Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There's Only One You: Tips to Create a Rock Garden Project

Back in May, one of my co-workers shared a school-wide project idea that went viral on social media from  The project was a rock garden inspired by the book "Only One You" by Linda Kranz, and decorated the landscaping of Sharon Elementary School in Newburgh, Indiana.  The garden was the idea of Jessica Moyes, who is the art teacher at Sharon Elementary.  Jessica, your design has inspired multiple schools to create their own rock gardens within their own schools.  Our school's parents were even sending links of this project to the principal requesting the garden!

There's few posts from other bloggers and teachers talking about their rock garden installations at their schools.  I'd love to share our story, along with the methods used in gathering materials, containing painting with K-6, incorporating all staff, and how to complete the installation.

The Materials

Thanks to Streamline Landscaping in Willow Springs, IL, we receive a few buckets of smooth rocks to use for our rock garden!  The landscapers even came by to see how we were doing with creation, and donated even more larger stones for each class and department in the school.

We also received a donation of acrylic paint and markers from Oriental Tradings!  The donated materials really helped with supply management!

Here's the materials you need to complete this project:

1. Lots and lots of rocks.  Consider calling a local landscaping company and ask for a donation.  The rock size can be your choice.

2. Table clothes.  This was a life saver for all 31 of my classes who painted (700+ students).

3. Paper towels and paper plates. Tear up sections of paper towels for students to keep under their rocks while painting.  Paper plates make it 100% easier to manage the paint messes and clean-ups.

4. A copy of "Only One You" by Linda Kranz.  Easily found on Amazon, or other book sellers.

5. Acrylic paint.  As much as it's scary working with acrylic at K-1 ages, it's the only paint that will stay on the rocks over time.  Some acrylics paint on a little transparent, while others will be more opaque.  Again, your choice.  Here's the link to the acrylic paint used from Oriental Trading.

6. Paint brushes, cups, and water.

7. Permanent markers.  If you photograph all artworks for Artsonia, or need to know who made what rock for grading, use permanent markers for students to write their names.  Oh...and add room numbers too.  It really helps with organizing.  If you use markers for details, keep in mind that markers do fade over time.  Here's the link to the sharpie marker set from Oriental Trading.

8. Acrylic clear coat.  In order for the paint to stay as long as it can on the rocks in outdoor weather, you need to spray all the finished rocks with a clear coat for protection.  For a safety note, make sure you spray outdoors and after school hours, because this smell can draft down the hallways.

9. Bins for storage.  This is going to be heavy!  For transporting from classroom to garden set-up, make sure you have plastic, durable bins to use for organization and transportation.

10.  Aprons or old shirts.  If you're doing this project with young students, you need clothing protection.

The Objective

The purpose of creating a community project was to have student leave a "footprint" in the school.  The positive message in the final pages of the book is "There is only one you in this great, big world...make it a better place."  All the students from grades K-6 were read the book and took in the words of wisdom shared.  Each student painted their own "fish" rock with their own colors and patterns.

The Project

I allotted two full weeks for all classes to complete their rocks.  Each of my classes are 40 minutes in length, and visit once a week.

Prior to starting the painting, I sent a note home to each student explaining the project and materials being used.  Since we had so many younger grade levels, I made a huge recommendation to parents to have their children bring an art shirt to school or an apron to protect their clothing.  One parent donated a box of plastic aprons, which really helped with the younger grade levels!  The teachers even helped with mentioning the extra art shirt in their weekend newsletters, which really helped!!!

For prepping, I set up a plate of colors for each table.  If I made the plates last longer than two classes, I called it a success.

Kindergarten classes only received 5 colors (red, blue, yellow, green, white) because no matter what you do, the plates only last about 10 minutes of pure colors.  Once the students see that colors mix, the plate very quickly turned to brown.

On the first day of class, the book was read and we had a small discussion about the wisdom shared and how they can help in creating a garden for the school.  For the rest of the class, the students painted their rocks.  I organized drying areas for each class by placing colored paper and a painted large rock with the class name on it.

When students finished painting, they placed their rocks on a paper labeled with their class.  Students were also asked to sign a class rock that their fish will swim around.

Since Kindergarten and 1st grade finished quickly, they were only given one day to work on the rocks.  Afterwards, I glued a google eye to the fish.  (The google eyes will not stay on for more than a few weeks.  It's good for the beginning pictures, but it will not last forever with a glue gun.)

On the second day of the project, grades 2-6 used permanent markers to trace out eyes, mouth, patterns, fins, and details in their rocks.  Since this step only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete, I found worksheets on Linda Kranz's website that students colored and filled out.  The worksheets can be found here.

Remember when I said that departments also receive a rock?  I painted fish rocks for the front office (administrators, nurses, secretaries), lunchroom, custodians, Title 1, ELL, Special Education, and Specials!  They're mixed in with the class rocks below ready for installation!

Now the fun part...getting over 7 bins of rocks and large river rock into the courtyard!  With lots of helping hands, we transported all the pebbles to the courtyard so I could spray them with the acrylic clear coat.

The custodians were also very helping in clearing out an area in our courtyard before installation!

And the sign has been made...

On the day of installation, students and staff were invited to participate in the installation process.


And here's the finished project!

Our school has been passing around the golden pineapple award for teachers sharing positive events in our school, and on the day the garden was being installed, a student dropped this award off in my classroom!  Totally excited and honored to have this award for this project!  It's for the entire school for their participation!!!



  1. I am an art volunteer in an elementary school. We did the same project based on the book "Only One You". Inspired by your rock garden we have decided to display the rocks in our garden too. Thank you so much for this idea!

  2. Hi, this is such a wonderful idea! We are looking into this for our school and I was wondering how much paint you ordered? Thanks!

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    1. Really?? This is for a project for CHILDREN.

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