To me one of the biggest blessings of homeschooling is that our family can do things when it works best for US, and we can slow down/speed up whenever we feel the need. For example, the curriculum we’ve been using this year for science (106 Days of Creation) had included 2 short and very basic lessons about “rocks” before plunging straight into plants and trees. As I looked at our calendar, I realized a lot of the projects I wanted to do in the Plants/Trees unit would work better once the leaves had started to change color. For us, that often doesn’t happen until the middle of October, so the obvious solution was to dig deeper into our Geology studies.
My son has always been pretty into science, in particular anything to do with animals, but I had no idea how much he would enjoy learning about rocks. Our little Geology unit has ended up being one of the best learning experiences we’ve had since we began homeschooling almost a year ago! Our family has had so much fun that I just had to share some of the activities we did. (And as a side note, it probably goes without saying, but you certainly don’t have to be “officially” homeschooling to do any of these!)
AT HOME ACTIVITIES:
STARBURST ROCK CYCLE: I so wish I could take credit for this idea, but the idea came from here. Who knew that Starburst candies and a microwave could yield such a memorable (and tasty!) picture of the three main types of rocks?
DIY BORAX CRYSTALS: There are about a million DIY crystal “recipes” out there, using a wide variety of materials, but we settled with the how-to found here. We were so blown away by how amazing they turned out, that we immediately made another batch to pass around to family and friends.
HOMEMADE ROCK CANDY: The chemistry behind rock candy is basically the same as our borax crystals, but the results are far tastier! Well, presumably. While the borax crystals formed overnight, our colorful sugar crystals have been slowly but surely building up on our wooden sticks for the past several days. We will probably pull them out of the solution and let them dry off in a couple more days when we hit the one week mark.
MAKE ROCK ART: The perfect thing to do with all those random stones that your kids will probably start collecting once you begin learning about rocks. Paint them. Put googly eyes on them. Glue them together to make funny shapes. Rocks are perfect for “odd job” decorating. Paperweights, doorstops, or even just looking festive on a shelf.
Who doesn’t love a good field trip? I was really excited to find some really great options in our area.
JEWELRY STORE: After flipping through our field guide on rocks and minerals, we took a visit to one of our local jewelry stores. We found the birthstones of everyone in our family, and oohed and ahh’d at what the gemstones looked like in their natural state as compared to the final product in a piece of jewelry.
REED GOLD MINE: Did you know that the first gold in the United States was found by a 12 year old boy in North Carolina? He saw a cool yellow rock in the little creek on his family farm – it turned out to be a 17 pound solid gold nugget! One of the many fun facts we learned on this trip. The mine has been closed for several decades, but has been preserved as an NC historic site. This thankfully allows for (free!) self-guided tours of the property, including a functioning Stamp Mill and some underground sections of the old mine! We tried our hand at panning, we unfortunately weren’t so lucky. (Apparently only about 15% of visitors ever find anything, and it’s never more than a couple of flecks here and there.)
EMERALD HOLLOW MINE: This was by far the highlight of the unit – and for yet another fun fact, did you know you know the largest emerald on record was found in Hiddenite, NC? I’d remembered taking a field trip there as a child, and I remember loving it, so it was a must-do for the kids and I during this unit! And it did not disappoint. Both kids had fun sifting through the grit and mud on the sluiceway, although Little Zu eventually got frustrated that I wouldn’t let her go down the “water slide.” The real fun, however, came next in the creek. We spent nearly 2 hours exploring a half-mile section of creek, combing the ankle-deep waters with watchful eyes, snatching up stone after stone. I was absolutely amazed at what we found – obsidian, adventurine, sodolite, red jasper, and quartz crystals that ranged from clear, to pink, to purple! The day culminated with a visit to the onsite Lapidary to talk about our finds, and what (if anything) could be done with them (cheaply, of course.) We ended up deciding on a basic wire-wrap pendant for each kiddo – a beautiful deep blue sodolite for Big C, and a delicate rose quartz crystal for Little Zu. Both stones were cleaned, but uncut and unpolished (mostly just because I didn’t want to spend a fortune!), and delivered to our door in about a week. A perfect way to remember our trip!
We of course used loads and loads of books (mostly from our public library) to supplement all of our hands on activities. Because reading is obviously important…and also because my prior knowledge of rocks and minerals was rather limited. (And while I certainly can call myself an expert now, I definitely learned a lot right alongside the kiddos – yet another one of the many benefits of homeschooling for our family!) Any other families out there got rocks on the brain? I’d love to hear of other ideas we can try the next time we circle back around to Earth Science. Or, if you decide to try out any of the ideas listed above, I’d love to hear how they worked out for you!