Stone cairns :: building towers with natural materials

Have you ever tried building stone cairns? If you have children who love building towers they’re a fab activity to try – combining natural materials, loose parts, construction play and just a little added dash of wow-factor!

A fun idea to try: building towers using natural materials. Fun balancing challenge.

Stone cairns :: building towers with natural materials

A cairn is a man-made stack of stones, found all over the world, marking special places and used since ancient times. They are also lots of fun to build with your children.

play with natural materials

When you’re at the beach there’s no end to the loose parts on offer for play.

natural materials loose parts free play

 Start by hunting out the perfect pebbles. Flat stones are easier to balance, or go for a mix of shapes if you fancy a challenge.

stone cairn building towers

 You could try to build a cairn with a wide base…

cairn building towers

or build a tall, narrow tower, with one pebble on top of another. You can pick all your pebbles so they are the same colour, or mix in different ones to create a design. You can add small stones or shells at the very top for a final flourish.

stone cairns

What are children learning?

Aside from being fun,by making these stone cairns you have the opportunity to

:: explore the beach and discover the natural materials available for play. You might find other treasures while you beach-comb for the perfect pebble. We found shells, a mermaid’s purse and some fossils.

:: learn about constructing in three dimensions and consider how you need to adapt your design to get your cairn to stay upright.

:: encounter gravity!

:: concentrate. It’s good for children to have a task that requires them to be quiet, think, and focus just on what they are doing. Building these towers is a mini meditation. My children were silent as they fixed their attention on getting their stones to balance.

:: create something beautiful, for others to discover after you have left the beach for the day. These are art installations that might inspire others to take up the challenge and see if they can add a  cairn to the collection.

cairns building towers

More beach theme activities

If you like our cairns idea, you might also like these beach-theme activities

:: seashell lemon play dough recipe

:: sight word seashells :: sensory spelling

:: sandcastle messy play :: homemade cloud dough recipe

:: shell painting

:: ice cool play with hidden-treasure blocks

super sensory footerSuper Sensory Invitations to Play

Ready for a whole year of exploring through the senses? Super Sensory Invitations to Play is a delightful resource that encourages your children to explore the five senses through the year, using a wide variety of sensory materials. It includes 52 invitations to play, linked to the festivals and seasons of the year, and including water, ice, dough, rice, paints, sand, sensory tubs, and more.

They are easy, simple, and fun ideas that you can use right now to give a multi-sensory boost to your play and learning. It comes with a printable recipe book featuring all our favourite recipes for play. Come and see more here.


  1. says

    That is a fantastic idea Cathy, and I wonder why I never thought of it myself. There are loads of cairns round where we live and the boys always show a lot of interest in them whenever we are out in the countryside

  2. says

    I don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred this kind of zen building to something precise, like Legos. This way is so free-form and unpredictable. And it doesn’t have to be anything in particular, so there’s no disappointment if what you wanted to build doesn’t turn out. And it’s so much nicer to see creativity expressed this way in nature, rather than via graffiti or tree carvings. Yes, an excellent teaching tool. I approve!

  3. Debbie Clement says

    My absolute activity for a sunny day — even as an adult. We have built cairns in several countries on our travels. Such a peaceful activity. When you come to visit us in the states, I have the PERFECT beach with the most glorious pebbles and stones. How I wish I could attach an image for you to see of a sculpted cairn that others left for our appreciation. TOWERING! Amazing. I especially appreciate your addressing the concept of loose parts.


    Debbie Clement

  4. Henry Elliss says

    We often holiday in the Isles of Scilly, and you see these ALL over the place – often entire beaches full of them. I always wondered who it was who had the patience to make them all – but perhaps I should give it a try myself!

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