With the Kids

Outdoor Art Fun: Painting Rocks


Mix up art and outdoor play time by bringing the art outside with you (and leaving it there when you’re done!). Kids will get a kick out of applying paint to surfaces they don’t normally see as canvases. Painting out in the great wide world might inspire some young artists more than sitting at the kitchen table would.

This project is versatile. Art can be temporary or permanent, depending on your desire. If you use washable paint to decorate rocks (or sticks, planters, bricks, etc.), the art can be washed off of things that you might not want permanently decorated (for me, most notably, my children!). You can just allow painted rocks to sit out in the elements and take their chances, or if you want to preserve the art, you can seal it with an acrylic clearcoat spray.


For my children, who are under 3, the fun was all in just applying paintbrush to rocks, but older kids will enjoy painting specific pictures on rocks, or entirely covering rocks with colorful designs. If you get a good collection of rocks going, painted rocks are great for stacking and playing with. This is even an activity you can join in on. I know it’s simple, but rock painting is something I can imagine whiling a whole afternoon away on!


Paint Palettes: I used to-go coffee lids for our palettes (if you go this route, put a small piece of tape over the hole BEFORE you pour paint!). Yogurt lids, plastic or paper plates, or even cardboard squares will also make great palettes.

Paint: Use washable acrylic paint (or if you don’t have washable, mix a bit of dish soap in with each color of paint to make it washable!) or if you have older kids, regular acrylic paint is fine, too.

Choosing Rocks: Really, anything you can find will work. If you want to keep these rocks around as works of art, it’s a good idea to wash them with dish soap and water first to remove dirt. Washing rocks can be its own activity for little kids! Do it the day before, or in the morning. Be sure to let your kids know if any rocks are off limits (flagstones, big rock features in your yard, etc.).


If desired, when the paint is dry, seal it with a clear acrylic spray.


If kids want more instruction than “Hey, go paint rocks!” you can give them a jumping off point like:

  • Paint your favorite animal
  • Paint the first letter of your name
  • Paint Daddy’s face on this rock
  • Paint this whole rock pink, and don’t leave any spots uncovered!
  • Paint three rocks blue and two rocks yellow*
  • Any other silly/fun/serious/learning cue you can think of

*You can use this activity as an opportunity for learning (in the starred example, numbers and colors), but I think there is also value in just letting your child paint the rocks for fun with no other agenda. You decide for yourself!

Other Ideas:

  • Use sidewalk chalk to completely cover rocks (instead of paint) – this is really pretty!
  • Paint pieces of wood or terra cotta pots, other assorted stuff from your yard
  • At the beach? Paint driftwood or shells
  • Go on a nature walk first and pick fun stuff up, then come home and paint it

Heather Mann is a regular contributor at Make and Takes. She’s is the mother of two boys under age 3, and another boy on the way. She publishes Dollar Store Crafts, a daily blog devoted to hip crafting at dollar store prices, CROQ Zine, a print magazine devoted to hip crafting, and also CraftFail, a community blog that encourages crafters to share their not-so-successful craft attempts.


  1. Hi:
    I love painting outside rocks. I have a meditation garden surrounded by rocks. I have been painting rocks all summer with acrylic paint. I go with the contour of the rock and end up with all kinds of fun things, rabits, dogs, turtles, fish, etc. This is a calming, meditative experience for the older population. Thanks

  2. i have a huge rock that i would like to paint all white and then put letters on it what would be the best paint to use

  3. We love doing this; we glue googly eyes on them when they’re dry. We’re getting ready to go to Vermont for a week and I’m taking along some glow-in-the-dark paint for the kids to use on rocks they find while hiking–keeps them into the hike if they’re looking for the perfect rock to paint. should be fun to look at them at night.

Make and Takes more recent posts