R.B. Winter program gives kids hands-on geology experience

If you or your family have not yet checked out the R.B. Winter State Park’s Educational Center and slate of programs — you are missing something special.

Recently, MaryAnne Halladay Bierly and co-instructors ran a special all-day geology program that was impressive on numerous fronts — helping kids become junior scientists with numerous experiments to identify rocks and minerals, experience what it is like to mine and how soil samples are taken.

The session was a six-hour marathon that went by quickly thanks to the quality instruction and numerous hands-on activities. The kids were engaged throughout, something that may seem hard to accomplish in an all-day class about rocks.

One special experiment was done with cupcakes … where the participants needed to hypothesize and diagram what their cupcakes looked like inside, then take “samples” by inserting straws and seeing what the core segments looked like. Then they were able to cut a cross-section of the cupcake to see how well their diagrams and experimenting went.

Another exercise involved the kids mining chocolate chips out of cookies using only tools — paperclips and toothpicks — they could acquire. Using no hands, they were rewarded for the cleanest pieces of “ore” mined from the cookie while following a certain set of regulations.

Earlier in the day, they were given various minerals and rocks and needed to experiment on each to identify their samples. They checked hardness, color, if the items were magnetic, if they reacted with acid and a whole slew of other tests. As samples were correctly identified, they were labeled and placed in egg carton containers that the kids were able to take home — their own neatly organized collections.

The program is one of many the park offers throughout the year … upcoming sessions include a study of aquatic life in vernal pools, hikes and a variety of other hands-on experiences. Ms.¬†Halladay Bierly will be retiring this summer, so the program offerings will likely change as they switch educators, but the programs in general are expected to continue.