It’s inevitable that a walk with the kids will end with a pocket full of rocks. That’s because rocks are so fascinating for kids (and adults, too!) and it’s one of the easiest and most cost effective ways for kids to start a rock collection of their very own.
Plus, according to Sara Kurth, Geologist and Educator at Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, a rock collection is also a great way to inspire a love of nature from an early age while fostering a deeper understanding of the natural world and the environment. Not only that, a rock collection fosters organizational and research skills, all things kids need to succeed in school.
Summer is a perfect time to get kids started on their hunt for rocks, she says. It’s also a great family activity since parents can love learning about the rocks alongside their budding collectors and geologists.
How to get started with a rock collection
The good thing about a rock collection is that anyone can do it no matter what their age.
“I tell people to just look down. That’s really the number one thing. There are rocks everywhere.
If you look down, you’ll find some really cool rocks in your own backyard or on the nature trails in the area,” she says.
What’s fascinating about the rocks in the area is that Illinois has a lot of limestone since it was covered by an ocean about 450 million years ago, she says. Then the glaciers brought and left rocks from Canada and Wisconsin.
“The rocks in our backyards are perfect for telling stories about Illinois and what happened here geologically,” Kurth says. “When you are walking around, you might find some well-rounded rocks that are actually glacial erratics, rocks from someplace else.”
For a fun outing, one place to see a huge glacial erratic is Big Rock on the east side of Morton Arboretum, she suggests.
When on a rock hunting quest, Kurth offers this reminder: If you are on public land, in state or national parks, or even your neighbor’s property, don’t forget to get permission before taking the rocks.
Step two in starting a rock collection: Get the rocks identified, she advises.
A good rock collection includes a variety of rocks, including igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic, she says. Plus, she adds, it’s always great to have a fossil in the collection.
There are plenty of books to help ID the rocks, plus families should always feel free to bring them to Lizzadro for help with identification, she says.
Next comes the organization of the collection. A plastic bin used for beads works well or even egg cartons are great, she says. Label the type of rock and where it was found, she says. “It serves as a memory. You can look at a rock and remember where it came from,” Kurth says.
Upcoming museum events not to miss
Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art is celebrating 60 years this year of fostering an interest in rocks and lapidary arts for families. Kurth says she believes teaching kids about rocks helps them better appreciate Earth and the environment, adding that the museum is a great place to help develop that interest.
“It gives perspective on our place in the world,” she says.
Lizzadro has three fun events planned this summer that families won’t want to miss.
- The first is a Fossil Collecting Trip July 16 to a restricted Belvidere quarry. Participants, 8 and older, will travel by motor coach to the active quarry used to mine dolostone and limestone. It dates back 400-450 million years, she says, and collectors will be seeking marine fossils, including brachiopods, crinoids, trilobites, gastropods, ammonites and coral. The museum hasn’t traveled to the quarry since 2018.
On the trip, collectors keep what they find and staff will be on hand to help ID the collections, she says.
The trip leaves Lizzadro at 9 a.m. and returns at 3 p.m. Fee: $45, $40 for members
Follow this link to sign up.
- On July 23, at 2 p.m., kids ages 5 and older will get a great opportunity to start their rock collection at Start Your Rockin’ Collections. At the 45-minute event, kids can bring their own egg cartons from home to turn into their rock collection box, with decorating material provided by the museum. Then they can pick out their own rocks from buckets containing different rocks.
They’ll leave with six rocks: a mineral, a piece of petrified wood, a piece of Lake Superior agate, an igneous rock, a sedimentary rock and a metamorphic rock, plus lots of knowledge about the rocks, she says.
Fee: $5 per person, adults and seniors regular admission
Follow this link to sign up.
- On Sept. 17, the museum celebrates Smithsonian Museum Day by exploring the world of lapidary! Lapidary Day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., returns to the museum, the first time since 2018 and the first time in the new location. Museum admission is free all day. Families get to see demonstrations by lapidary artists who have turned rocks into art and jewelry, try hands-on activities and get another opportunity to ID rocks or gems. Kurth says seeing what others have done with rocks and gems might inspire kids to turn their rock collections into art, too.
Learn more at the Lizzadro Museum calendar.
“This is the time of year to get out and find what interests you,” Kurth says. “If it’s rocks, great. I can definitely help out anybody who finds cool rocks, but if it’s just being out in nature and being around trees or plants or animals, anything that sparks your interest, this is the time to get out and find it.”
Find out more about rock collecting and lapidary arts, plus activities to do at home, at Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art.