The folks behind the Nature Collector’s Garden and Make Your Own Home Nature Museum will be helping out at several collecting-focused events this spring. Here’s what’s on the schedule:
Chicagoland Gems & Minerals Association (CGMA) Show at Kane County Fairgrounds on May 27-28, 2023: Eric and Gail will be running the Kids Korner booth at this annual show put on by five geologically oriented clubs in the Chicago area. Children (18 and under) can take home free specimens of tumbled stones, crystals, fossil shark and ray teeth, and Paleozoic sea life for their collections. We will also have a hands-on tribute to dolostone, the new Illinois State Rock; activities with magnetic rocks and geodes; a plastic pool full of plastic prehistoric animals; and a GeoTrax quarry layout to play with. Children with a little cash to spare can win more minerals, fossils, and seashells at the CGMA spinners, two spins for a dollar.
Here are some links for families who we met at the CGMA show:
Closer to our home in Oak Park, the Nature Collector’s Garden is open every day in our front yard at 1003 South Elmwood. (Scroll down to see photos of Nature Collector’s Garden.)
We also contribute to events in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. We will be at the Lawndale Pop-up Spot for several Sundays this summer and fall. Our first Sunday event will be Make Your Own Nature Museum activities plus Giant Bubbles from 1 to 4 p.m. on June 25.
We hope to see you at one or more of these events!
Past 2023 events:
STEMCON was at College of DuPage on April 29, 2023: STEMCON is an annual event for kids interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (the STEM in STEMCON). Eric and Gail developed and ran the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI) Juniors booth. FREE collection-building activities included both trading free points for rocks, minerals, fossils, or shells and hunting for fossils of Paleozoic sea life in a fossil-rich gravel.
Earth Day at Douglass Park. We set up both Make Your Own Nature Museum activities and Giant Bubbles at Douglass Park for the Earth Day cleanup on April 22, 2023.
You may have visited Nature Collector’s Garden in Mr. Eric’s front yard at 1003 South Elmwood (Oak Park, Illinois). We also run a different program for children during less perilous times. It’s called Nature Collector’s Swap Shop, because children trade for their natural history specimens instead of picking them up off the ground.
For a week in June 2021, we reinvented the Swap Shop for the COVID era. Children traded points for specimens instead of natural items they collected on their own. Since had been a tough year, children (and teachers!) got 50 FREE POINTS to spend at the Swap Shop. They could trade those points for rocks, minerals, fossils, sea life, and more.
Here’s a photo gallery that shows some of what was available at the Swap Shop during that week in June:
It was all self-serve and honor system, with parents encouraged to help younger children add up their points. (In any other year, children would trade with natural things they found on their own, but 2021 was different.)
The COVID era Nature Collector’s Swap Shop was set up at Mr. Eric’s house at 1003 South Elmwood, in Oak Park, Illinois, from June 15 through June 20, 2021. The Swap Shop was usually open from 7 a.m. until sometime after sunset. Mr. Eric restocked the drawers as needed but was usually busy bird watching or inside his house.
Of course, Nature Collector’s Garden is always open, year ’round. You can take home five things from the garden every day.
Did you miss out on Fossil Shark Week? Or do you want to search through a second bag of phosphate gravel for fossil teeth? Then stop by 1003 South Elmwood to pick up one of the leftover Grab-and-Go bags. Free to anyone, until they are all gone!
The Discovery Channel celebrates Shark Week in July or early August. But, if ever a year deserved TWO Shark Weeks, it’s 2021. That’s why, from Thursday, January 28, through Wednesday, February 3, south Oak Park’s Collector’s Garden and Nature Collector’s Swap Shop celebrated fossil sharks with a special exhibit of shark jaws and a give-away of free Open-at-Home bags with fossil shark teeth!
The exhibit and free Open-at-Home Bags were available from early morning until after sunset (except when it was snowing). Fossil Shark Week was announced on the South Oak Park Neighbors Facebook group on the first day of the celebration. Weather-related updates were posted on that Facebook group, as well.
Visitors to the celebration were asked to wear a face covering and stay at least six feet away from folks who are not in your family or pod. (And to bring their own hand sanitizer if they thought they would need it.)
During the past 70 million years, many fossil shark species have gone extinct. Many modern sharks are also in danger of extinction from overfishing and other human activities. But that extinction could happen in decades, not millions of years. Go here to read about the dangers faced by modern sharks: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-55830732
Fossil Shark Week was celebrated in south Oak Park, Illinois and probably no where else. If you have questions, you can contact Mr. Eric at NatureSwapShop@gmail.com
** Note: All Shark Week Collection Bags were quarantined in sealed, open-at-home ziplock bags for at least three days before we put them in the front yard. Parents were advised that they should either quarantine, disinfect, or discard the outer ziplock bags. Then, if they choose, adults could also quarantine the contents of bag for whatever length of time made them feel comfortable.
In case you were wondering, Collector’s Garden will remain open daily through the winter. The gnomes that live there clear away the snow, exposing new rocks, shells, and fossils that they would love to share with you.
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Visitors could choose one of three free Fossil Shark Week Open-at-Home Bags (or take home a free plastic shark):
Each child (and any interested adults) could choose one free Open-at Home Bag to take home and explore in depth.
Since the fossil shark teeth are small and often sharp, the Shark Week Open-at-Home Bags were not appropriate for younger children. Therefore, we placed a bin of small plastic sharks on the same table as the Open-at-Home Bags. Younger children could take home a free plastic shark instead of an Open-at-Home Bag.
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Open-at-Home Bag: Fossil Shark and Ray Teeth from Africa
This Open-at-Home Bag contains fossil teeth and bones from sharks, rays, and other creatures that lived in shallow seas that covered parts of Africa between 45 and 70 million years ago. The fossils were collected from phosphate mines in Morocco, Africa. The bag also includes a postcard that helps identify many of the fossils in the bag.
Open-at-Home Bag:Fossil Hunt: Find shark teeth and more fossils
Look carefully through the tiny black phosphate pebbles in your Fossil Hunt bag, and you will find lots of 20-million-year-old fossil shark teeth. You will also find fossil ray teeth and a stingray spine. Some bags contain fossil teeth from other types of fish and maybe even pieces of teeth from mammals like horse and mastodon. Bags may also include pieces of fossil bone from fish, turtles, other other animals that lived in or around the shallow sea that once covered most of Florida. Each Fossil Hunt bag is different! A fossil identification sheet is included in each bag with photos of some of the fossils you may find and a link to a website with photos of even more fossils.
Some of the fossils are really tiny, so look carefully once you’ve found all the larger fossils — there may be teeth from baby sharks hiding between the grains of gravel. We also included some tiny zippered bags with each Fossil Hunt bag, so you can safely store your fossils.
Open-at-Home Bag:Microfossil Hunt: Find tiny shark teeth and many other kinds of fossils
This is the same idea as the Fossil Hunt bag, above, but the phosphate gravel comes from a different North Carolina, not Florida. Some of the shark teeth are smaller, and there are fossils of many other kinds of animals in each bag. These other fossils may include sea shells, corals, barnacles bits, sea urchin spines, and more. Most bags also include one or more larger fossils. Each bag is different! A fossil identification sheet is included in each bag with photos of many of the fossils you may find.
The fossils are mixed in with 20-million-year-old phosphate gravel dug up at the Aurora Mine in North Carolina. Finding and identifying these fossils may be challenging for preschoolers, so we recommend this bag for older children. Some of the fossils are really tiny, so look carefully once you’ve found all the larger fossils — there may be teeth from baby sharks hiding between the bits of gravel.
The Online Nature Collector’s Swap Shop is an extension of the swap shop that Mr. Eric has run at Wonder Works, a Children’s Museum in Oak Park, for the past year or so.
Since none of us can go the the Field Museum or Chicago’s Nature Museum this month, we need to find other ways for natural history fans to commune with the rocks, minerals, seashells, and fossils they love. We hope that the Online Nature Collector’s Swap Shop will help Wonder Works member families make their own home nature museums as they shelter in place during the spring and early summer of 2020.
We developed this website to help you add natural history specimens to your home nature museum. These pages include close-up photos of the Swap Shop collections and specimens available for trade each week, plus information and links that can help you learn more about the specimens.
The Wonder Works Nature Collector’s Swap Shop was inspired by similar nature swaps run by other museums and zoos (including a Nature Swap Shop run by Mr. Eric at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum during the late 1970s). The following web page has links to a number of other nature swaps in the United States and Canada: https://natureswapshop.org/other-nature-swap-shops/
The Nature Collector’s Swap Shop is a place where kids can trade natural objects that they find for some of Mr. Eric’s rocks, minerals, fossils, shells, and sea life from around the world.
On block party day, kids can trade for open-at-home bags** with collections of rocks, minerals, fossils, sea life, or shells at the front-yard version of Nature Collector’s Swap Shop. Kids can trade two natural objects that they found for two collection bags, while supplies last. The front-yard Swap Shop will be at 1003 South Elmwood. It will be open from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Please wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from folks who are not in your family or pod.
The collection bags will be set out on tables on the parkway (tree lawn). There will be a basket where you can place the natural objects you bring in trade. You can trade almost anything natural, as long as it is no longer alive and it was legally collected. (You cannot legally collect in forest preserves or state parks, and it’s illegal to collect feathers, eggs, and nests of wild birds.)
If you cannot find natural things around your home, never fear — you can always collect small rocks, shells, and more in the Collector’s Garden, which is also in Mr. Eric’s front yard. Kids can collect five specimens from the garden each day, then leave two for trade and take the rest home.
These are the sorts of things you can find in the Collector’s Garden:
Once again, Mr. Eric’s house is at 1003 South Elmwood in Oak Park. If you have questions, you can contact Mr. Eric at NatureSwapShop@gmail.com
** Note: All Swap Shop specimens have been quarantined in sealed, open-at-home ziplock bags for at least three days before we put them in the front yard. When you take your specimens home, your adults should either quarantine, disinfect, or discard the outer ziplock bags. Then, if they choose, adults may also wash, disinfect, or quarantine the contents of bag for whatever length of time makes them feel comfortable.
Here are some of the Collection Bags that will be available at the Swap Shop:
We will also put out bags with one-of-a-kind specimens, so check all the Swap Shop tables before making your selections.
Bag of Tumbled Stones
Includes 20 tumbled stones for you to identify, display, play with, or use for crafts. We also include a small Tumbled Stone Identification Chart and a link to a page with more information about tumbled stones: https://natureswapshop.org/tumbled/ These are small enough to choke on, so please do not allow young children play with these unsupervised!
Minerals: Series 2
Includes a Quartz crystal, Rose Quartz, Tiger Eye, Lemurian Jade, and a fifth mineral (usually Hornblende, Apatite, or Biotite Mica).
Bigger Rocks for Smaller Kids (or for Crafts)
These pebbles are pretty big — too big for young children to swallow. The pebbles are also smooth enough to use for pebble art and other craft activities. (Search pinterest.com for “pebble art for kids.”) One bag per family, please.
Bag of “salted” sand from the Wonder Works Sandbox
We “salted” this sand with a mix of minerals, rocks, shells, fossils, and more. Even Mr. Eric is not sure what all is in there! You can sift the sand all at once or pick specimens out of the sand one-by-one. Then, if you want to, you can mix everything back in the sand and do it again!
These specimens are small enough to choke on, so please do not allow young children play with these unsupervised.
Seashells and Sea Life for Your Home Museum
This bag includes at least four seashells, plus a Knobby Sea Star, a sand dollar, and a large sea urchin spine. Visit our Seashells page to find links that may help you identify your shells: https://natureswapshop.org/seashells/
Larger Shells for Smaller People
These shells are large enough that smaller kids cannot aspirate or swallow them, and they are lower in quality, so small kids can play with them, no worries. At least one shell in each bag is large enough that you can clearly hear the ocean. RESERVED FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNGER CHILDREN.
Smaller Seashells for Crafts
This bag includes a bunch of small shells that you can use for crafts, to display in your doll house-sized museum, to attract fairies to your backyard fairyland, or whatever. Search Pinterest.com for “seashell crafts for kids” to get ideas. Or search Pinterest.com for “backyard fairyland” and see what happens. (Please don’t let small children play with these shells unsupervised!)
Fossil Shark and Ray Teeth from Africa
This collection bag contains fossil teeth and bones from sharks, rays, and other sea creatures that lived in Africa between 60 and 70 million years ago. The fossils were collected from phosphate mines in Morocco, Africa. The bag also includes a postcard that helps identify most of the fossils in bag.
Look carefully through the tiny black phosphate pebbles in your Fossil Hunt bag, and you will find lots of 20-million-year-old fossil shark teeth. You may also find fossil ray teeth, stingray spines, teeth from other types of fish, pieces of bone, and other fossils of creatures that lived in the shallow sea that once covered most of Florida. (We also included some tiny ziplock bags with each Fossil Hunt set, so you can safely store your fossils.)
Microfossil Hunt: Find tiny shark teeth and many other kinds of tiny fossils
This is the same idea as the Fossil Hunt bag, above, but the shark teeth are smaller and there are many other kinds of tiny fossils in each bag, including shells, corals, barnacles bits, sea urchin spines, and more (plus one or two larger fossils). Each bag contains 20-million-year-old phosphate gravel dug up at the Aurora Mine in North Carolina. Finding and identifying these fossils may be challenging for preschoolers, so we recommend this bag for older children.
Those are some of the collection bags that will be available at the front-yard Nature Collector’s Swap Shop on block party day. We will also put out bags with one-of-a-kind specimens, plus there will be free specimens available in the Collector’s Garden every day.