Nature Collector’s Swap Shop is open June 15-20!

You may have visited Nature Collector’s Garden in Mr. Eric’s front yard at 1003 South Elmwood (Oak Park, Illinois). This week we are running a different sort of program for children who collect rocks, minerals, fossils, and sea life. It’s called Nature Collector’s Swap Shop, because children trade for their natural history specimens instead of picking them up off the ground.

Overview of this summer’s Nature Collector’s Swap Shop
at 1003 South Elmwood, Oak Park, Illinois.

This summer, children trade points for specimens. Since it’s been a tough year so far, children (and teachers!) get 50 FREE POINTS to spend at the Swap Shop. They can trade those points for rocks, minerals, fossils, sea life, and more.

Here’s a photo gallery that shows some of what’s available at the Swap Shop this summer:

It’s all self-serve and honor system, but parents may need to help younger children add up their points. (In any other year, children would trade with natural things they found on their own, but this year is different.)

50 points worth of specimens and collection equipment from the Nature Collector’s Swap Shop.

Again, Nature Collectors Swap Shop is set up at Mr. Eric’s house at 1003 South Elmwood, in Oak Park, Illinois, from June 15 through June 20. The Swap Shop will usually open by 7 a.m. and close sometime after sunset. We may have to close for a couple of hours if it rains. (We should only be so lucky….) Mr. Eric will restock the drawers as needed but will usually be busy bird watching or inside his house.

Of course, Nature Collector’s Garden is also open. You can take home five things from the garden every day. But you only get one chance to spend 50 points at the Swap Shop.

Nature Collector’s Garden, also in our front yard, is open all day every day.
Here’s a closer look at what you can find in Nature Collector’s Garden. You get to take home five specimens each day you visit the Collector’s Garden.

Nature’s Collector’s Garden is open for spring collecting!

It’s the end of February, and finally the snow is melting away. So, the Nature Collector’s Garden at 1003 South Elmwood in Oak Park is officially open for spring collecting!

Nature Collector’s Garden celebrates it’s 20th anniversary on May 13, 2021. We are planning something special to recognize that date.

Nature Collector’s Garden is at 1003 South Elmwood in Oak Park, Illinois.

The garden gnomes uncover new natural history specimens every morning.

What can you find in Nature Collector’s Garden?

You will find specimens like these, and more, at Nature Collector’s Garden!

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In case you missed it, here’s a link to a Wednesday Journal article about Nature Collector’s Garden that was published this past winter: “A neighbor who rocks”

Back in 2001, we called this patch of our front yard “Rock Hound Garden.” This archived page from our old Salt the Sandbox website includes a photo of the Rock Hound Garden.

By 2009, we were calling our rocky patch the “Collector’s Garden” and advertising it on our Neighborhood Nature blog. (Sorry, but the links on this page are broken.)

Look here for posts about upcoming specials to celebrate the Nature Collector’s Garden 20th anniversary!

Fossil Shark Week has ended, but you still pick up a leftover Grab-and-Go bag!

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!

There are also some leftover bags of pink and red rocks on the same table. Read more about the free Pink and Red Stones for Valentine’s Day special here: https://natureswapshop.org/pink-and-red/

The table with leftover Grab-and-Go bags of fossil shark teeth and Valentine’s Day stones is in the front of the photo. Nature Collector’s Garden, cleared of some of the snow by the Collector’s Garden gnomes, is in the back.

What was Fossil Shark Week? Read on to find out:

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!

Fossil Shark Week celebration set up on the front yard at 1003 South Elmwood.

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.)

Go here for a closer look at the specimens in our Fossil Shark Week exhibit.

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.

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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.

Plastic sharks in sealed bags, for children too young to play with fossil shark teeth.

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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.

Go here to find out more about this Open-at-Home Bag: https://natureswapshop.org/fossil-teeth-africa/

Open-at-Home Bag: Fossil Shark and Ray Teeth from Africa 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.

Go to our Peace River gravel page to learn more: https://natureswapshop.org/peace-river-gravel/

Open-at-Home Bag: Fossil Hunt Bag, with fossil-rich gravel and identification insert.

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.

Go here to learn more fossils from the Aurora Mine in North Carolina:
https://natureswapshop.org/aurora-mine/

Open-at-Home Bag: Fossils found in a bag of Microfossil Hunt gravel from the Aurora Mine in North Carolina. (Dime not included.)

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Make your own home nature museum!

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.

For ideas about how to set up and organize your natural history collections, visit this page on the swap shop website: https://natureswapshop.org/home-nature-museum/

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/

Nature Collector’s Swap Shop for the October Block Party

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.

Go here to get some ideas about how to set up your own home nature museum.

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.)

The Nature Collector’s Swap Shop will be on tables in Mr. Eric’s front yard. The open-at-home collection bags will be arranged on the tables. There will also be a basket where you can place the natural objects you bring in trade. Trading is no-contact and on the honor system. You can trade for two bags, and each bag costs one brought-from-home specimen.

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:

Examples of specimens you can collect in Collector’s Garden. (You may collect five specimens each day.)

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!

Swap Shop – Bag of Tumbled Stones

Minerals: Series 2

Includes a Quartz crystal, Rose Quartz, Tiger Eye, Lemurian Jade, and a fifth mineral (usually Hornblende, Apatite, or Biotite Mica).

Swap Shop – Minerals: Series 2

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.

Swap Shop – Bigger Rocks for Smaller Kids (and for Crafts)

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.

Swap Shop – Bag of Salted Sand

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/

Swap Shop: Seashells and a Sea Star

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.

Swap Shop: Seashells for Play

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!)

Swap Shop – Smaller seashells for crafts.

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.

Go here to find out more about this collection bag: https://natureswapshop.org/fossil-teeth-africa/

Swap Shop: Fossil Shark and Ray Teeth from Africa collection 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 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.)

Go to our Peace River gravel page to learn more: https://natureswapshop.org/peace-river-gravel/

Swap Shop: Fossil Hunt bag, with fossil-rich gravel and identification insert.

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.

Go here to learn more fossils from the Aurora Mine in North Carolina:
https://natureswapshop.org/aurora-mine/

Swap Shop: Fossils found in a bag of Microfossil Hunt gravel from the Aurora Mine in North Carolina. (Dime not included.)

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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.