Gina Wysocki was bitten by the fossil-hunting bug when she was 9 years old and found a trilobite fossil while on a picnic. Now director of Dig Into the Experience, a fossil hunting tour program, she wants other kids to feel the same excitement of finding a rock that turns out to be a piece of history.
"Looking at the child when they open up that fossil that hasn’t been opened for 300 million years, to see their expression is priceless," Wysocki says.
If you’d like to try fossil hunting with your kids, Wysocki recommends starting with a tour, since many locations aren’t open to the public and can be difficult to find. Wysocki also suggests that parents wait until kids are in first grade so they have the attention span to dig around until they find something worthwhile.
Wysocki’s tours to the Braidwood Fish and Wildlife Area are $10 per person and run May 19 and 27 and June 17 and 30. Check out her Web site at groups.msn.com/fossiltoursdisplays or call (815) 744-4384.
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst also runs fossil hunting tours for families. The museum tour usually takes families to the LaSalle Quarry or to Mazon Creek, one of the most famous fossil sites in the country. Tours generally cost $35, $30 for members. Families who go to LaSalle Quarry may find marine fossils along with smaller crowds and less picked-over terrain.
If you’d rather start by buying fossils and books to learn more, head to Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, 704 Main St., Evanston. This shop’s lower level is a free fossil and dinosaur bone museum that is a great place to take younger kids, because everything is down at kid-level. And the shop sells fossils starting at 50 cents.
If you’re ready for a bigger museum, check out the Field Museum’s "Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries" exhibit. This new exhibit features touchable dinosaur bones, a diorama of dinosaurs in their natural habitat and an animatronic T. rex. It’s a great place to get up close to some prehistoric bones and fossils without having to find them yourself.
One more resource for local families is the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois, which has great information about finding and identifying fossils. Check out the Web site at www.esconi.org.