When I deliver courses and workshops, one set of resources particularly liked by participants are my painted stones:

Using stones to demonstrate the value of natural materials in learning and play

When I work in schools, they seem to be just as popular:

This was a piece of artwork created during a free play session with 4 and 5 year olds


Nursery children following a trail of stones laid by a couple of children which lead to treasure!


This area was left for 3-6yrs olds to make natural artwork as they wished. It can often help to have light coloured sheets that highlight the objects. In grass or woodland areas often the materials are quite well camouflaged.

If you look at the photo above, the stones are stored in grass baskets. Natural materials seem to be best presented in baskets and other natural storage containers. They look less attractive when kept in plastic boxes:

Painted stones are an asset to any stone collection. They can be made by children by painting stones and varnishing them. The detail that older children can achieve is lovely. These stones depict local life in a fishing village in NE Scotland:

A useful resource for decorating stones are acrylic deco pens that do not require varnishing. Unlike permanent marker pens, they have bright colours, are waterproof and are great for stonework:

The painted stones are great for story telling. For instance, if you look at the stones in the photo below:

In turn a child picks a stone and helps make a group story…

Once upon a time there was a ladybird called Lucy.
She lived in Scotland.
One day Lucy decided to go for a walk over a hill.
She wanted to see if she could find the end of a rainbow.

Many children also like playing with letters. They can be used in free play and many structured activities to aid the learning of letters and sounds. For example, letter stones can be hidden in an outside area and children can see which ones they can find. If your school is using a synthetic phonics approach then this is a useful way to reinforce the letters and the sounds they make.

The next possibility is to create word stones. Paint whole words on stones. Children can do this for each topic! Again these can be used in different games to help children develop literacy skills. For example, stones can be placed in a school garden. The children have to find the words and use them to make a poem or write a sentence – the level of difficulty depending upon the age and ability of the children.

Many maths activities can use number stones. Again, the range of activities is huge. Feel free to make some suggestions….!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi June 11, 2010 at 23:25

Would you believe the big explorer & I spent much of this week trying to find the best way to paint on our on rock collection? I finally found some pens like those you suggested & we’ll be creating our own gems soon enough. The only limit is your imagination!


jenny June 12, 2010 at 08:44

So many great ideas in this post Juliet – thanks for sharing them. I’m particularly drawn to the setup for creating a natural artwork. And I’m off to look up those pens. Just this week we were busy painting and drawing on driftwood, but even the permanent markers were pretty unimpressive.


Juliet Robertson June 12, 2010 at 10:00

Thanks for your comments. I actually had to limit myself on this post. My intention is to blog about stones in natural artwork too as well as stones as features in an outdoor space. Everywhere in the world rocks and stones are a common bond.

Jenni I’m sure you can find the pens somewhere in Australia. They are expensive but last a long time. The consistency is similar to tippex except there’s lots of different colours. If not let me know and I’ll send you a packet! I made my first batch just over a year ago and the colours are still going strong.


SquiggleMum June 13, 2010 at 02:46

I wrote a post about using stones for story telling a while back, but the site it was published on has since disappeared. Might give it a dust off and republish back on my own blog! (Will link here of course). Love those pens you used because they give such vibrant colours. Jenny if you find them anywhere in Australia please let me know!!


Juliet Robertson June 13, 2010 at 07:53

I’d love to see your story stones post. Yes bring it back to life! You owe this to your readers! LOL!


Teacher Tom June 13, 2010 at 15:10

Oh yeah! This looks like something we ought to be doing.

In searching for a readily available version of those acrylic paint pens I came across a site for surfers. Apparently they use these pens to decorate their boards. A lot of them like the Elmer’s and Sharpie brands.


Sherry and Donna June 19, 2010 at 10:31

I love this post Juliet. Our dry creek bed would look even more irresistible with some rock art by the children! Like Jenny said, there are so many great ideas here. Thanks for the inspiration.
Donna 🙂 🙂


Christie - Childhood 101 June 21, 2010 at 14:08



Louise June 22, 2010 at 08:49

Loved your stones, Juliet – How can we find out if someone like Jenny in Australia has been able to source those pens? I have a set of stones with aboriginal symbols that I made up last year with a fine black texta, which were a hit with storytelling around Aboriginal themes and dreaming stories.
And we hope to have a dry creek bed soon in the dry old Mallee in Australia – as Sherry and Donna point out, the bigger stones with all sorts of drawings on them would be a great addition to this…I love the way the ideas buzz around and grow and take off…


Erin June 24, 2010 at 17:40

I love this post! I can’t wait to try the storytelling idea, and using numbers for math is fabulous too. Thanks for sharing this. You have a great blog, by the way. 🙂


carly@LearningParade July 7, 2010 at 21:07

Hi, just found your site tonight and I’m so pleased! Just a stone’s throw away myself in NI, love your painted stones. We used painted pebbles for storytelling, my daughter found a beautiful long stone that was perfect for painting on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Thanks for the link to Mindstretchers too 🙂


Juliet Robertson July 8, 2010 at 08:41

Thanks for your kind words, Carly. I love the idea of a long caterpillar stone.


huana July 25, 2011 at 18:29
Juliet Robertson July 31, 2011 at 14:11

Thanks for these links Huana – much appreciated!


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