So I'm enjoying an unexpected afternoon off, and I'm nosing through my favorite rock and gem shop trying to exercise self-control, when I discover something that completely undoes all sense of restraint.

Well, I mean, Earthlight Gems and Minerals is stuffed full of things that do that to me, but these were something extra special. Behold:

Image shows three bags stuffed full of rocks and fossils, resting on top of a stone wall. The two bags on the end are fossil bags. One is turned to show the cardstock insert with the geologic column printed on it, while the other shows a trilobite and an orthoceroid. In the middle is a mineral bag showing obsidian in the shape of an arrowhead.
Bags of pure geeky goodness! Credit: Dana Hunter

Do you know how excited I would've been to get these as a kid? Heck, I'd be excited to get them now! So I snatched up several for various honorary nieces and nephews. You can do that, too, because Earthlight is selling them at an excellent price.

I say you, my darlings, because Earthlight has an Etsy shop, so you don't have to travel all the way to Seattle in order to get these bags of delight. I do encourage you to stop by the physical store if you get a chance, though: it's in an utterly charming part of downtown Kirkland, right by the waterfront, and you can make an absolutely lovely day of it, including having some delicious foodstuffs at excellent local restaurants. Every single bit of fun is within walking distance. Have I mentioned lately I love Kirkland? I do.

Anyway. Let's have a look inside these fantabulous bags.

The Old Mineral Bag

This bag has got a lot more than minerals! It includes a lovely brief introduction to the rock cycle, the three main types of rocks, and the difference between rocks and minerals. Then there are samples of various rocks and minerals, contained in little baggies with a card explaining what they are, whether they're rock or mineral, and giving a few key details about them.

These are so much better than those kits I got as a kid, which had all of the lovely rocks and/or minerals glued to cardboard where I couldn't take them out and handle them. Those cards are neato and I do love them too, but this is way more interactive. And it includes a magnifying glass!

Kids will be able to use this bag to explore the fundamentals of geology. They can feel how thin and sheet-like mica is. They can explore the weight difference between pumice and rhyolite: two rocks that come from the same source material, but have very different properties. They can feel the difference between calcite and calcite-rich marble. They hold different forms of chalcedony up to the light and see what a difference structure makes. And there's so much more, including our beloved fool's gold.

'Big Bang' Fossil Bag

I would have been over-the-moon ecstatic to get one of these bags as a kid! There are so very many excellent fossils, including dinosaur bone (!). Each fossil comes with an informational card explaining what it is, what it's significance is, and (if available) its source. Most of the fossils are marine, but you'll also get a bit of petrified wood.

As kids inspect their various sea critters, some hundreds of millions of years old (trilobite!), they can begin to consider learn why it is that so many of our fossils are marine, and so few belong to land animals. They can do a bit of fossil detective work to find out!

They can also see differences in preservation: the more delicate shells may only be fragments around a stone matrix, while the stronger shells almost look like they were plucked off the beach yesterday - even though they've turned to stone.

All of the fossils are great, but I think my absolute favorite one is the algae. It's so fascinating to connect this bit of rock to the slimy green stuff growing on our aquarium when I was a kid! If you have an aquarium or live somewhere close to a place where kids can see algae in the wild, you can have them investigate how something so delicate can eventually be preserved in stone.

Image shows my fingers, holding a slice of gray rock. You can see how it's made up of tiny columns stacked atop each other, with a distinct pause between layers. It looks a wee bit like unpolished tiger's eye, but doesn't have the chatoyancy of those minerals.
Can you believe this is fossilized algae? Because it is fossilized algae. Neato! Credit: Dana Hunter

 

I'm sure there are many other local rock and gem shops carrying similar things, so make sure to check your local shop. Supporting independent businesses while giving kids the gift of science is nothing but win for all parties involved. And don't think you're too grown up for something like this yourself! These kits are excellent educational tools and super fun to explore for folks of all ages.

 

I'm not affiliated with Earthlight except as a customer, and I'm getting no discounts or payment for telling you how awesome they are.