Sunday, May 4, 2008

Homeschool Field Trip: Fossil Hunting

On April 16, we joined our Peace Kids homeschool friends for a field trip to Whitewater State Park near St. Charles, Minnesota. Despite living in Rochester for the past eleven years, I had never been to the state park, which is renowned around our area for its beauty and camping. The drive was about 45 minutes from our home, most of it via I-90. When we arrived, we purchased an annual state park permit for $25 and then attended the class led by naturalist Dave Palmquist to learn about fossils common to southeastern Minnesota. He used a variety of teaching tools, including a timeline, an overhead projector, fossils encased in plastic, and a handout of the nine most common fossils to our area that the kids were able to take home for future reference. Mr. Palmquist told the students that they could each take home some fossils and encouraged them to practice convseravation, because "no one really needs fifteen of the same kind of fossil." I was suprised that Max, my little collector whose cells are full of collector genes, didn't disagree with him.

After the presentation, we drove to the fossil site outside of the state park, about ten minutes away from the state park along a fairly quite country road. All of the children found a variety of fossils. Naturalist Sara Grover helped us identify our fossils.
Above, Whitewater State Park. Below, Fiona was excited to add more fossils to her collection.

Above, Mitchell preferred looking for rocks with interesting shapes, rather than plain old fossils. Below, Little Max hunts for fossils with his mom Valerie, who was a very modest and very knowledgable fossil expert.

Above, Valerie points out an interesting feature of a fossil to Little Max.
Above, Max found a big and beautiful fossil to haul home. Up close, you could see the "footprint" of a snake from hundreds of years ago.

Above, Big Max shows off another one of his best fossil finds. Below, Little Max takes a rest ... just for a sec. Both boys had more work to do!
At the end of our exploration, Sara gathered the children in a circle to talk about their finds. Each child passed around their favorite fossil for others to examine as they told about what kind of fossil they thought it was.

We drove to another nearby picnic spot, Carley State Park, for lunch and the chance to play and explore the shallow area of the river.

Below, Mitchell's hands were purple and black after playing with some leftover charcoal in a campfire ring. He was too busy to eat much lunch.

Above, Fiona holds a sure sign on spring on her fingertip: a small, brown moth. Below, Max holds up a piece of driftwood.

Above, We found the perfect place for the kids to wade in the river. Some of them wore their rain boots and others slipped off their shoes and socks. All of them got their pants wet! Below, Erica dries off her wet toes. We have known Erica's parents since 1998 and we were excited to discover they were members of the Peace Kids homeschool group.

Mitchell, Little Max, Big Max, and Fiona found their own little spot along the banks of the river.

The last pictures of the day point to a picture-perfect afternoon, but we left the park with Mitchell sobbing, kicking, and screaming. He cut his finger on a sharp branch, and he was embarrassed about his owie, so he ran away from the group. I chased after him, thankful for my spring training runs the past few weeks, while Max chased after me and gathered the remnants of our picnic lunch. As I undressed Mitchell from his wet pants and socks, he sang his Bully Song, which is just a dressed-up name for "Bully Bully Bully" over and over again, as he does whenever he is too embarrassed for any other words. Thankfully, our drive home was happy and bully-free.

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