Please note: each crystal/gem specimen is unique in its exact size/colour/shape. The photos included in our galleries (and activity suggestions) are for illustrative purposes only and your particular specimen may look slightly different! We also advise that slight imperfections are natural and although we do not sell ‘damaged’ specimens we do sell those which have small natural flaws that do not interfere with the overall safety and beauty of the object.
These tumbled Snowflake Obsidian stones are perfect for observation and provide a great example of the many beautiful treasures that nature creates for us! The tumbled stones measure approximately 2.5 - 3cm each, but each individual specimen varies in its exact shape and size. Snowflake Obsidian shows a beautiful pattern of black and white (the small white patches resemble fallen snowflakes, hence the name!).
Gemstones can be presented for spontaneous, sensory exploration. This can be as simple as placing a small collection in a basket.
The use of gemstones and crystals can also provide more purposeful opportunities across the entire Montessori curriculum. Let's have a look at some ideas for use in each of the areas;
Gemstones obviously fit most comfortably with the exploration of the Cultural topic of Geology. Allowing children to handle real gems provides a natural motivation to explore the scientific concepts of how these treasures are formed in nature. The children can make scientific examinations of the gems, even taking close observations through the use of a magnifying glass or microscope.
A wonderful Pre-school activity relating to Geology is the 'Excavation' game. This is detailed below as the final piece of this description!
Dr Montessori spoke of the importance of the stereognostic sense as a tool to allow the child to judge size and shape using the sense of touch alone. Stereognostic sorting exercises are common in Montessori classrooms and I find gemstones to be a very useful addition to these activities. A tray can be set up with a vessel (basket or bowl) of assorted gems representing a few different categories of size/shape. For instance, five tumbled stones, five Agate Plates and five Geodes (an example of each is shown below).
On the tray three other vessels should be arranged ready to collect the three types of gems. The teacher (or parent) first demonstrates how to place a blindfold on (or close/cover the eyes) and then use the hands to find one of the gems. The teacher feels it and describes the feeling (for instance for one of the Agate Slices "It's large and flat...it feels quite thin...and I can feel bumps around the edges but it's smooth on these sides.") The teacher then places it in one of the smaller vessels (feeling the way there!) and repeats this with the other gems to demonstrate how to sort them. The child then follows the procedure, using the sense of touch alone to sort the objects!
The sorting exercises can also focus on specific traits - such as sorting 'rough' from 'smooth'. This can be done easily by sorting rough, unpolished gemstones from the smooth, tumbled ones!
Gems are also an ideal object to use for sorting by colour! These beautiful stones naturally occur in so many vibrant and varied colours, so they are perfect for naming colours or sorting by colour!
The use of Agate Plates, and other tumbled gems, provides an excellent opportunity for children to engage in the Practical Life exercise of polishing. Polishing is a wonderful exercise which promotes fine-motor control as well as attention to detail and persistence (since 'good old fashioned elbow grease' is such a vital ingredient in the process!). At my own Pre-school we simply use a small squeeze of toothpaste, a toothbrush and a polishing cloth. We also offer a Magnifying Glass so that the child can closely examine each piece before putting it to rest in the 'polished' basket!
At my own Pre-school we utilise gemstones for counting exercises. A large collection of a single type of gem can be used for general counting (such as using 15 pieces of rose quartz to count amounts from 1 - 5). Multiple types of gems can also be used to provide an additional self-correcting mechanism. For instance, 1 piece of rose quartz could be used, with 2 pieces of obsidian, 3 pieces of amethyst, 4 pieces of jasper, 5 pieces of rose quartz. These counting exercises simply use the gemstones as a 'point of interest' to invite the child's attention!
Working with gemstones provides an excellent opportunity to learn a new branch of vocabulary. Pre-schoolers can use the 'absorbent mind' to effortlessly take on these new words (even though they might seem complex to us adults!). Older children can enjoy learning the names of each gem while expanding on this by reading about their origin and formation in reference books.
Gems also provide an interesting opportunity for a themed initial sounds sorting game. For instance, all the 'a' crystals can be put together (amethyst, aventurine, agate) while the 'j' crystals are grouped (jade, jasper) and so on.
Plus, my A-Z Initial Sounds Box always includes a piece of quartz - because it is simply one of the only objects I can find that shows an example of something starting with "q"!!!
The gemstone activity that my own Pre-school children most enjoy is - 'Excavation'.
Mineral Excavation Activity shown here with our Magnifying Glass
I arrange an activity tray with a deep container of sand/soil, a magnifying glass, small brush (the one shown above was from Ikea) and a set of minerals and small bowls/dishes.
The use of a deep container, with high walls, reduces the risk of excessive spilling - although a few spills are part of the process and be corrected with the 'corner-pouring method' and/or a dustpan and brush.
First the child and the adult can examine each mineral and the adult can introduce the correct name of each mineral (see above for a list of the minerals in this set). The adult can also use this as an opportunity to engage in a Three Period Lesson to teach these names although the Three Period Lesson can occur separately from this sensory/scientific activity (either before or after).
The adult then encourages the child to close his/her eyes (or place on a blindfold) while hiding the minerals in the sand/soil. The child is then invited to carefully brush away the sand to reveal the buried treasures. This creates a visual sensory experience but also has parallels to the true scientific concept of mining/excavating for minerals. As each mineral is found it is brushed clean and placed in one of the small bowls.
Once the child is familiar with the process the activity can become the foundation for social interaction as a pair (or group) of children take turns hiding and uncovering the minerals for one another!
When first presenting the 'excavation' activity I like to draw a child's attention to the gentle, controlled motions required to carefully brush away the sand without spilling it. This encourages careful, deliberate movements and also ensures that the minerals will only 'peek out' with each brush stroke rather than being completely uncovered.
The inclusion of a magnifying glass acts as a point of interest. It also helps to promote a sense of excitement as the child feels more like an explorer searching for the natural treasures buried beneath the sand.
I present the activity with a series of small bowls or containers that relate to the number of minerals hidden in the sand. This gives children a 'goal' and a method of self-correcting. The child can identify that if there are five containers, but only four uncovered minerals, then they need to continue the treasure hunt. Conversely, when all the containers are full the child can independently recognise that it is time to stop. This prevents the fruitless disappointment of continuing to search after all minerals have been found.
As the child uncovers each mineral he/she can engage in the Practical Life activity of brushing away the sand and polishing up the shine.
The minerals can be hidden in soil, sand, our Shape It Sand or Kinetic Sand. As the child's proficiency with the activity increases the size of the container - and therefore the volume of the sand/soil - can be increased. As this happens the quantity of minerals can also be increased. This allows for a continued progression of difficulty to allow for repetition and skill refinement.
One of my favourite things about natural resources, such as gemstones, is that they show the beauty of imperfection! In our modern world children are too often surrounded by mass-produced products that are so identical as to seem soulless. This is why I feel it is important to ensure that a child’s environment is enriched by the beauty of nature. Each treasure of nature is unique and sometimes flawed; but those flaws can expose both the beauty and the fragility of these gifts. A small imperfection teaches a child that this object was formed over time and in unique circumstances; not in the controlled and heartless conditions of a factory! A child also learns that this precious treasure needs to be handled carefully – as rough treatment might result in a tumbled gemstone chipping or an agate slice breaking.