Backyard Nature Activities: Rainbow Gems

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Rainbow Gems

Synopsis: Participants find and collect colours in nature by matching diversely coloured gems with the same colour in nature.

Set Up and Props: A white handkerchief or cloth and a collection of diversely coloured glass gems (like those from a dollar store for planters) or create rainbow chips: cut postage stamp-sized pieces from different coloured sheets of construction paper (including blue, green, red, orange, yellow, purple, pink and brown). Have them in a nice cloth sack or paper bag.  Any area works. 

Source: Adapted from Earthwalks by Kirk Hoessle & Steve Van Matre, Institute for Earth Education, 1980.


1. Interrupt to Find Rainbow Gem Colour: Suddenly interrupt and notice a special natural colour on ground and pull out your sack of rainbow gems, open them on the white cloth, and be very pleased to find the gem that matches that colour— because it is hard to find a gem colour! Hold the gem and item next to each other (a coloured leaf often works well).

2. Tell Gem Story: Realize others are looking at you funny. Ask if they have gem collections. When they look puzzled, explain how you started yours (make up your own story) or use this one…

“One hot summer afternoon an old gnome was happily dozing on some grass overlooking a big vista. A small thunderstorm passed in the distance, and on the edge of it, there was a beautiful rainbow extending from the cloud almost back to his feet. Now he was not sure exactly what happened next, but the rainbow seemed to dissolve in the sunshine and little drops of colour splashed everywhere. And the gnome swears that most all of the colour drops dissolved into and became part of the colours in nature. But a few of them seemed to solidify and become gem drops. So the gnome ran around and collected the solid gem drops and that was the start of the gem tradition among gnomes. Pretty soon every gnome was carrying a sack of gem drops and using them as a tool to help people discover all the wonderful colours in nature. I received my sack from a pair of woodland gnomes and they challenged me to find every colour in it. So I am always looking out for the gem colours.”

3. Challenge Them to Find Colours: “Would you all help me? Take 2 or 3 gems and between here and the next spot, and see if you can find the perfect colour in nature that matches each of your gems. Find the colour in something small and dead so you can bring it back here and put it on this display cloth. If it is something too big to bring back, then simply share your colour match discovery with someone else. Don’t pick anything living.

4. Colour Search: Role model by finding your own colours, and help participants and be enthusiastic as everyone searches. 

5. Create Rainbow Colour Display: At the gathering spot, have the group display their gems and the associated colour objects on the white cloth in a rainbow of colour… the reds start, then the oranges, yellows, greens, blues, & the purples end the rainbow. First place the gem with each natural colour, then remove the gems. Then pick up natural items as a bunch in cloth and have them decide which plant they would like to help by putting the natural materials under it to decompose.

Early Childhood Adaptation: Use something larger than the flat marbles (which are choking hazards and looks like candy). Use the rainbow chips idea above or larger glass stones, polished stones, paint colour strips, crayons, etc. Demo very clearly; use examples.

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