For young kids, rocks can be fascinating prizes. Whether on a walk around the block or an exploration at the park, your kid has probably stopped to pick up a rock. They likely felt the rock’s weight in their hands, then gave you one — or three — of the heaviest to carry home. Little did they know they were holding a piece of history in their hands.
Soft or rough, oblong or circular, striped or speckled, all of the attributes of the rock tell us a little something about the history of Chicagoland — and can help your kids learn something new this summer.
“Rocks are cool, but they serve a lot of purposes, too,” says Sara Kurth, Educator and Program Coordinator at Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Oak Brook. “No matter what age and what facet of life you’re in, you deal in rocks. They’re everywhere.”
Lizzadro has a summer’s worth of in-person and online classes to help kids bone up on their earth science while having fun in the process. Kids can learn how to identify rocks, how to find man-made materials that look like rock and where rocks and minerals are used in regular household goods.
And, like the rock stars they are, kids can impress their teachers when they head back to school after a class that teaches them how to use gems to create their own art — like necklaces, earrings or keychains.
“We showcase cut and polished stones, as well as the science behind them,” Kurth says. “In order to do the art, you have to understand the science first. They kind of go hand in hand. Our mission is to encourage the beauty of stone and the science of those stones.”
How are minerals used
Rocks can be found almost everywhere. From cell phones and computers to makeup and pencils, we use rocks every day. When your kids brush their teeth for the recommended two minutes twice each day, they’re using rocks because their toothpaste contains minerals.
In the Rock & Mineral Identification class at Lizzadro, Kurth teaches kids where minerals are found in everyday uses and where they can be found outside — and that includes our interstate road system.
“You know when you’re driving I-294 towards Indiana and the road turns kind of a pinkish color? That pinkish color is a result of using Baraboo Quartzite (from Wisconsin) as an aggregate,” Kurth says. “It’s kind of fascinating to know something about what you’re driving on.”
Learn about history
Thanks to glacial movement that flowed into Illinois about 10,000 years ago, the area is covered with rocks and minerals that look different from what you and your kids will find in neighboring states. This is just one cool fact that helps kids have a better understanding of earth science and the world around them — and, the more kids know, the more fascinating rocks become.
Lizzadro moved from Elmhurst to its Oak Brook location in 2019 and the new museum, located near the village’s Central Park, has a rock garden that helps filter water and can serve as an educational tool.
In the Museum, kids can play a Mineral Match Game and learn how rocks and minerals are used every day. “Even right around the Chicago area, there are all these limestone quarries that are great for fossil hunting,” Kurth says. “Then, you have all of the glacial (events) that came as the glaciers ripped up a lot of the earth, but they also left those really awesome quarries with cool rocks.”
Gems are rocks + time
The seasonal elements of sun, wind, rain and air on a rock can wear it down to show off the sparkle of the shiny gem that exists in the middle, and these are the prizes used in the creation of jewelry and other precious artifacts.
Lapidary art is the process of shaping stones we find outside or gemstones from other areas around the world into artwork, like jewelry or small objects. Humans have figured out how to speed up the process of finding the gems beneath stones using tumblers, cutters and other jewelry tools. With a little patience, kids ages 8 and older can learn how to take what geology has created and make art.
The Rockin’ Jewelry Class allows kids to use jewelry tools as well as take in a background of the difference between minerals and quality. Students also learn the timeline of gem creation and that thousands of years isn’t really very long in the life of a rock.
“There’s this symbiotic relationship between the science and the art that helps make appreciating the art better,” Kurth says.
Learn more about Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art at lizzadromuseum.org.