Rock balancing, or stone stacking, is balancing rocks on top of each other in various positions to produce stone sculptures or stone cairns. The art of stacking stones is also known as stone building or stone balancing. Invite children to balance and stack rocks of different shapes and sizes as a meditation art form that doubles as a gravity-defying STEAM activity!
What is it called when you balance rocks or stack rocks on top of each other?
The art of stacking stones is known as rock balancing, stone stacking, stone building, or stone balancing.
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What is Rock Balancing?
When rocks are balanced and stacked it is called rock balancing or stone stacking.
Rock balancing is when stones are stacked one on top of the other to create land art without the use of any adhesives or means of support to create stone sculptures.
The art of balancing stones has origins across many cultures. Balancing rock piles, or stone sculptures, are also known as stone cairns and date back to ancient times.
Stones have been stacked on top of each other for many different reasons by many different cultures. Evidence of rock balancing art pre-dates the bible and can be found all over the world.
Today, many people use stacking stones as a way to relax, relieve stress, meditate, create, play and learn.
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What is a Cairn?
The word “cairn” comes from a Gaelic term meaning “heap of stones.” Wikipedia describes a cairn as a “pile of stones, often in a conical form.”
A stone cairn is, therefore, a human-made pile of balancing stones stacked on top of each other.
In the more recent past, stone cairns were built to mark landmarks, trails or memorials.
Rock Balancing Meditation
Today, rock balancing art is often created as a meditative practice. As you balance rocks on top of each other, allow yourself to enter into communion with the flow of nature and the world around you.
Today, Buddhists, yogis, and stone stacking artists around the world practice rock balancing as a meditative art form, in much the same way that Tibetian Monks create sand mandalas.
Michael Grab is a well-known rock balancing artist that began balancing rocks via a “happy accident” in the summer of 2008. He describes balancing stones as a meditative art. He writes,
I quickly noticed the therapeutic/transformative effects that balancing and working with nature had on myself and others; in an artistic sense, but also nurturing something uniquely human, inspiring a sense of magic and peace, luring awareness out of the mind and into the moment — ultimately cultivating a meditative presence. (source)
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Rock Balancing Supplies
- River rocks, beach stones, mountain boulders (Use a variety of shapes and sizes of rocks.)
- Space to create stone sculptures without harm to surrounding eco-system or inhabitants
You will need to go on a nature hunt for river rocks or beach stones, or, find a spot with lots of rocks or stones to do this STEAM activity. My family prefers to create rock art in the great outdoors, but rock play at home can be just as much fun.
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How to Balance Stones and Rocks
As you stack stones and balance rock piles, it is important to start with a solid foundation. Start with a firm base such as a large stone, boulder, or stump. It is also a good idea to start with enough rocks nearby to create balanced stone sculptures.
This is why building stone cairns upon the shores of beaches, rivers, and creeks, where there are plenty of smooth stones, is common.
As you gain experience and mastery, you can try more complex rock balancing where multiple stones are placed to create gravity-defying rock sculptures.
The Art of Stacking Stones to Create Rock Balancing Art
First, show your kids how to balance rocks on top of the other to stack them into a human-made pile of stones balanced upon the earth.
You can begin stone balancing by simply seeing how one rock can be placed upon another to create a stone cairn.
Next, Invite children to stack stones of different shapes and sizes. Demonstrate how to balance and stack them one on top of the other, and then allow the kids to give it a go.
Children will eventually learn through trial and error that they must begin with a strong foundation. They will also learn about gravity, and how to build through the natural trial and error of learning through play.
Shhh… don’t tell them. Just allow them to watch you and figure it out on their own. Feel free to throw out hints and guide as needed.
What Makes Rock Balancing a STEAM Activity?
Creating staked stone art is a STEAM activity because it requires some basic engineering skills, and the desire to defy gravity, to create balanced stone sculptures.
Balancing rocks on top of each other also helps children develop hand-eye coordination. It takes a steady hand to be able to stack rocks higher and higher!
STEAM activities are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities that include the arts. Adding art to STEM activities allows children the opportunity to use their imaginations and develop their creativity.
Not all children love science and math, but art can bring them alive. Rock balancing is a STEAM activity because it combines counting, the science of gravity, basic engineering, and art to make learning more fun!
Want the good news? You don’t have to teach your children anything other than invite them to give stacking rocks a try. Feel free to ask simple questions to help your children learn, or sit back to allow space for your children to learn and discover on their own.
One of the best things we can do as parents, and educators, is to give our children the opportunity to discover the answers to their own questions. When we can allow our children this space, the opportunities for learning are endless!
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How to Build Balanced Stone Sculptures that Defy Gravity
Another fun way to stack rocks is to try to counterbalance the rocks and stones to create arches and other stone structures that defy gravity.
As you and your children gain experience and mastery, you can try more complex rock balancing where multiple stones are placed to create gravity-defying rock sculptures such as arches such as those found on the rock balancing artist Michal Grab’s website Gravity Glue.
Balancing rocks in this way creates a more advanced engineering challenge for both kids and adults.
My daughter was able to make a stone arch… Not bad for her first attempt!
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Why is Rock Stacking Art Discouraged in Some Areas?
Rock balancing or stone stacking is not an activity that should be done in certain locations. It can disturb natural habitats and lead to the extinction of certain species.
On the island of Aruba, the art of balancing rocks and stacking stones is not advised and many are attempting to have the activity banned entirely. In the US, the national parks service forbids disrupting or moving any rocks or other natural structures within the parks.
Please be respectful of the environment and animal habitats when considering this activity. It is not natural to have an entire area full of rock piles and stone stacks everywhere.
This is why stacking stones in your own backyard is a better idea than out in the wild. If you balance rocks in a natural setting, please dismantle them before you leave.
Be aware, stack with care!
Rock Balancing Art for Kids
Invite children to balance and stack rocks of different sizes in various positions to produce stone sculptures for a fun STEAM challenge and activity for kids.
This post is a part of the 28 days of STEAM activities. Click on the link to see all of the fun hands-on learning activities for kids!
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the wonder of childhood, the power of the imagination, learning through play, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…