California Gold Rush Activities & Games for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

The California Gold Rush was a time of adventure, opportunity, and danger in American history. Use these activities and games to introduce the California Gold Rush to younger students.

I've Struck Gold!

Can you imagine what it would be like to find gold while mining? Prospectors during the California Gold Rush descended upon the state in hopes of striking it rich and building their fortune overnight. Unfortunately, for many people, the California Gold Rush was full of disappointment and danger. Younger students can easily connect with the prospectors' sense of adventure, and learning about the mining process is incredibly similar to searching for buried treasure. Students can also learn about persistence and how to handle disappointment as they learn about the diverse experiences of miners during this time period.

Let's look at some activities and games to help younger students explore the California Gold Rush.

Life During the California Gold Rush


  • Picture book about the California Gold Rush (Recommended: Gold Fever! Tales from the California Gold Rush by Rosalyn Schanzer or Gold Fever by Verla Kay)

Teacher Directions

  1. Describe the California Gold Rush for the class by reading an engaging picture book about the lives of miners and others who traveled to California during the gold rush. Recommendations for books are listed in the 'Materials' section.
  2. Discuss with the students why the miners came, the challenges they faced, and the different miner experiences mentioned in the book.
  3. Divide the class into small groups.
  4. Have each group create a skit about life during the California Gold Rush. Encourage them to include what multiple people, including children, women, successful miners, and unsuccessful miners, may have experienced.
  5. When the groups are finished, have them present their skits to the class.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe the California Gold Rush using three words. Why did you choose those words?
  • Why do you think people were ready to risk everything in search of gold? Was it worth it?

Mining Posters


  • Video clips and/or pictures about the tools and processes miners used during the California Gold Rush
  • Poster board
  • Art supplies (pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils)
  • Tape

Teacher Directions

  1. Show the class various video clips that show the tools and processes miners used to search for gold during the California Gold Rush. If you are unable to show video clips, use pictures to illustrate the tools and processes for the students.
  2. Divide the class into pairs, and give each pair poster board and art supplies (pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils).
  3. Each pair will create a poster describing the tools and processes miners used during the California Gold Rush. Encourage the students to draw diagrams and use labels to help make their posters self-explanatory to whomever is viewing them.
  4. When the pairs are finished, have them use tape to hang their posters up around the room.
  5. Have the students walk around and view everyone's posters.

Discussion Questions

  • What was difficult about mining for gold?
  • How could today's modern technology and machines have helped the gold miners?

Panning for Gold


  • Video clips and/or pictures of miners panning for gold
  • Aluminum pie plates
  • Rectangular bins
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Small rocks painted gold

Teacher Directions

  1. Prior to the lesson, fill some rectangular bins 1/3 full with a layer of sand. Hide 10-20 small rocks painted gold in the sand. Then, fill the bins to 2/3 full with water.
  2. Show the class video clips and/or pictures of miners panning for gold.
  3. Use a pie plate and one of the bins you filled prior to the lesson to demonstrate how to pan for gold.
  4. Divide the class into small groups.
  5. Give each group a bin of the sand, gold rocks, and water, and a few pie plates.
  6. Have the students take turns panning for gold from their bins. Encourage them to try and find all the gold rocks in their group's bin using only the pie plate.

Panning for gold

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