Painting Rocks and Hiding Them (My Kids LOVE It)

painted rocks

My kids love painting rocks and hiding them. Seriously, they are near obsessed with this activity.

Before we started painting rocks, I honestly felt intimidated about it as an activity. The kids had found some pretty awesome rocks at our local parks, some that we re-hid, and many that we brought home with us.

I guess if I had really thought about it, I would have realized that it wasn’t a complicated project. But my ignorance (and a smidge of anxiety) made it bigger than it was.

So when I finally decided to experiment with rock painting as an activity, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was amazingly easy to do.

painted rock with Mommy on it

What You Need to Paint Rocks

Here are the supplies I gathered, though other families might do this differently.

  • Base coat. Some painters cover the entire rock with paint, while others just paint the design on the rock and call it good. I’ve experimented with both. On some rocks, I have painted with matte black or white spray paint (or other colors). These cans cost a few dollars, and you can spray multiple rocks at once before a major painting session. Just give yourself some time for the rocks to dry and for all the fumes to get away.
  • Acrylic Paints. I just buy the basic ones at Bi-mart or the local supply store in whatever colors you want. I buy the cheapest ones, because let’s face it, my kids are tiny and they are not art savants.

  • Paint Brushes. I recommend having some broad brushes, and some with a really fine, pointed tip. The broad brushes allow you to do the background quickly, and the fine tips allow you to do details, like letters, eyes and lips, or flower petals.
  • Clear coat. Some people do this while others don’t. I put a spray paint glossy clear coat on the rocks when they are done because it makes them look prettier. I’ve tried matte, but the glossy paint makes the colors just a bit brighter.
  • Yogurt Lids. To control the amount of paint my kids waste, I give them a yogurt lid and squeeze a little paint from each color they want onto the lid of a yogurt container (or sour cream, cottage cheese, etc). When they want more paint, they can have it. These lids dry and I use them over and over.
painted rocks in the shape of a concert
  • Paper Towels. I use these for blotting wet brushes and cleaning up messes.
  • Water bowl. Nothing fancy, just some water to clean up brushes so the paint colors don’t mix.
  • Permanent Markers. We use these to write on the backs of the rocks. Some people do messages, others do words of love or hashtags for local rock hiding/finding groups.
  • Rocks. Yes, don’t forget rocks to paint! We tend to gather rocks all the time, and put them in a bucket to await a painting party. We take trips down to the local river to hunt for flat, smooth rocks without cracks. We avoid rocks that have holes, pits, or rough surfaces, unless that kind of rock is something that fits a particular project you have in mind. Nothing porous. Anything with a smooth surface should do nicely.

To prepare the rocks, I like to wash them off and let them dry completely before painting anything on them, including a base coat. If the rocks are particularly dirty, soak them for a bit in a bucket before cleaning them up. You can scrub them with the rough side of a sponge if you like, but I don’t go that far.

How to Paint Rocks

You can make this as simple or as complicated as you like. I think simple (especially with kids) is best. Just put the rocks, paint, and brushes out there, and let the kids go to town.

Sit and paint with them, if you can. It’ll be a great activity to share with them, and they can look to you for any direct they need for how to paint the rocks.

Best of all, if a rock doesn’t look good or the child is unhappy with the design, you can simple paint over it with the black spray paint and start with a clean canvas. Or soak them in water and scrub all the paint off.

Or just get a new rock.

pile or rocks, some painted, some not

If you or your kids want a good looking design, you can draw on the rock first before you start painting with a pencil, pen, or even lightly with a permanent marker to get the rock set up just right.

Don’t be afraid to let the paint on the rock dry before continuing with the design. Sometimes working on top of dry paint is better than trying to paint more on wet paint.

Once the rock is completely dry and the paint is hardened and set, you can write on the back of the rock, or paint the rock with your clear coat. If you are putting on a clear coat, make sure the previously painted paint is dry, or it will run a bit and destroy your artwork on the rock.

If you don’t want to do a clear coat, then you are good to go.


Some people like to attach things to their painted rocks, which is cool so long as it doesn’t fall off, do any damage to the environment, pose a choking hazard, or otherwise cause harm.

I have previously allowed the kid to put glitter on their rocks around or after sealing the rocks, and in hindsight, I realize that this was probably a bad idea as some of the glitter was probably brushed off and ended up on the ground where it does not need to be.

I’ve seen googly eyes, rubber tubing, rubber bands, ribbon….all kinds of things. Your imagination is the limit.

Hiding Rocks You’ve Painted

We like to hide rocks everywhere, but in particular, at places where we know our friends or family members frequent. As a result, we find that our friends and family members often have OUR rocks displayed as trophies in their homes and gardens when we go to visit them! This makes for great story telling as we describe hiding them and our friends describe finding them.

We try to hide some in easy places, and hard places. I ask the kids not to make them impossible to find (like deep inside bushes) because that defeats the purpose of hiding the rocks in the park. We want kids to find them!

I like to hide the rocks in trees, as it really highlights how infrequently people look into the low branches of trees. We’ve seen rocks live for weeks open and obvious in trees, while the rocks on the ground were already long gone.

My kids like to hide the rocks on or around the park play structures, or on or around park signs.

We also carry rocks and then place them on porch steps (of homes that we know) or in the gardens next to the sidewalk (again, of homes that we know).

Here are some other places to hide rocks:

  • Stores
  • Changing Rooms
  • Restaurants
  • Libraries
  • Nature Parks
  • Pools
  • Hiking trails
pile of painted rocks
  • Top of the mountain
  • On signs
  • Fairs
  • Zoos
  • Outside Schools
  • Playgrounds
  • Bus stops
  • Taxis
  • Fountains

  • Yards
  • Subways
  • Cubicles
  • Post Office
  • Classrooms
  • Anywhere children play, walk, ride bikes
  • Statues
  • Gardens

In general, it is a good idea not to hide rocks on private property, or to trespass/break the law in order to hide rocks. I’d avoid the airport (which is a really bad place to leave unattended items) or planes.

Some folks recommend not hiding rocks in national parks, or any place where an animal could be injured by a painted rock (like eating it, for example).

We don’t let bad art keep us down

We aren’t artists. My kids’ rocks aren’t anything awesome or special. Most often, the rocks are just a random design, a mish mash of colors that don’t even really go together.

It doesn’t matter though…even the least inspiring rock gets found and re-hid or taken home. We’ve spied on kids at the park jumping for joy and screaming in happiness and excitement when they have found a rock we’ve hidden.

My kids really love to see other kids finding their rocks and getting excited about it. It makes them excited about rock painting in a way that they don’t display while working on other forms of art (drawing, cutting paper, folding things, gluing, etc).

There’s no worry about the quality of the art when the end goal is the joyous scream of a child.

Leaving Hints on Social Media

There are rock hiding/finding groups on social media, where you can post a pic of your rock and let people know generally where to look for it, or leave a hint to make the hunt a bit more difficult. When someone finds it, they can post on the same page (or with the same hashtag) to let you know they found it.

You can also post on community pages about hiding the rock in a particular place, and the finder can post in the comments about finding it.

Or you can play the game with your own group of friends, either in a private group or by posting on your own profile about it, to see if anyone can find it and reply with a picture of it.

If you want to get serious about rock hiding/finding, check to see if there are community groups on social media dedicated to rock art, or start one yourself. There are no universal rules to rock hiding…you just have to set your own.

Check out #rockart, #rockartist, #rockartlife to get some ideas.

Re-Hiding Rocks You’ve Found

Whether you keep or re-hide the rocks depends, in part, on the game that you are playing, and the instructions on the rock. Some rocks will say “hide or keep.” While others will say “re-hide” with a hashtag for you to post a photo of your rock with on Instagram or Facebook.

Wrap Up

Have you started painting rocks? Thinking about it? If so, where’s your favorite place to hide rocks? If not, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments section below.

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