Rocks Rock

We’ve been doing a rock unit since Tucson has been hosting it’s annual Gem and Mineral show. The girls have also been super into rocks since their niece, who they love and look up to, is a rock hound. We sorted rocks, took fieldtrips to explore, played rock games, did rock crafts, and did rock science experiments.
Enjoying the rock exhibit at one of our local museums (Flandrau Planetarium actually)

Enjoying the rock exhibit at one of our local museums (Flandrau Planetarium actually)

Rock Sorting


We spent a lot of time looking at rocks, describing them, feeling the different textures, sorting them.  Sometimes the girls grouped them by size or color.

Looking for rocks?  You can just use some colorful ones from your own yard.  You can also purchase rock kits or starter collections.  We had picked up a few special ones from rock shops in the past and then also enjoyed the ones from when we went gem sluicing.

Monster Rocks

Originally the plan was to make pet P1020256rocks but the girls had other plans.  First we painted the rocks then decorated them with all kinds of goodies–googly eyes, feathers, sequins, glitter glue, gems, pipe cleaners.  (We have a plastic bin where we keep all those fun things so that when doing a project like this we can just pull it and go to town).

This project was a big hit.  The girls loved their rocks so much they showed them off to their friends who came to play who insisted on making their own rocks.  So we started another round of monster rock making!

I spy

P1000784This is a great game to play with real rock collections to learn how colorful and diverse rocks can be.  We visited a few at some of our local museums to look at their collections.




Get ouP1020133tside and explore some rocks!  Check your local area to see where you can do some good exploring.  Living in the desert it seems that we have rocks everywhere.  We had a blast exploring a local cave (Colossal Cave for my Arizona friends).  Now for a moment of mommy bragging–the cave tour had lots of stairs, was dark, and required good listening for a long time.  I was worried since I was alone with the girls but they were awesome!

Gem Sluicing

P1020122Very similar to panning for gold, this is so much fun!  We were able to do this on our cave adventure.  But really you could do this at home–just use a screen or sifter and a running hose, stream, bin of water.  There are sluice bags you can purchase with gems, sand, and other rocks or you can make your own by hiding gems or your special rocks into sand and dirt.


What’s a rock unit without cracking P1020251open geodes?  Check your local rock shop to find some.  Gift shops for science related attractions also tend to have them or you can order some online if need be.  My niece took me to my first real rock shop and I have to say it was quite an experience.  I had no idea how interesting they could be.


Rock Mosaics

P1020255We made these using air-dry clay (from Crayola purchased at Michaels) for our base.  Then the girls pressed small rocks into it to make a design.  Once the clay was dry we covered them in a sealant so that their creations could find a home outside.  Just be sure to cover the entire thing, top and bottom, in a heavy duty sealant.


Rock Hunt

P1020029Of course we went hunting for rocks outside, just to look at as well as some to use for our crafts.  We also hunted for rocks around our house.  The girls were surprised to see that rocks were used around the house from the granite in the countertops to their pencil tips.


Since we’re focusing on cold weather and the letter T, it made sense to play around with temperature today, including making our own thermometer.  We reviewed different ways we measuring things and then talked about how temperature was how hot or cold something is.  The girls were quick to talk P1010847about when we’ve taken their temperature so of course we broke out the thermometer and took our temperature.

Next we felt the difference in the temperature with damp washcloths.  One, I had put in the freezer earlier in the morning to be nice and cold.  The other I heated in the microwave for 30 seconds (be sure to test it yourself first).  The girls loved feeling the difference and I loved that at the end of the day after Zoe picked up the previously warm washcloth and said “This had a high temperature but now it is a low temperature.”

Making Your Own Thermometer

This was so easy but it did take a little tinkering because I kept making it harder than it needed to be.  It seemed to work best when I used a smaller water bottle.

Supplies: clear, plastic bottle; water; rubbing alcohol; food coloring; straw; modeling clay;

  1. Fill about a quarter of the bottle with equal parts water and rubbing alcohol.  I found it worked best when I didn’t mix them up much.
  2. Add a few drops of food coloring (so that you will be able to see the temperature rise).
  3. Put the straw in the bottle but make sure that it does not touch the bottom of the bottle.
  4. Use the modeling clay to seal the neck of the bottle.  You want it to hold the straw in place and to create an airtight seal.

P1010848In order to see the temperature rise, I heated up another damp washcloth and placed the bottle on top of it.  That warmed it up and caused the mixture to rise up the straw.  According to Mia it was “totally awesome!”

More Desert Activities

Here are some of the other desert activities we have been doing along with our Desert Bingo and the activities we did with our friends.  We’ve also taken a ton of fieldtrips (the benefit of living in the desert).

Barrel Cactus

This was super simple but the girls loved making their barrel cactus and they kept adding to them.  And it really helped reenforce the idea of how a cactus can poke you.

Just cut the end off of a potato so that it will stand up straight.  Then let the kids go to town poking in toothpicks to make it look like a cactus.

Toliet Paper Saguaro

Again another easy craft that’s very cute.  Just cut the saguaro arms out and attach them to the side of a toliet paper or paper towel roll.  I used cardstock but I recommend cardboard to make it sturdier.  I also cut a slit into the side of the roll and fed it through then taped them in place.  We used the green paint left over from the prickly cactus paintings we had made before.


Prickly Pear Taste Test

We talk to so much about how dangerous cacti can be that I also wanted the girls to appreciate what all comes from cactus.  I purchased some prickly pear jelly for us to try.  The girls loved it!  Of course, why wouldn’t they?  It’s super sweet and fluorescent pink.  The girls thought it was hysterical that they could eat cactus fruit.  While we are able to buy it here in town, you can also order it online if you don’t have prickly pear cactus available where you live.  Or if you had access to some prickly pears, you could be really adventurous and make it yourself.  🙂

Agave Baking

We also tasted some blue agave syrup, which you can pick up at your local grocery store.  I’m really not weighing in on the whole blue agave debate (if you aren’t familiar with it, just google blue agave and you get results from both sides.  Some say it’s all natural and great for you, others that it’s one of the worse sweeteners there is).  I just liked the fact that it comes from a cactus and exposes the girls to different ingredients for the same purpose.

After having just a little taste we then used it in place of sugar and baked some cookies chocolate chip cookies.  Just keep in mind that when substituting agave for sugar, you don’t need as much.  I used just under half the amount of sugar listed and while they are good the cookies are sweeter than normal.

Afterwards, Zoe’s suggestion was that we made another batch of cookies with sugar so we could see if they taste different.  She’s a tricky one.  🙂

KWL Chart

I used to do KWL charts with my students but I never thought to do one with the girls–they are too little.  But then I kept seeing it in preschool materials and decided to try it with the girls.  A KWL chart is where you list what you know about a topic and then what you want to know.  After learning about it, you can fill in the what you learned.

Since the girls already know that we live in the desert, I decided to give it a try.  It was pretty entertaining.  The girls knew that the desert is hot and in Arizona.  Their questions were “Are there dragons in the desert?  What animals live there?  Is it cool in the desert?”  While we learned a lot more about the desert than listed there, we only wrote down the answers to the questions.

This definitely isn’t something I would do every time but it was interesting and something we would probably do again, especially for a topic they already know about. 

Sun and Rocks Experiment

To help the girls understand how the sun heats rocks so that reptiles can use them for heat, we place large flat rocks in the sun and in the shade at the start of the day.  We then came and checked on them a few hours later to feel the difference in heat.

Sandbox Sensory Activity

We’ve been talking about the animals that live in the desert.  I added plastic snakes and lizards to our sandbox for the girls to play with making homes and tunnels for them.


We made collages of desert pictures.  The girls looked through magazines (all those issues of Arizona Highways I’ve been keeping came in handy) and cut out pictures of the desert.


Making placemats have been a big hit in the past so we colored another picture and laminated it in order to make placemats for this theme too.  Here is the picture I used for our placemat: I also printed out different desert themed coloring pages to have out at our art area in case the girls were interested.

Planet Earth movie

We like nature documentaries in our house so when there was a deal for the Planet Earth series on (an awesome sale site my husband loves) we bought it right away.  It’s awesome!  There are segments on all different aspects of Earth.  The pictures are so vibrant and capture amazing scenes.  Of course, we watched the desert segment.


In addition to Manana Iguana, here are some of the desert books we’ve enjoyed reading…

Desert Activities

Last week it was our turn to host our preschool co-op group.  Since we are focused on the desert right now, that was our theme for the group activities as well.  During our Circle Time we talked about the desert, how it is hot and dry and where we live.  The kids also shared animals that live in the desert.  We also played our Desert Bingo game as a big group.

Felt Board Story

I created this felt board story based on a Girl Scout song we used to sing called “Out in the Desert.”  I used coloring pages to make the felt board pieces.  You can find them here:  After coloring the pages, I laminated them and then attached pelon to the back to make them stick to the flannel board.

Out on the desert I saw a giant,
Saguaro (clap, clap), Saguaro (clap, clap)
Out on the desert I saw an elf
An owl (clap, clap), an owl (clap, clap)
Out on the desert I saw a montser
A gila (clap, clap), a gila (clap, clap)
Out on the desert I saw a fairy
A duster (clap, clap), a duster (clap, clap)
Out on the desert I saw some magic
A sunset (clap, clap), a sunset (clap, clap)

Just FYI, in the actual Girl Scout song the last line is: Out on the desert I saw a Brownie, A Girl Scout (clap, clap), A Girl Scout (clap, clap).

Pass the Cactus Leaf

One of the benefits of living in the Southwest is that we have plenty of cacti around to study.  If you don’t live with a cactus around every corner, you can pick up some small ones at a plant store so that the kids can see exactly what one looks like.

Here people cook with cactus leaves so I bought one at the grocery store.  I wanted the kids to be able to feel an actual cactus without having to worry about them getting stuck with needles.  The ones at the grocery store have all their needles taken off.  The children really seemed to like feeling the cactus and passing it around the circle.  Since our preschool meeting, the girls have really enjoyed getting the leaf down and looking at it closely.

Prickly Painted Cactus

It’s hard to tell but Zoe actually poked her toothpicks into the paper so that they would poke straight out like a real cactus.

Mix green paint with liquid starch and salt.  This will make the paint feel rough after it dries.  I also added sparkly green paint to give it extra pizzazz.

With a marker, draw a cactus on the paper for the kiddos to paint.  I had the moms to this job.  Then the children painted in the cacti.

After it’s dry, cut out the cactus.  Then have the children glue on the toothpicks to make the cactus spiky.  (We had to do this in a slightly different order because of time limits with the group but when the girls and I did this later together, it worked best to wait until the paintings were dry and cut out before adding the toothpicks.)

How a Cactus Absorbs Water

Supplies: magic towel (one of those super compressed washcloths), shishkabob sticks or some way to mark your spots, cups, water, sand or sandbox

The goal of this activity was to show how a cactus sucks up the water after it rains so that it can survive in the dry desert.  We did this activity both with our group and a second time with their dad.

I picked up the washcloths at the dollar store.  Beforehand, I buried them in our sandbox, not too deep, just enough to cover them up (and be sure to take them out of the plastic).  I used the shishkabob sticks to mark where the washcloths were buried so that we didn’t have to flood the entire sandbox.  These were to represent the saguaros.

Each child was given a cup of water to act as the rain and pour next to their stick.  It did take a lot more water than I expected so you might want to have a pitcher or two handy to refill the cups.  The second time we use a bowl so that the girls could refill their own cups on their own.Then the kids dug up the washcloths to see how they absorbed the water just like how the cacti absorb the water when it rains.

When Ed got home that day, Zoe told him “A cactus sucks up water so that people can eat it.”  Close enough for now.


Manana Iguana

Written by Ann Whitford Paul, this colorful story is a fun, Southwestern adaptation of the story The Little Red Hen.  While I’m not always a fan of retelling stories, this one I really liked.  Iguana and her friends decide to throw a party on Saturday.  Each day Iguana asks her friends, a rabbit, turtle, and snake, to help with a party chore and each day they have a reason why they can’t.  On the day of the party, Iguana explains can’t greet the guests and have it be “their” party since they didn’t do any of the work.  The friends feel so bad that after Iguana goes to sleep they clean up the party mess and make amends.

I really like how my girls could see how upset Iguana was getting.  Every time we read the story, they say “Iguana is getting mad because they aren’t helping.”  What a great message!

I also like that the book introduces Spanish words in a way that is evening to understand.  The days of the week and animals’ names are all in Spanish as well as some other easy words and phrases.  But the English word or a picture is also used so that children can easily see what the word means.  It’s a fun way to expose children to Spanish, whether you want them to learn the actual words or just see that there are other languages out there.

While I focused on Manana Iguana, Ann Whitford Paul actual has quite a few books out:

And if you like those you might also be interested in these…

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