Painted rocks in hand. Photo by Kristen Tool
The soil at our farm in Western Massachusetts is full of stones. We spend hours digging and sifting new garden beds each year to prevent crooked carrots and stunted radishes. But what to do with all the stones once they are dug up? Having piles of stones laying around the farm creates a tripping hazard, and is serious trouble for the weed whacker and lawn mower.
Large stones are great for edging garden beds or building stone walls- the small stuff gets tossed in the dirt driveway to fill potholes. Smooth, flat or round stones are collected, and painted on.
A few years ago I started collecting stones removed from the garden and painting them for decoration, and as teaching tools. At the time I was running a mixed-age after school program for K-6th graders. Children loved using painted stones to dictate stories, and would collect stones from the playground to paint new images on.
This inspired me to create ‘Story Stone’ sets the children could use to share their stories and creativity. A set included about fifteen stones with a different image painted on both front and back. I chose to paint open-ended images, like a tree, a car, a kite, to allow kids to go in many different directions with their stories. Themed sets, like fairy tales, farm animals or vehicles, could be a great addition too.
Story stones. Photo by Kristen Tool
‘Story Stones’ were a huge hit in the classroom. It can be challenging to find activities children of different ages can enjoy together- storytelling is something that reaches across age lines and painted stones were a fun way for kids of different ages to interact wit each other. Older children often spent time transcribing what younger classmates shared, and through their conversations younger kids learned new vocabulary and dictation skills.
Storytelling is a powerful way for children (and adults!) to be creative, express emotions and work on problem solving. Kids have opportunities to practice communication skills, talk about real events or use their imaginations to create stories. ‘Story Stones’ are great for kids who are learning to read and write, as they can use the images to share their stories out loud.
There are a lot of story telling tools available, using stones provides additional tactile sensory input and gives kids a connection to something natural rather than plastic or man-made materials. It also gives all the stones removed from garden beds a wonderful purpose!
After removing stones from the garden, I wash and scrub them at our outdoor sink to remove all dirt. Any dirt or grit left on the stone’s surface will cause paint to chip off.
To paint the stones I use outdoor acrylic paints, found at the local craft store. Acrylic paints are , dry quickly and are durable as they are made for outdoor use on clay pots. I paint with fine brushes, and use toothpicks for detail work. To prevent chipping I coat dried stones with clear nail polish. Other clear varnish would work as well.
Circle of stones. Photo by Kristen Tool
It is important to only collect stones from areas like personal garden beds or driveways. Rocks and stones prevent erosion, help decrease flooding and provide habitat for many small creatures. Please do not remove stones from waterways and do not remove rocks or stones (or anything else natural!) from State or National Parks.
If you have ‘extra’ stones laying around your garden or farm- maybe it is time to make some story stones.
Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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