Post image for 10 Ideas for Exploring Big Boulders

Big boulders are an unsung resource. Children love to play on them. Every boulder tells the story of the Planet Earth and how it has come to be like it is. Very often there will be one or two large boulders in a playground. Yet as a learning resource these are largely neglected. So here is 10 ideas to get you started…

 1. Sniff and smell them

See if different rocks smell differently. If you are unsure, pour some water onto the rock as this can make a difference.


2. Close your eyes and feel the rock

Notice which feel rough, smooth, cold, warm, grainy, soft, slippery or flaky. Start building up collections of words that describe rocks. Who can give the most apt descriptions? For older or more able children, focus on other aspects of language such as developing alliterations, similes and metaphors.


3. Scratch the rock

Who comes off worse – you or the rock? Does it depend on the rock type or how you are feeling?


4. Give the rock a big hug

It may be the first time someone’s cared enough to do this for millions of years.


5. Climb on them

Some rocks are easy to nip up and down. Others are incredibly challenging. Draw up a list of criteria for the ideal climbing rock.


6. Take a closer look

Take a variety of magnifying tools to have a look at the rock . There are now magnifying apps which allow close up exploration, especially in bright light.


7. Put your ear to the rock and listen hard

Try and find out what it is telling you. After all it’s been around in one place a lot longer than you have. See if the rock has undergone any changes of state. What clues – visual or textural do you notice?


8. Look around the base of the rock for nooks, crannies and mini caves

Who might live under the rock? How do you know for sure it exists?


9. What does your boulder symbolise or represent?

The boulders in the photo symbolise Te Papa Museum’s commitment to the land and people of New Zealand. Think about how it got there. Where did it come from? Create a legend or a story about your boulder’s existence. Perhaps it is now the memory of an event or a dedication to someone.


10.Go on a neighbourhood hunt for the biggest rock

Decide how to define what makes a rock big. When does it get too big and needs to be called something else?


11.Enjoy reading the parable about the rocky road

It was sent to me by a Czech friend, Radka Kozielova, many years ago:

“In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.

As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one’s condition.”


Sourcing boulders – some things to remember

Finding a source of boulders can be surprisingly challenging. At Inveraray Primary School, the most popular play feature is the stones and nearby large log. When the new car park was being created, the kind contractor ensured these “rescued” materials were moved into the grounds for the children.

If you have rocks with sharp corners or edges, it is worth paying for these to get sanded down before installing them. You may wish to decide, depending on the amount of rock available, if the children want a larger feature to climb, such as a boulder terrace or hill:

Another option that mixes play and learning is to have a geology that is large enough for children to climb or sit on. The Coombes School have a super geology trail which I have blogged about. Below is an example from a park in Sweden:

Approximately one third of any boulder should be buried for stability. If a series of stepping stones are being made, then watch out for foot traps and take height into consideration. In the UK there are guidelines and advice available – ask a landscape architect in the first instance. It is also good practice to use local stone if possible. Otherwise use a reputable supplier such as Purbeck Stone.

The photo above is  of a play park in Stirling Council which has several fine examples of natural play spaces. I like the versatility of this boulder arrangement – as a boundary, seating and stepping stones.

Finally, make the most of any rocks and boulders you have! Every child needs a rock!

(This blog post is an up-dated one from almost 7 years ago. It’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging this long)! 



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen Robinson July 8, 2015 at 17:03

Fantastic! Rocks are so underrated. I love the story especially- so short and re-usable.

I particularly enjoy finding rocks in different landscapes and laying down or across them. e.g. finding the flat patch to lie on coombe tor on Dartmoor and staring up at the sky, or making one into a “teashop” with a wonky table for my thermos.

Laying across rocks, or even deliberately propping oneself up at unusual angles and finding the comfy spot can give a unique perspective on the environment around you, or on the other hand it is a good excuse to take photos of people in funny positions on rocks too!

I have to credit the idea to @primageographer Paula Owens and Sharon Witt though.. they call it “rock draping”, I’m just a magpie.



Juliet Robertson July 8, 2015 at 17:19

Thanks for your contribution Helen – all are great ideas!


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