Balance and stack rocks, or stones, of different shapes and sizes, with this meditative art form that doubles as a gravity-defying STEAM activity!
Rock balancing, also known as stone stacking, stone building, and stone balancing, is when you balance or stack rocks on top of each other in various positions to produce beautiful land art sculptures or stone cairns.
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What is Rock Balancing?
Rock balancing is when stones are stacked on top of the other to create land art without the use of adhesives or any other means of support. These balancing rock piles, or stone sculptures, are also known as stone cairns. Evidence of rock balancing art pre-dates the bible and can be found all over the world.
The art of balancing stones has origins across several cultures. Rocks were stacked on top of each other to create stone cairns for different reasons by many different people over time. In modern times, 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?
“Cairn” is a Gaelic translated to mean “heap of stones.” Wikipedia describes a cairn as a stack or pile of stones, often in a conical form. (source) A stone cairn is, therefore, a human-made pile of balancing stones stacked on top of each other.
Stone cairns have been for many reasons over the years. One of the most ancient known uses for these rock piles was to measure the sun for solstice and equinox celebrations. In the more recent past, stone cairns were built to mark landmarks, trails, or memorials.
Rock Balancing Meditation
A few rock balancing artists create stone sculptures 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 that surrounds 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
- Supply of various sizes and shapes of river rocks, beach stones, or mountain boulders. It is best to use a variety of shapes and sizes.
- Space to create stone sculptures without harm to surrounding eco-system or inhabitants.
Go on a nature hunt, or stop by your favorite landscaping supplies store, in search of river rocks or beach stones. Or, find a spot with lots of rocks or stones to do this STEAM activity that does not endanger or vandalize the environment.
Keep a bucket full of river rocks near the sandbox, or a sand and water table, to leave an open invitation for preschoolers and kindergarteners to balance stones and make all kinds of fun structures as they learn through play!
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How to Balance Stones and Rocks
As you stack stones and balance rock piles, it is crucial to start with a solid foundation. Begin with a firm base such as a large stone, boulder, or stump. It is also a good idea to have enough rocks nearby to create balanced stone sculptures.
Building stone cairns upon the shores of beaches, rivers, and creeks, where there are plenty of smooth stones, is common, but not always advised or welcomed. Please heed the warnings, and consider the suggestions discussed at the bottom of this article.
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. An easy way to begin stone balancing by merely 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. Allow your children to watch you and figure it out on their own. Feel free to throw out hints and guide as needed.
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 using the power of learning through play. Shhh, don’t tell them that they are learning; it will be our little secret. 😉
What Makes Rock Balancing a STEAM Activity?
Creating stacked stone art is a STEAM activity because it requires that children understand a few necessary 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; however, adding art into the mix can help bring academics to life. Rock balancing is a STEAM activity because it combines counting, the science of gravity, basic engineering, and the art of architecture 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 allow our children to discover the answers to their questions. When we can encourage children to search for the solutions using their terms, the learning opportunities are endless!
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 gain experience and mastery, you can try more complex rock balancing by placing multiple stones into gravity-defying rock sculptures. Encourage children to try building arches and other rock sculptures, like 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. Even my daughter was able to make a stone arch. Not bad for her first attempt!
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Why is Stone Stacking Discouraged in Natural Areas?
Rock balancing or stone stacking is not an activity that should occur in specific natural locations. It can disturb natural habitats and lead to the extinction of individual species.
On the island of Aruba, the art of balancing rocks and stacking stones is not encouraged, and many are attempting to have the activity banned entirely. In the US, the National Park Service strictly forbids disrupting or moving any rocks or other natural structures within the parks.
Please be respectful of the natural environment, and be aware of endangered animal habitats when considering this activity. It is not natural to have an entire area full of rock piles and stone stacks everywhere. Many people want to see nature in its undisturbed state when they arrive, and consider stone stacks to be a form of graffiti.
Stacking stones in your backyard is a better idea than out in the wild. If you choose to balance rocks in a natural setting, please dismantle them before you leave. Thank you for your awareness.
Stone Stacking Blocks
The rock balancing craze, and the many dilemmas associated with rock balancing in natural environments, has led to the creation of stone stacking blocks.
Wood balancing stones and stone stacking blocks are a fun alternative that children, and adults, can use to hone their rock balancing skills without disrupting natural habitats or endangering animals.
Rock Balancing Art for Kids
When rocks are balanced and stacked, it is called rock balancing or stone stacking. 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!
More Rock Activities for Kids
- Sorting and Classifying Rocks
- How to Paint Rocks
- Fairy House Painted Rocks
- Stone and Shell Owl Craft
- How to Skip Rocks: The Art and Science of Stone Skipping