First of all, let’s start with a revision of common vocab. You and your kids aren’t rock collectors. That sounds boring, right? You’re rockhounds now. That’s a real thing. Rock collecting is one of the best hobbies a kid can have: they can start in their own backyard and expand their collection as they walk the Earth, learning more with each sample.
Before beginning your epic rock hunt, you’re going to need to do a few things to prepare. Of course, you can just toss all of your pretty rocks into a jar, that’s cool too. But if you really want to be rockhounds, you’re going to get more out of your collection if you follow a few steps from the US Geological Survey.
A good collection begins with a little background knowledge, just to help your kids know what to pick up so their collection has a variety of samples. Start off by learning the differences between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. For younger kids to begin learning about different types of rocks (and to boost their enthusiasm for collecting), pick up a book like Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans and Holly Keller.
The USGS recommends beginning with a bunch of rocks picked up from sources that are close to home. While the variety in a beginning collection may be lacking, it’s a good place to start learning to look for distinctions among samples. As the collection grows, you’ll naturally replace samples with better ones.
As you pick up rocks, record where they were taken from. Always ask permission to collect rocks on private property, and never take rocks home from national parks or monuments. According to the USGS, old cemeteries are a good place to pick up stones, since they travel from far away quarries to become headstones. If you can get over the creepy factor, small stones from cemeteries are a great way to practice rock identification.
There are a few things that can help with rock identification. The first is a geological map, which can be ordered for $5 from the USGS. The next is a current rock identification guidebook, like this one from Peterson First Guides, which has tips for the beginning rockhound.
If you’d like a more straightforward guide that the whole family can use as you become more advanced collectors, you may want to grab a National Audubon Society Field Guide.
If you’d like to kick off your child’s collection with a ready-made set of samples to ID, you can grab an educational set like this one from American Educational Products.
Of course, once a collection has started you’re going to want to put it on display. The display doesn’t need to be fancy; you can use anything from egg cartons to shoeboxes. If your family is into advanced collecting you may want to invest in some display cases, but a homemade display case can be just as fun.