Weather stones are a tool I use in outdoor, environmental education programs to teach early learners about their surroundings and to encourage mindful nature observation, because the weather is something we can always observe with multiple senses.
I bought smooth stones at a craft store, painted the symbols with acrylic paint, embellished them with glitter glue pens, and sprayed each one with Valspar Project Perfect Topcoat. After a year of monthly use I had to do a few paint touch-ups but they were mostly still in great shape!
Of course, it’s ideal to ‘do weather stones’ outdoors, but they can be used indoors too, as long as kids can see outside. I use my stones as a part of a monthly routine, but because the weather and the seasons are constantly changing, it’s a different experience every time for educator and learner alike.
We usually do weather stones sitting down underneath the big tree I call my classroom. The first thing I do is ask the kids to close their eyes, if they can, and quietly just FEEL the weather. Of course, I set an example by sitting very still and silent with my eyes closed. This is a brief, mindful moment for kids to simply tune into their surroundings and have a personal experience with the current weather conditions. When we open our eyes we talk about what they felt, and then look around for clues about the weather we can SEE.
Then I take each stone out of the box, one by one. As we decide what the weather is like that day, we somehow sort the stones into two categories: ‘Today’s Weather’ and ‘Not Today’s Weather.’ This is an opportunity to change up the experience each time. I like to have kids help me sort them. Sometimes we find a special place among the roots of the tree to place the stones, use different colored hula hoops, or I let each kid be a ‘stone keeper.’
The stones (and some of the prompting questions) I use are:
SUN STONE- Do you have to squint your eyes or wear sunglasses? Can you see your shadow on the ground? Can you feel the sun’s warmth on your skin? Do you smell sunscreen?
WIND STONE- Do you feel any air tickling your skin? Do you see plants swaying from side to side? Can you hear the wind blowing through the leaves on the trees?
RAIN STONE- Do you see puddles on the ground? Are you getting wet? Is there water falling from the clouds? Are the drops big and splashing or tiny and misting? Can you smell the rain?
CLOUD STONE- Is your shadow invisible? What color are the clouds? What shapes do you see?
SNOW STONE- Do you feel cold air on your skin? Can you see snow collecting on the ground? Can you stick out your tongue and taste a snowflake?
HOT STONE- Does the air feel warm on your skin? What are you wearing to stay comfortable? Would your dog be panting right now? You can also use the hot and cold stones to introduce terms like ‘temperature’ and ‘humidity.’
COLD STONE- Does the air feel cool on you skin? What are you wearing to stay comfortable? Are you shivering or so you have goose bumps?
PARTLY CLOUDY STONE- (This stone always stumps the kids and is the perfect opportunity to discuss how we can experience multiple kinds of weather at the same time!) Do you see the sky AND some clouds? What colors do you see? Can it be cloudy and sunny at the same time?
STORM STONE- Do you see flashes of lightning? Can you hear thunder? What color are the clouds?
After we’ve discussed each stone and sorted them, I highlight the current weather conditions for that day. Then we talk about how weather always changes. How might the weather might be different later that same day or the next day? How is the weather different in winter and in summer? How do you think the trees look different on a sunny day and a snowy day?
Finally, we talk about how today’s weather makes us feel. This is an opportunity for kids to connect their own inner experience of the world with what’s going on around them in nature. I like to share a personal example and try to keep it positive: I feel calm and cozy when I hear the sound of rain falling. Or, when it’s warm outside I have happy memories of living in Florida and playing in my backyard when I was a kid.
I do my best to foster a perspective that gives weather a positive role in a children’s relationship with nature. As outdoor educators, it’s easy to complain about extreme temperatures or rain as ‘ruining’ our plans to spend time outside, but even what we think of as ‘bad’ weather is an opportunity for observation and learning.
That being said, I stay away from using a phrase I hear often in the environmental education world: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Not all families have access to clothing for all types of weather. Items like rain coats, rubber boots, and down jackets are not affordable for everyone. Not everyone can crank up the heat in the wintertime or head to the pool to cool off on the hottest days of summer. Weather is something everyone experiences in different ways, so I try to be sensitive to that when I discuss weather with kids.
Below are some extension activities if you’d like to do some deeper learning to supplement your use of weather stones with a class or at home.
- Make rain sticks or wind chimes for more weather listening.
- Practice yoga sun salutations and greet the sun with a loud “HELLO!”
- Watch the weather on the news and see if it matches up with what you see out of your own window.
- Learn about what other animals do during different kinds of weather. Where do birds go when it’s raining? Can butterflies fly if it’s too hot or too cold? Act out the behavior of animals in different types of weather with animal yoga! What about plants?
- Make a nature journal in which you can regularly record the weather.
- Make shadow drawings! Find natural objects like pine cones, curvy branches, and rocks, lay them on a blank piece of paper, and trace the outline of their shadows at different times throughout the day.
- Can you knit or crochet? Make scarves and donate them to people who need more warm clothes in the winter.
- Go cloud watching! Lay on your back in the grass and look for shapes in the clouds. Do they tell a story?
- Go stargazing! How does the weather affect your ability to see the moon, stars, and constellations?
- Learn about the different types of clouds and use an old picture frame to make a cloud viewer.
- Make a set of ‘season stones’ and match up different weather conditions with the four seasons.
- Sort stones by the weather conditions that different animals prefer. Wind (in the right direction) for migrating birds, sun for snakes and turtles, rain for egg-laying salamanders, etc.
I’d love to hear from you with additional ideas…Thanks for reading!