Geology is an earth science centred on how the Earth and its rocks were formed and how they change over time; it can also involve study of other terrestrial planets (such as Mars) or satellites (such as the Moon). This science is a crucial part of understanding the world we inhabit. Geology helps us mine resources, evaluate water supplies, predict and mitigate natural disasters, and understand the climate.
Many children naturally grow curious about various aspects of geology. They might be attracted to glittering geodes, fascinated by volcanic eruptions, interested in exploring cave systems or fossils found in layers of rock.
How can you encourage your kids’ interest in geology and help them learn more? Read on! This guide discusses lesson topics, books, arts and crafts activities, experiments, and field trips that are perfect for budding geologists.
If you and your kid are seriously into geology, or if you’re home-schooling and need additional curriculum support, check out the resources below:
- Geological Society: Take your pick from this selection of lesson plans, designed to teach students about volcanoes, rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, forensic geology, relative dating, and the geological features of the British Isles. There’s also a great educational module on the rock cycle.
- Earth Science World Image Bank: This incredible database contains images related to numerous aspects of geology. You can search by category—such as caves, glaciers, igneous rocks (formed by volcanoes), palaeontology (the study of fossils), or soil—as well as by continent, country, and keyword. Images are often an important teaching tool, and this resource provides access to a seemingly endless array of educational, captioned images.
- geology.com: An excellent starting point for learning about all things geology. This site has sections on diamonds, energy, landslides, plate tectonics, and more. You can also learn all about different kinds of rocks, from obsidian to granite.
- Science Kids, Geology for Kids: This kid-friendly page is full of geology games, videos, quizzes, lessons, fun facts, and projects.
- Adaptive Earth Science Activities: Published in 1998 by the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, this activity book stands the test of time thanks to its hands-on activities and accompanying questions for students and guidance for teachers. You and your family can learn more about why mud-cracks form, how to model geologic columns, and how water erosion affects different kinds of rocks.
What did you like to read when you were a child? I was always reading something, thanks to holiday and birthday gifts from book-loving family members. Early experiences with reading instil a sense of wonder and a strong desire to learn more about the world.
My children love to read as well and are big fans of books on rock collecting and natural geological wonders. Here are a few excellent books for getting kids excited about geology:
- Byrd Baylor, Everybody Needs a Rock, illustrated by Peter Parnall
- Roma Gans, Let’s Go Rock Collecting, illustrated by Holly Keller
- Steve Tomecek, National Geographic Kids: Everything Rocks and Minerals
- Peggy Christian, If You Find a Rock, with photos by Barbara Hirsch Lember
- Devin Dennie, My Book of Rocks and Minerals
- Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, National Geographic Kids: Rocks and Minerals
- Jason Chin, Grand Canyon
- Dianna Hutts Aston, A Rock Is Lively, illustrated by Sylvia Long
I also highly recommend Garret Romaine’s Geology Lab for Kids, which includes 52 engaging activities and experiments—one for every week of the year! This is the perfect book for parents who are hoping to create a geology curriculum themselves or who would like to satiate a child who simply can’t get enough of geology.
Geology arts and crafts
There are tons of fun crafting activities out there that will spark your children’s interest in geology while getting their hands dirty. Here are a few of my favourites:
Layers of the Earth
With the help of a little Play Dough, this simple arts and crafts activity will teach your kids about the different layers of the Earth: the core, mantle, and crust. It’s a visual, hands-on way to help kids understand the basic composition of our planet.
Learn all about different landforms and ecosystems by crafting them yourself! You and your family can create mountains, hill, valleys, lakes, islands, deserts, forests, plains, streams, and more all in miniature. Couple this activity with a lesson on what landforms are.
Consider also incorporating this contour line activity (p. 26-28) to teach kids how to use and interpret contour lines, which help represent landforms on paper maps. What information do contour lines convey? Can you look at a contour map and then use clay to recreate the landscape it depicts?
Making a model erupting volcano is a science classroom classic for a reason—it’s fun and easy! Model volcanoes are quite impressive to watch and often inspire questions like: Why do volcanoes erupt? What is lava made of? What happens if people live nearby? Couple this activity with a lesson on volcanoes.
Core sampling cupcakes
This is more of a baking activity than an arts and crafts activity, so it has the added benefit of being tasty. Geologists use core sampling to learn more about what lies beneath the Earth’s surface. They take and analyse samples from various locations. You can use a similar (if much simpler) method on a cupcake! Use this handy worksheet to accompany the activity and get your kids thinking like geologists.
Did you know that you can grow your own salt crystals? With just some basic supplies like water, salt, and string, your kids will soon cultivate their very own crystals to observe and enjoy. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to learn more about how crystals form.
Chocolate rock cycle
Rocks can be heated, cooled, ground up, and compressed…and so can chocolate! Model the rock cycle and learn more about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks by creating their chocolate equivalents.
Experiments and activities with rocks
The following activities are all about getting hands-on experience observing, classifying, modifying, and experimenting on actual rocks. Each activity or experiment provides a visual demonstration that reinforces what your child has learned about geology from classroom lessons or books.
Observation and pattern recognition are key skills for scientists. Why not give your children a chance to observe different rocks and sort them into groups?
Give your kids an assortment of rocks (educational rock collections are available from companies like Dancing Bear and Toysmith). Prompt them to think about how the rocks are similar or different, and have them sort the rocks into groups. Then, discuss! What criteria did they use to separate their rocks—Colour? Hardness? Texture?
This activity hones children’s observational skills and encourages them to identify specific reasons for their classification choices.
This musical method (p. 57) helps younger kids discover the differences between different types of rocks. Once again, you’ll need a good assortment of rock samples such as granite, basalt, shale, limestone, marble, and slate.
Children can observe and describe the different rocks, with an eye to making them into musical instruments. Some rocks might sound best if put in shakers, some might sound good if struck with a mallet, and so on.
Kids will think about why various rock sample make certain sounds, and why they think a given rock is more suited to a particular instrument. Overall, this is a fun and interactive way to help young kids develop observation skills and exercise their creativity.
Some materials are harder than others, but what does this actually mean when it comes to rocks? Aren’t all rocks hard?
There’s a simple method to determine roughly how hard an unknown rock specimen is and how it compares to other rocks: Scratch the specimen with objects of known hardness. According to the Mohs Hardness Scale, your fingernail is around 2.5, while a penny is slightly harder at around 3. A steel blade is harder still at around 5.5.
So, try to scratch your unknown specimen, first with your fingernail, then with a penny, then with a knife (carefully!). Does it leave a definite etched line? If so, the mystery specimen is softer than the material that scratched it.
You can also buy Mohs Hardness test kits if you really want to get fancy.
Check out pages 13 to 15 of the PDF here to find full instructions and a diagram for this gravel-related activity. You and your family will need to collect a few samples of gravel, perhaps from your driveway and a local parking lot, as well as soil samples for comparison. Then you’ll use a soda bottle set-up to test their water drainage capabilities.
This experiment will get your kids thinking about questions like:
- What are the differences between dirt, gravel, and paved parking lots?
- How do different materials react to water or rain?
- Is all gravel the same?
- Where does gravel come from?
Resistance to erosion
For this experiment, you’ll need samples of different rocks (for example: granite, limestone, basalt, etc.), a plastic container that can be closed securely, a tray, and laboratory balance.
Your kids will put their samples in the plastic container and shake them up vigorously to see what happens—Are any of the rocks breaking into smaller pieces? Which samples are breaking up the most? Which types of rocks seem most resistant to erosion?
Get your family out into nature and learn how to identify different kinds of rocks, then transform them into gleaming, polished stones. Rock tumbling is a fun and educational hobby. With some basic equipment (rock tumbler, grit, and tumbling media), you can get started.
You can find rocks out in your backyard, or purchase raw materials online. Either way, you’ll want rocks that are around a 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Rocks like quartz, moonstone, and labradorite are some popular tumbling options.
The process of rock tumbling, which turns rough natural rocks into smooth stones, also helps explain the processes of erosion at work on river rocks out in the wild. River rocks are often much smoother than other rocks due to bumping up against other rocks and sediment over a long period of time.
There’s nothing like getting out and seeing amazing rock formations for yourself! Countless kids fall in love with the great outdoors and develop a lifelong appreciation for the world around them thanks to a memorable family trip.
No matter where you live in the United Kingdom, there’s probably a geologically impressive site nearby. You can also visit a number of museums that offer interactive tours and exhibits, such as the Big Pit National Coal Museum, which lets you travel down into a former coal mine. Here are just a few examples of geology-related sites to put on your family travel wishlist:
The gorgeous Mendip Hills in southern England are filled with dramatic gorges and fascinating underground cave networks. So plan a family vacation to Cheddar Gorge, Ebbor Gorge, or Wookey Hole Caves.
In conjunction with your visit, read up on the local history. Wookey Hole Caves, for instance, have much to teach us not only about geology, but also about archaeology, paleozoology, and the area’s ecosystem. Archaeologists have found bones, tools, household goods, and other items in the caves that shed light on how people used to live thousands of years ago.
Peak District Lead Mining Museum
At this mining museum, you’ll learn more about what lies beneath the Earth’s surface and discover the fascinating history of lead mining in Derbyshire. You can go on a tour of Temple Mine, a lead and fluorspar mine active in the 1920s, try your luck at panning for gold, and learn the stories of Derbyshire mining families.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
Head to Yorkshire Dales National Park to marvel at its limestone landscape, marked with caves and potholes. White Scar Cave, for example, has thousands of impressive stalactites and stalagmites. I also recommend stopping by Ingleborough Cave and Stump Cross Caverns.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons National Park is home to Dan-yr-Ogof and the National Showcaves Centre for Wales. You can explore Dan-yr-Ogof, Cathedral Cave, and Bone Cave, where 42 Bronze Age human skeletons were found, along with ancient Roman pottery and silver and bronze jewellery. There’s also a museum.
Make sure to read about how the caves were created before you visit! They’re the product of 300+ million years of geological processes.
Blaenavon Industrial Landscape
In this fascinating landscape, you and your family will learn about both history and geology. At Big Pit, you can take a guided tour down into the old cold mine itself to learn about Wales’ history of coal mining, the lives of the miners, and the dangers of working in the mines from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Smoo Cave in Durness, Scotland is open and accessible year-round thanks to a public walkway leading into the waterfall chamber. If you wish to delve deeper into the cave, you can book a guided tour. Read up on the geology of Durness and fun facts about Smoo Cave to get the most out of your visit.
Perhaps the most famous attraction of Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway is certainly worth seeing. Its 40,000 distinctive basalt columns are the result of volcanic activity 50 to 60 million years ago. The area is an ideal place for a day out as a family. You can walk along the footpaths, admire the dramatic scenery, learn more about geology, and enjoy hearing the myths and legends surrounding the site.
Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
Marble Arch Caves and the surrounding area in County Fermanagh boast some rugged and dramatic landscapes that have fascinated geologists for years. Book a cave tour to explore a vast underground world full of waterfalls and rock formations. You can also go walking, cycling, and canoeing in the area.
I hope this guide has helped you support your child’s interest in geology. Whether this interest takes the form of hiking through boulder-filled landscapes, starting a rock collection, making a model volcano, visiting an old mine, or conducting experiments, you and your family are sure to have a rewarding time.