9 Ways to Play with Rocks Outside

Looking for new ways to get outside with your toddlers or preschoolers? May we present to you the simple bag of rocks- a $5 investment with LOTS of options for kids. Find inspiration in this list of ways to play with rocks outside.

Entertaining a toddler all day can be ridiculously hard work. My kids have thousands of dollars worth of games and toys and arts and crafts and I am not above allowing some indulgent screen time. But the fact is, at the end of the day, toddlers love dirt and sticks and rocks. Yeah, rocks.

Which – don’t get me wrong – I love. I mean, what’s not to love? They’re super cheap (also known as FREE at your nearest outside location), easy to handle, you don’t have to worry about getting them dirty, and you can just leave them in the backyard!

I love them SO much, I want to pass that love of rocks on to you! Sometimes the best toys are the simplest ones, and we just know your kids will agree. Check out our list of nine fun ways for toddlers to play with rocks.

Toddler holding rock up; Text Overlay: Nine fun & easy ways for your toddler to play with rocks.

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Painting Rocks with Kids of All Ages

Rock painting is so in right now.  And it’s hot for a reason. Because kids love to paint rocks. Whether your kids want to paint ladybugs or pumpkins or just go nuts free form, kids will love it. Plus, you can do it outside, which is extra awesome because you aren’t going to ruin your dining room table. We even have some friends whose kids love to paint rocks with WATER.

Child painting rock

I mean, you literally can’t get a cleaner craft than that! It’s. Just. WATER. And rocks. World’s easiest cleanup ever.

(Want to make your life even easier? Grab one of these rock painting kits so you’ll have everything you need!)

Play Tic-Tac-Toe with Rocks

My 4 year old is obsessed with Tic-Tac-Toe right now. Which means there are sheets of paper all over my house like confetti with scribbles all over them. So you know what’s boss? A reusable tic-tac-toe board. Even better? One that’s in my yard, that I only have to draw once, and then can use rocks for our “X’s” and “O’s.”

rocks with x and os written on them; tic tac toe lines

Use a sharpie to mark five rocks with X’s and five with 0’s. Scratch a Tic-Tac-Toe into the dirt or draw one with sidewalk chalk, and you’ll have an outdoor play area the kids can use over and over again.

Stacking Rocks Challenge

All three of my kids love to stack things – anything! They also love to compete with each other. Who can make the highest stack of rocks? Who can keep the tower balanced? Who will knock it over?

a stack of rocks

There are so many variations even in different ways to just stack the rocks. And endless entertainment!

Carrying them Back and Forth

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this list just jumped the shark. These chicks think my kids will be entertained by carrying rocks back and forth across my yard.” And maybe you’re right. Maybe your kid won’t do it.

But we’re here to tell you that we literally sat in Jaymi’s backyard and watched our kids carry rocks from a bucket to a pile AND BACK AGAIN for like 45 minutes last week. I think they made some sort of a secret game out of it, but they didn’t clue the adults in on the rules. All I know is those rocks were on the move in the hot little hands of our kids. Kids that got wiped out from all that rock carrying. So, SOLD.

Toddler Rock Hunt

This one’s pretty simple: Do just what it sounds like. Hide those rocks and let the kids find them. As one of our kids’ friends announced the other day, “You don’t have to wait for Easter to do an Easter egg hunt!” True that, Muriel!

preschooler collecting rocks in a basket

Egg hunts are great one day a year, but rock hunts – those are a classic the other 364.

Steal the Bacon

Remember sweating on the blacktop waiting for your number to be called so you could race to grab a blackboard eraser? Well, we’re fresh out of blackboard erasers at our house. But we got rocks!

And whether it’s a group of kids at a playdate or just two of mine facing off head to head, a race for the rock is a big hit. More bonus points for this one being another tiring activity. With basically no setup, no cleanup and the only parental involvement being to yell, “GO!”

Rocks as Cooking Ingredients

Stone soup isn’t just a classic story about a selfish town  that is tricked into sharing their soup. It’s also a culinary classic in our backyard. Stones, leaves, dirt all create a “delicious” base to be stirred with sticks.

Four children placing rocks in a tin barrel

This one takes some more parental involvement (I admit I’m wayyyyyy over pretending to slurp soup and report how delicious it is) and can be significantly messier than some of the other options, but my kids are all about getting messy, so bring it on!

Story Garden

A story garden is the perfect way to bring your kids’ imaginative play outside. This one’s a two parter, but worth it! First, see #1 and paint rocks with or for your kids. You can paint anything you want on the stones – houses, animals, boats, foods, cars, bugs, rainbows, shapes, people – you name it. Then, make stories to tell with the rocks.

The possibilities are ENDLESS with what you can create! Here’s a few ways to play with them compiled by The Artful Parent and we’re partial to this cute Hungry Caterpillar set which is perfect for retelling.

Rock Cleaning

If your rocks have been sitting around for a while, they’re bound to get dirty. Especially if they’ve been used as Tic Tac Toe markers, Stone Soup ingredients, and blocks all week.

Toddler cleaning rock; Text overlay: Toddler rock cleaning station.

Set up a simple rock cleaning station for your kids– you might be amazed how long it keeps them entertained. Give them a bucket full of water, a dish scrubber (we used the one from our shoe-cleaning hack!) and a pile of dirty rocks. Let them scrub them clean and then set them out to dry again.


These days, it’s pretty tempting to try to keep our kids entertained ALL.THE.TIME. But sometimes simpler- like a kid-made collection of ways to play with rocks outside- is better. 

Do your kids like playing with rocks? Tell us about it in the comments and you might just see it on our list soon!

Looking for more ideas of ways to keep your kids busy? Check out these posts next-

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Get outside and have fun with these EASY ways to play with rocks – that your kids will LOVE!
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2 thoughts on “9 Ways to Play with Rocks Outside”

  1. Haha, i love this! My son (3) has a huge ‘thing’ for rocks, he picks them up and squirrels them away every chance he gets. Definitely going to try out a few of these ideas with him 😀

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