Weekend Science Fun: Rocks and Minerals

What child doesn't go head over heels for rocks and minerals at some point? Today let's take a look at a new book from National Geographic Kids in their Jump into Science series:  Rocks & Minerals by Steve Tomecek and illustrated by Kyle Poling.

Written and illustrated in a fun and energetic style, Rocks & Minerals is spot on for the target age group, 4 to 8-year-old children. The text lightly covers some common rocks, the rock types and how they form, the rock cycle and a few things humans have used rocks for. And it turns out the author, Steve Tomecek, is actually a geologist who studies soils. How cool is that?

As is always the case, we appreciate that the book contains two hands on activities. The first shows how mineral crystals can form when salty water dries up. The rocks that form this way are called evaporites. The second gives a recipe for making a rock at home (using pebbles and white glue). The author then asks, "What type of rock have you created?" In a stroke of pure genius, the answer on the next page is printed backwards, so you have to go find a mirror to read it. What a wonderful way to make sure the child actually thinks about the answer before having it appear.

To celebrate Rocks & Minerals, here are some of our activities:

1. For beginning geologists - Exploring a rock

A super way to learn more about rocks is to explore a few samples with all your senses. Pick up a rock that catches your eye. Close your eyes and hold it. What does it feel like? Is it cold? Is it rough? Is it heavy or light? Can you scratch it with your fingernail? Is it soft or hard?

You may feel silly at first, but smell the rock. What does it smell like?

Now, look at it very closely. What colors do you see? Is it sparkly or dull? Is it all the same over the entire surface, or does it change in places?

If you have one available, look at your rock under a hand lens or a microscope. What can you see now?

2. Making a rock collection - for many age groups.

Most young children seem to want to bring home rocks from their daily explorations. Use these as opportunities to learn about classification. Keep the rocks in a box or other container.

When you have accumulated a few, pull them out and ask your child to sort them into groups. He or she might make up his own categories at first, such as red versus brown or big versus little. Gradually, you can introduce the ideas of rocks types:  sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic (see video below if you are rusty on these terms).

Later your child may want to identify rocks and minerals he or she has collected in a more scientific way. At this point, it is important to begin to label each rock with such information as where and when it was collected. Take your child to see a geology museum or gem show to see how others display their rock collections. We are lucky to have a wonderful Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix, as well as some world famous shows, like the one in Tucson, plus a number of active organizations.

amethyst

3. Exploring the rock cycle - a noisy activity

Gather:

  • plastic container with a tight-fitting lid
  • a few small rocks, the rougher the better (polished rocks won't work)
  • piece of white paper or paper towel

Place the rocks in the container, and make sure the lid is shut tightly. Then let the children shake, shake, shake. After they tire out (or your ears tire out), open the container and pour the rocks out onto the paper. You should see the original rocks, plus bits of smaller particles that have broken off. Explain that when rock are tumbled around by action of water and wind, they break down over time. This is part of erosion.

obsidian

4. Now make a type of sedimentary rock called a conglomerate rock

Gather:

  • sand, pebbles or bits of rock from the last activity
  • Model Magic modeling compound or salt dough

Have the children press pebbles or sand into the modeling compound or salt dough and allow to dry. They have made a model conglomerate rock.

Mica
Pyrite

5. Float a rock

Obtain some pumice, a light volcanic rock with many air pockets, and a bowl of water. Ask the children whether rocks can float. Then place the pumice in the water to show that some rocks can indeed float.

Pumice

In this video from NASA see the rock cycle on earth and how it compares to the types of rocks found on the moon.

Do you have a rock collection? What is your favorite rock?

More about Rocks & Minerals by Steve Tomecek and illustrated by Kyle Poling:

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (November 9, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1426305389
ISBN-13: 978-1426305382


American Educational Classroom Collection of Rocks and Minerals

Disclosures: Book was provided for review. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles, covers, or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

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