Collecting natural objects with your children is a great way to foster curiosity and initiate the habit of close observation. Every scientist or artist needs these skills, honed over many years. A collector’s passion for something specific in nature will also engender a respect for the natural wonders of our earth and generate interest in how to preserve habitats and the environment. Now is a great time to start noticing the amazing objects of our world and choose some favorites. Once you get going, your child will become the initiator.
Treasure hunting on the beach is one of the great joys in life. Whether it is stones, shells, seaweed, driftwood or sea glass, beachcombing is not only a gift to give your kids but a great addition to their elementary science education.
An important note before you start: Be sensitive to your surroundings. Do your research. Do not take anything that is living or still attached to the rocks or sea-floor. If you are in a national or state park or in a nature conservancy area, be sure to read any rules they have about taking natural objects from the park. Most national parks and many conservation areas do not allow any objects to be taken. But this is where your camera, sketchbook and note-taking can be very handy!
1. Get a tide chart: Buy a year-round tide calendar for your area or peruse your local paper’s weather page to see if they list the tides. There is probably a website that lists the local tides. It is helpful to know what to expect when you get to the beach. If the tide is low, there will be much more to find. If it is a full moon low tide (much more extreme on both high and low ends) you have a special treat. It is a bummer to get to the beach and have the tide so high there is no beach at all!
2. Bring an extra bucket to carry your finds and/or wear a jacket with lots of pockets that you don’t mind getting sandy. I have a windbreaker type jacket that has five different pockets…it is my beach jacket. If your kid hands you things to carry, make sure you have a designated pocket so his/her treasures don’t get mixed up with yours. A backpack is also handy. Bring a notebook or sketchbook to write down the place and conditions of finding your treasures.
3. Edit your treasures before you leave the beach. Lay what you have found out on a log or rock and make yourself an exhibit. Take a photo of your exhibit. Then edit it down to one or two objects to bring home. Return the rest to the shore.
4. Give yourself categories: If you have been collecting stones or sea glass for a while maybe you look just for square stones or heart shaped stones one day or blue sea glass. Perhaps there is a graphic element that ties your objects together like a color or line.
5. Make a place at home for your collection. Whether a dish in the kitchen or a shelf in your child’s room, make a space where the collection can be laid out and viewed and edited and rearranged. Remember that just the act of choosing how to lay out your treasures is a very creative act.
6. Research your treasures: Get a field guide to what you are interested in. Although not specifically field guides, my books have great information in them and are easy to understand. There are field guides to help identify rocks and minerals, shells, bugs, fossils, leaves, pine cones, bones….you name it. Have these handy at home or go on line or to your local library and get some information on what you have found.
7. Draw pictures: Draw an individual object you have found or make a still life arrangement and draw that. Look very closely at the nuance of design and shape and texture of your treasure….isn’t it amazing? That sketch-book is handy to take with you as well.
8. Take photographs: of an individual or group of your objects. Get in as close as your lens will let you. Again, isn’t what you see amazing?!
9. Find other people as obsessed with your obsession as you are. There are on-line groups and blogs and books and magazines on every subject there is. Research artists that use materials you love.
10. Tell your science teacher about your collection. Odds are, she or he will be thrilled and will reveal their own collecting obsession. My kid’s elementary school science teacher collects sand from around the world.
11. Give Back: Pick up the trash along with the treasure. Bring an extra bucket or bag if necessary.
Have loads of fun, be sensitive to your surroundings, and feel the great rewards of learning some of the processes that generate the extraordinary objects of our world. I hope my books will inspire—they are also a great gift for your kid’s science or homeroom teacher!
Author/photographer of Beach: A Book of Treasure
To read more about Josie Iselin and her work, visit www.josieiselin.com.