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IEL Tip Sheet: Natural Illinois: Rock On! About

You don’t have to go to exotic places to find interesting rocks for preschoolers to study! A wide variety of rocks and minerals are as close as your backyard, local park, schoolyard, or driveway. Studying rocks with preschoolers can help meet Illinois Early Learning and Development Benchmarks 1.A.ECb Respond appropriately to questions from others., 1.B.ECa Use language for a variety of purposes., 1.E.ECe With teacher assistance, use adjectives to describe people, places, and things., 5.C.ECa Participate in group projects or units of study designed to learn about a topic of interest., 11.A.ECc Plan and carry out simple investigations., and 12.C.ECa Identify, describe, and compare the physical properties of objects..

Collect resources about rocks.

  • Ask your librarian to help you find nonfiction books, nature magazines, CDs or videos, and Web sites about rocks and minerals to share with the children. Be sure to include resources about people who use rocks in their work, such as miners, builders, artists, and geologists.
  • Order Illinois Rocks and Minerals, a free poster from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Find details on IDNR's publications page.

Gather a variety of rocks to share.

  • Bring in gravel, pebbles, and stones of various types and sizes. To find rocks that occur naturally in Illinois, look on beaches, by streams, or near quarries. (Ask for permission to take rocks from others’ property. Do not collect rocks from state parks, nature preserves, or other protected lands.)
  • Invite families to lend rocks for the collection. Garden centers or building supply stores may be willing to donate broken pieces of rock.

Find out about rocks together.

  • Invite children to draw pictures of their experiences with rocks. Ask them, “What are some things you know about rocks?” “How can you tell that something is a rock?”
  • Introduce children to words that scientists use to describe rocks, such as pebble, gravel, texture, hardness, crystal, and fossil.
  • Point out that there are names for different kinds of rocks and minerals. Some preschoolers may want to identify rocks using a field guide or the Illinois Rocks and Minerals poster.
  • Find experts to answer children’s questions about rocks. A local museum, college, or rock collectors club might help you find someone. It helps to have children prepare their questions ahead of time.

Take a close look at rocks.

  • Let children look at rocks with magnifiers. Encourage them to notice details: “Does this rock have lines running though it? Can you see any shiny parts?”
  • Invite children to experiment with rocks. “Do you think any of these rocks will change when they get wet? What do you think will happen if you put a rock in the freezer?”
  • Provide boxes, bins, and clear plastic bags so children can sort rocks by size, color, and other features.
  • Encourage children to sketch rocks in the class collection.
September 2013


To find activities that can be adapted in order to help preschoolers learn about rocks, please visit these Web sites:

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The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.