COLLECTING MINERALS AND STONES CAN OPEN DOORS TO EARTH HISTORY AND SCIENCE
By Pamela Y. Wiggins
Don’t overlook rocks if you’re looking for a low- to no-cost collection you can share with a youngster. Children are fascinated by the colors, shapes and textures of stones, and they can be found virtually everywhere. But can picking up rocks here and there lead to a rewarding hobby? You bet!
Kids can expand their collections to include gems, minerals, fossils and more with a little help from a collecting mentor or a helpful book, such as the recently published Collecting Rocks, Gems and Minerals, 3rd Edition (Krause) by Patti Polk. Sound advice goes a long way in helping kids grow their wish lists and learn more about what they’re collecting.
KIDS & COLLECTING
That’s how Craig Kissick, director of nature and science at Heritage Auctions, got his start. His grandfather took notice of his interest in geology when he was about 9 years old and gifted him an intriguing piece of purple fluorite along with a great book about rock collecting. Kissick’s interest grew over the following decades from a cool hobby into a rewarding career surrounded by things that continually fascinate him.
“It’s really more like a calling,” Kissick admits of his love for rocks, minerals and the like, and it all started with that special book inscribed by his grandfather. Now, he’s a full-fledged “fossil guy” with a keen interest in paleontology, and he still looks forward to his next dig after all these years.
There are basically two ways to obtain rocks and minerals, Polk writes in her book. “Either by going into the field and hand collecting them or by purchasing them from a source such as an internet dealer, a rock shop, a yard or estate sale, or a gem and mineral show.” She also notes that each option employs different strategies.
If hunting rocks in the field sounds entertaining for you and your young collecting pal, Polk suggests joining a related club in your area to discover the best places to forage. Many clubs have monthly field trips that offer not only guidance on where to hunt, but the opportunity to learn identification and collecting techniques from seasoned pros.
TAKE ROCK-COLLECTING SAFETY SERIOUSLY
In Collecting Rocks, Gems and Minerals, author Patti Polk offers these safety guidelines for hunting rocks and minerals in the field:
● Never go alone. Always let someone know where you will be.
● Never enter open mineshafts or adits.
● What is the difficulty of the terrain? What will the weather be like? Are you prepared? Do you have enough food and water in case of emergency? Is your vehicle in good operating condition? Do you have a spare tire?
● Know the status of the land you’re collecting on. Is it public or private? If private, you must get permission to enter.
● Don’t litter or leave open digging holes, and close all gates behind you.
● Know your limitations and don’t ever take any unnecessary risks. No rock is worth it.
That’s how Polk rekindled her interest as a rock hound in her 40s after taking a hiatus from the hobby. She picked up her first rocks when she was about 8 years old while hiking in the Las Vegas desert with her dad. One of her intriguing finds was a fossilized shell found at the top of a hill, and she couldn’t help but wonder how it got there. She went on to find what is known as an Apache tear made of obsidian, along with other cool things on those treks.
“It’s very common for rock hounds to get back into it as adults,” Polk says. Once she hooked up with a rock club, she was off and running again. She’s seen many kids, or “pebble pups,” as adult rock enthusiasts call them, join the fun in club activities.
Getting kids involved in a rock-collecting club also gives them the chance to learn how to polish rocks and use them in jewelry-making or craft projects. They enjoy workshops that focus on geology, how to identify various types of minerals and gems, tools required for rock collecting, and, of course, the all-important issue of safety. Field trips sponsored by rock clubs are a great way to learn to respect nature. But how young is too young for rock hunting in the field?
“About 7 or 8 is the minimum in safe areas,” Polk says. “There are some places [out in the field] that are more difficult to navigate than others.” So make sure kids are mature enough to take instructions in treacherous terrain, and to avoid poisonous critters.
GEM AND MINERAL SHOWS
It’s not always possible to get pebble pups out on forays into the wild, though. That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy collecting gems and minerals just the same. “If you just can’t for whatever reason,” Polk says, “the next best thing is to go to a show.”
Just about every type of rock and stone can be found at gem and mineral shows, and most dealers have a basket of crystals or polished rocks for $1 or less. Picking up a sample card that shows a dozen or so different examples of minerals can serve as an excellent educational tool as well.
“I still like the old rock shop,” Kissick says, adding that as a kid, he would “dig down in an old shoe box under a table to get a rock I liked.” Old-school shops like that still offer great bargains for beginners. He also notes that mineral specimens occasionally sell for bargain prices in Heritage’s weekly online auctions. While many of these might not be kid-friendly in terms of budget, some are within reach of an adult looking to find “the greatest gift a kid’s ever going to get.”
No matter where you find your rocks, be sure to help a child bring home only examples they like best, otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of unidentified rocks rather than a collection. “It’s a process over time,” Polk says. “You do have to become more discerning as your collection grows.”
While most kids start out by picking up pretty rocks, there are numerous ways to hone a collection. Selecting shapes like perfect rounds or hearts, for instance, can provide some focus. Or, perhaps certain colors can be explored in all their varieties. Other kids collect specific types of minerals or stones, such as an array of agates or quartz crystals.
Then there are varied fossils, shark’s teeth and small bits of dinosaur bone that also fall into the category of rock and mineral collecting. All of these areas not only encourage collecting, but open doors to earth history and science. Kissick encourages visits to natural history museums as a learning opportunity, just as he did with his grandpa when he was a boy.
So if a child you know has a curiosity about natural science, or even a mild interest in picking up interesting rocks, now might be the right time to nudge them along. Those simple stones could lead them down a path filled with collecting amusement right into adulthood.
Includes activities and projects for free. Other projects, including the opportunity to earn patches for learning about rocks and minerals, are fee-based.
Young rock collectors find out how rocks are formed and get help identifying a number of different examples on this free site. Basic information about the hobby also comes in handy for children just getting started.
PAMELA Y. WIGGINS is the expert guide for antiques at About.com. She is author of the upcoming book Collecting With Kids: How to Inspire, Intrigue and Guide the Young Collector (Krause).