

    I agree stones are a fantastic resource to play with. We have done most of these things on your list too. It is wonderful watching children use their imaginations with simple play using nature.
    Thanks for sharing with #LetKidsBeKids

    • Kathleen
      March 1, 2016

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Lucy
    March 1, 2016

    Thank you for the ideas – always up for a bit of play with natural materials, especially when they are free. Putting stones in different containers is a favourite of my 18 month old. #letkidsbekids

    • Kathleen
      March 2, 2016

      It’s interesting how little kids naturally experiment with these ways of playing. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)
    March 3, 2016

    So many different ways to play with stones! It is amazing how fascinated little ones are with stones but I will be honest I tend to just let them play in their own way (while making sure none are being eaten). But there some fab ideas here so I can do more now, thank you! X #letkidsbekids

    • Kathleen
      March 3, 2016

      Free play is great too, I know. We tend to dance backwards and forwards between me helping them with ideas and the kids exploring for themselves. Thanks for commenting!


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