Outdoor Learning: The World Under a Rock

Often people lament that they are unable to connect with nature because it may be too far away. In a way, I understand their thinking. I grew up in rural Eastern Canada and the forests and shorelines of Nova Scotia were my playgrounds. I was extremely close to nature as a child and young adult. In the early 2000’s I moved to Asia and have lived in massive cities such as Seoul, Busan, and Kobe. I simply cannot walk out of my apartment and find nature here in the big city. Or can I?

I always like to say that nature is all around us no matter where we are. In the middle of the city is no exception. In this post, I’m going to share another very easy to do an activity to open up the natural world to your child or students.

Go outside with your little adventurer and find a big rock lying on the ground. It may be in a park, beside a building, in an empty lot, on the side of the road (be careful around any areas that may have traffic) and flip it over.

Before you flip it over you may want to do a few things. Ask your child or student to have their nature journal and magnifying glass at the ready. You may also want to take some pictures of what you are about to see so you can examine them later at home or at school.

Now that you are both prepared, flip that rock over. What do you see? Is there a lot of life or just a little?

Under a rock is very dark, cool, moist and of course safe. This makes for an ideal habitat for many creatures.

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What are some of the creatures you might see? Salamanders, lizards, earthworms, beetle grubs, centipedes, millipedes, ants, ant eggs, roly-polies (pill bug, potato bug, wood louse), etc.?

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Start documenting what you see in your nature journal. Make a list of the living things you see moving about. How many are there? Do they all seem to live peacefully in this habitat? Was there anything that surprised you?

Now it’s time to get out your magnifying glass and take a closer look. Do you see ants? If so, can you see ant tunnels used to move themselves, food and eggs around under the rock? Do you see entrances or exits for them? I wonder how far those holes go down into the ground. Ask your child or student these questions. Even if you yourself don’t have the answers it’s great to start inquiring. If there are things you see that you don’t understand, make notes of them and write the questions down in your child’s nature journal. You can both go home later and research. You can sit down with your computer, tablet or phones and ask these questions in a search engine.

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The red-backed salamander is a creature I used to find a lot when flipping over rocks as a kid on Cape Breton Island in Eastern Canada. One of our favorite creatures to play with!

One of the best parts of connecting your child with nature and teaching them about the world is that you can learn with them.

At my school, I am the “go to” nature guy for both students and other staff members. When someone finds a bug or plant they want to know about I’m always eager to help them out. Sometimes students are legitimately surprised when my answer to their question is, “I don’t know?” I of course always follow that up with, “Let’s find out together” or “I’m not sure, but I’ll figure it out and get back to you as soon as I can.” I am never embarrassed to not have an answer. You shouldn’t either. That can sometimes make parents and educators hesitant about trying new things and teaching those under their care about those things. Don’t hesitate.

Once you’ve documented the incredible habitat that was under that rock, why not find another rock and flip that over. Compare and contrast what you see or don’t see under the other rock. If there is nothing under it, ask your child or students to make a hypothesis. Have them guess. That is a key element of discovery and inquiry learning. Was the rock only recently placed there and habitat hasn’t yet had time to be formed? Is there something wrong with the soil under the rock?

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Once you’ve recorded your findings, head home and talk about everything you saw with your child. Do some research to answer some of the questions they may have asked you. Maybe find some fun facts for your kids about the critters you saw.


Examples of fun “under the rock” facts:

Did you know that centipedes are carnivores? They eat other bugs!

Did you know that millipedes are herbivores and only eat plant matter? 

Salamanders are amphibians. That means they can breathe both in and out of the water!

Roly-polies or pill bugs aren’t actually bugs, but terrestrial crustaceans. That means they are more closely related to shrimp than bugs!

There are so many more of these facts that you can find just by spending a few minutes on Google.


There you have it! Easy to find nature and habitats you may never have thought to have at the tip of your fingers.

Get out there and flip over a rock today! Just remember to carefully put it back in the same place when you are finished.

(Originally published in 2016)




About the Writer:

Kevin O’Shea is a PYP/Nature/Outdoor educator currently based in Beijing, China. He is a father, husband, and avid conservationist. Kevin is an advocate for outdoor play and nature education.  He is the host of the long-running Just Japan Podcast and is currently developing the Making Better Teachers Podcast!

Twitter: @MadForMaple

Email: makingbetterteachers@gmail.com

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