Rocks for jocks, revisited

I took a Rocks for Jocks class in college to fill a science requirement. I thought Geology would be an easy A.

But it turned out that the Geology class was hard. (Get it? A rock class was hard).

I guess I expected my affection for rocks would mean the class would be a breeze. I don't remember much from that class except being glad it wasn't my first introduction to rocks. If it had been, I probably wouldn't have cared much about them. 

Both my parents liked rocks. My dad liked to pull a rock out of his coat pocket after a walk, and say, "Look at this gem I found today."

My mom collected rocks as mementos from places she visited. When I traveled somewhere, she sent me off with the words, "Bring me back a rock!" She said a rock told you more about a place than anything else. 

from a rock
One day awhile ago, I picnicked in the park with my family. After lunch, I lay down on one of the big boulders that jut out of the ground in many Manhattan places. I remembered a description from a book I read about Lakota upbringing: the author wrote about how Lakota children are taught that the Earth is their mother. As I lay on the rock, I did feel cradled by something bigger and stronger than myself - like a mother or earth or Creator. There are so many terms to use, but none quite captures the nurturing feeling I felt....from a rock.

with books
The kids and I haven't included rocks in our nature studies over the years, and it seemed to me that this year, with my oldest child in middle school, Geology would be nice way to link our informal nature studies with more formal science studies.

But, science isn't my strength, and I questioned my abilities to pick the "right" science books. After all, I thought Rocks for Jocks was a hard class.

I asked my husband for advice. "Read everything," he said. "Soon you'll learn enough to know on your own what works for our family and what doesn't. You'll know."

The advice reminds me of what I tell new homeschoolers: Read everything about homeschooling and soon you'll find your own way.

Instead of worrying about getting it "right" before I even started, I simply started.

at the table
As typical of many homeschoolers, I'm sure, I hunted down and gathered up a stack of books about Geology, and over the course of the winter, we read them all bit by bit at the lunch table.

I didn’t ask for narrations in the usual way. Rather, we talked about the chapter together, conversationally. After lunch, I tidied the kitchen while the kids made an illustration in their science notebooks about what we read that day, and they wrote a narration.

For my 9yo, the narration was usually a caption to his illustion. My 12yo wrote much more. I give them credit – it’s not always easy to illustrate a geology topic. They honed their skills of finding the most action in the chapter, even if the action was a slow-moving glacier.

Like my husband predicted, I found some books that didn't work for us and others that did. The text in some books didn't sit right with me but the photographs were stunning, so we looked at the photos and skipped most the words. On the other hand, we loved the writing in other books but didn't like the illustrations. By reading a variety of sources - and with the conversations at the table and the narrations in the notebooks, plus field trips and projects - we put layer upon layer in our understanding of the earth's surface.

The kids learned quite a bit, I can tell by what they say and write on the topic. And I learned I can approach science with affection - and only a bit of knowledge - and be rock-solid successful. It's okay to go gentle and it's okay to learn as you go. (I'm still sorta scared about chemistry and physics, though.)

in the world
In our nature journals lately we've been drawing rocks we see in the landscape, and in Manhattan, it's easy to find rocks in the landscape. Manhattan, after all, is full of schist. (Groan, I know!)

Photos: Rocks in two Manhattan parks: Central Park and Fort Tryon Park.


  1. I took advanced placement classes in college, and Geology was my hardest subject! I don't know why, I think the content was just difficult to relate to anything I'd studied before.

  2. Science hasn't ever been one of my favorites either, but doing like you, coming along side my children and learning while they have been learning I am starting to like it. Thank God for my hubby. He does most of the teaching in our Science and I just follow along in the class.
    Speaking of my hubby, he has a blog over at hs-inginalabama. He is on my friend's list. Drop by and visit him sometimes.

  3. Wendy, Thanks for telling me that. It's nice to know I'm not alone!

    Traci: It's great to be able to work with a husband - I have a helpful guy, too.

  4. I have yet to find a geology book I love so I appreciate your husband's sound advice. And I love the warmth of the rocks in your city - definitely good for a cradling.

    Our first day in Central Park, my boys each found their special rocks that went with us on all our travels. Okay, okay, I've got one in my bag as well :D

  5. I took many a lunchtime nap on those Central Park rocks. I had forgotten about them. Thanks for the reminder. If I'm ever able to get my husband and son to NYC, the rocks will be what Jack will like the best.

  6. Richele and Kay - Yes, the rocks are a favorite among the kids. When visitors with small kids come to the city, I like to recommend the rocks in Central Park, a subway ride, a Staten Island Ferry ride, and a trip to Chinatown. Those are kid-pleasing places.
    I should post a picture of the gifts my husband brought home from a trip out west....you guessed it, a backpack full of rocks. :)