Starting a Mineral Collection for Kids

I’ve spent what feels like a lot of time at gem and mineral shows over the years. One feature of these shows remains constant in my memory – there are always a lot of young boys and girls there, fascinated by the things that they can touch and see. At its earliest, mineral collecting is a hobby which has a broad appeal, to all ages

Not all of those fascinated children will survive the process of the public school system gradually beating curiosity out of them in favor of conformity and rigid adherence to learning whatever is going to be on the state’s standardized examinations (yes, I’ve heard the argument that teaching to the test can be beneficial, and yes, I’d like to see some good data leading to that conclusion before I just accept it as true). But some of them might, and to those, it will occur to them to wonder – how do I start my own collection?

Parents, this is where you come in. A hobby like this is not just “picking up gravel” – it involves some thought and some work. If you want to spend time with your child, and help them to learn something new and interesting – while learning soemthing new and interesting for yourself – then you’ll need to put down the mobile, turn off the telly, stop checking your email, and spend the time. I think you’ll find it rewarding, too.

Golden Guide to Rocks and Minerals

Now retitled as Rocks, Gems, and Minerals: Revised and Updated, and updated with a new cover, this volume remains in print, now from St. Martin's Press.

Once beyond the age of seven or eight, most children will have the patience and attention to detail to enjoy a collection. This will certainly become a fully-fledged entertainment by the ages of eight, nine, or ten, when – in my experience – the acquisitive streak really seems to kick in. This is the ideal time to begin your first rock, mineral, and fossil collection. Collecting is easy and fun, and you can begin, as a child, with the very simplest of tools. Here’s a quick list:

  • An egg box or a larger comparmentalized container will be useful for storage
  • A collecting bag for field work
  • Safety glasses (wear them whenever you’re holding your hammer)
  • A light rock hammer and chisel (use with caution or under a parent’s close supervision if you’re not familiar with tools!)
  • A small inexpensive magnifying glass (10x is
  • A notebook and pencil, plus labels (for recording information about your finds)
  • A bag or satchel in which to carry your finds
  • Newspaper in which to wrap your finds
  • A streak plate – unglazed ceramic tile, used to determine the color of the streak (a powdered strip) of the mineral. A simple determinative test
  • A glass tile – used for measuring hardness according to the Mohs Scale, also for some streaks
  • A penknife (again, only if you’re already comfortable with knives, or with the help of a parent) – averages a hardness of about 5.5 on the Mohs scale, or use a nail
  • A copper penny (find one dated before 1983) – averages a hardness of about 3.5
  • A good basic field guide to rocks and minerals – try to find a copy of the old Golden Guide to Rocks & Minerals by Herbert Zim (pictured above), in any of its editions.

My first collection ever was done a part of a requirement for the Scouts. I put twelve different minerals, rocks, and tumbled stones which I had picked up (or been given by my grandfather) into an egg box. Then came a second egg box. Soon, the egg boxes were replaced by other, more resilient containers. Within a few years, I was off and running. Any young collector can do the same thing, as long as they have a source at which to collect. You can choose to collect at a site, or to build your collection in a shop or at shows.

While collecting in the field is really the best way to get started, you may be limited by the geology of the region in which you live. For example, where I grew up – in the dead center of the American middle west – there’s very little, mineralogical speaking, to be found in the rocks apart from some interesting bi-colored calcite and occasional coatings of sphalerite, with other minerals occurring in minute percentages. So for me, building a collection as a child was dependent upon infrequent holidays out of the immediate region, and purchases that I could make with my pocket money at various regional gem and mineral shows. Find out what’s best for your area.

Local rock shops, while not a common resource in all areas, can be another good place to fill in gaps in your collection. In the Kansas City area, the largest and best used to be Ace’s Rock Shop, which was a great place to go as a kid both to look and to buy small items for a collection. Sadly, it closed a number of years ago, leaving a definite gap in the local market which I would like to see filled again one day. If you have a local shop, then patronize it! If you don’t, then be certain to go to the nearest show when it comes to town. Schedules of upcoming gem and mineral shows around the United States can be found in most issues of Rock & Gem magazine, as well as Rocks & Minerals (links in the sidebar, too.).

It’s easy to start small with your collection, or your child’s collection. As their taste and sophistication grows, so will the demands of collecting, but this particular hobby can also lead to a lifetime of enjoyment, and, in some cases, a career doing something that they genuinely love.