As part of an ongoing effort to provide you with inexpensive, fun, and educational ideas for activities you can do with your kids (translation: I have to take a break from composing amateur haiku verse) I’m going to share with you all an activity my daughter and I have been doing over the last six weeks- rock tumbling.
Now, keep in mind that my daughter is only three years old, so this is more or less something that she watched me do, but even so it was an activity that enabled me to teach her about different rocks, the process of the ocean waves wearing down shells, erosion, and patience. I’d love to see the Baby Einstein DVD that can accomplish all that.
To begin you need a simple rock tumbler. These can be found everywhere from toy stores to craft supply stores. Personally, I recommend going with an inexpensive professional model from somewhere like here rather than go with a toy. A rock tumbler needs to run pretty much non-stop for up to six weeks, so this is where you don’t want to skip on quality. For right around $80 you can get a piece of equipment that will last.
You’ll also need to order four different sizes of abrasives and that’s it. You could also purchase rocks to tumble, but really, wouldn’t a little outdoor time hunting for rocks be a good activity for any kid?
My daughter and I spent one of those rare warm January days hiking at the Whitewater Center, where we found several large pieces of quartz. She also “found” probably billions of rocks in the gravel parking lot, but I explained that those wouldn’t be as cool polished and about as much sport as clubbing baby seals.
We brought our rocks home and I broke them up using a rock hammer. I also, naturally, whacked my thumb. This activity is not without its risks.
We loaded up the tumbler, put in the first abrasive sand per manufacturer’s directions, and we were ready to roll. Pun only partially intended.
After a week we opened up the tumbler and found that all of the sharp corners had been smoothed off- an excellent time to talk about erosion, the age of the mountains, philosophy, and anything else that comes to mind. Remember, the thing here is that you’re spending time with your child exploring the world around them.
The process of adding different abrasives to the rocks is repeated over the next couple of weeks; each time the rocks get a little smoother, and then a little more polished, then finally end with a glossy luster.
Even your young kids get a kick out of seeing the dirty rough rocks they found with you end up shiny and smooth, while you’ve taught them patience (there is no “instant gratification” in rock tumbling), earth science, and had a nice little family project time together.