Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Rockhounding for Families

By Ashley Talmadge

As parents, we know our kids are natural treasure-seekers and collectors. And even for the very young, rocks seem to hold an allure all their own. What two-year-old hasn’t proudly presented her parents with a “gem quality” backyard stone? “Rockhounds” are said to be amateur collectors of rocks and minerals, but many admit they’re drawn to the quest itself. Put it all together, and you’ve got a great activity for the whole family: rockhounding. Don’t worry if the details of your Earth Science class are long forgotten. Just dig in alongside your kids to discover a mother lode of adventure and fun.

Take these simple steps to ensure success on your family’s first rockhounding excursion.

Keep it simple. Many experts recommend the seashore or a streambed for the first outing. Minimal equipment is needed at such sites. Garret Romaine, author of Geology Lab for Kids as well as many rockhounding guides, says, “Picking up pebbles does not require any special equipment—you can load up your pockets to your heart’s content, or recycle the baggie your sandwich came in.” He also notes that “modest goals are best.”
Some children may be satisfied with collecting a few pretty treasures to show their friends. Others will be interested in sorting and identifying the rocks and minerals they’ve collected. Follow your child’s lead.

Deliver the goods. You don’t want your kids to walk away with empty pockets on their first junket, so go to a site with a proven track record. Several guides list collection sites by state or by region. (Try the Falcon Guides or Roadside Geology series.) In addition, get current “insider” advice on kid-friendly sites from an active rockhound. The Santa Rosa Mineral and Gem Society ( is a good place to start.

Know what you’re looking for. You’ve decided on a site, and you know what you’ll find there. Or do you? Rarely do the beautiful isolated photos in your field guide match the rocks at the collection site. Quartz crystals need to be scrubbed and polished, and agates need to be sliced or tumbled to achieve the radiance you see on the page. Find pictures of the raw specimens you’re seeking, and take them with you. Better yet, ask your local rockhound to show you some raw samples.

Enjoy your outdoor family time. You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad day of fishing.” The same might be said of rockhounding. There’s much more to the experience than finding rocks (or catching fish). Kids love to scrabble in the dirt, pounce after crickets, and watch clouds skitter across the sky as the weather changes. In many ways, there is no treasure more precious than experiencing these things with the ones you love. Christopher Williams, a coastal geologist and environmental educator, fondly remembers hikes when he and his family built “size of a bedroom sandcastles” on the beach. He concludes, “Many of my best talks with my parents and five siblings and now my spouse have happened not at home, but out in the beauty of nature.”

Romaine echoes this sentiment. Having been a rockhound for years, he has a substantial collection, but admits, “My favorite specimens are the ones handed down from my grandparents.” In the end, your child’s collection will consist not just of rocks, but of crystalline memories and rock-solid connections, too.

Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and health.