A few months ago my son had his eighth birthday. One of the gifts, from my sister who is working close to Zion National Park, was an excavation kit. I had never seen one before, and when we opened the box we saw some small tools and a brick of sandy plaster. My eight-year-old went to town and stayed consumed with the excavation kit for four hours.
Yes, you read that right, four hours.
He was covered with dust by the time he was through, but he ended up with a shark’s tooth and other fossil-like articles. He was thrilled with his discovery and I was thrilled with his enthusiasm and dedication. Obviously I enjoyed the time he spent on his task, so I decided to make my own.
Deciding what to use was a big issue, and I tried a few things. My initial thought was drywall mud, but there was too much shrinkage and it cracked in a few places. Next I tried a similar but less-shrinking drywall patch, but that took two days to dry and in the end it cracked right in half. Finally, I decided on grout, which turned out great.
I bought this grout on the recommendation of the “pro” at my hardware store. I also bought some rough wire brushes as well as some cheap bristly paint brushes. I gathered some little animals and stones that the kids already had- nothing that I was too worried about getting thrown out or ruined. I used some disposable containers as my mold, and lined it with saran wrap to easily lift out my excavation brick.
I mixed the grout a little thinner than directed on the box, but I followed the directions for time, allowing it to sit ten minutes before stirring again and pouring it into the mold. It was about the consistency of pancake batter, maybe a little thinner. Pour your first layer of mud.
Pour another layer of grout over your treasures and let sit overnight. I put mine out in the hot summer sun and it dried out really fast, within a few hours.
Then, let them at it! It takes some patience, but for certain kids, it’s a labor of love. My five year old lasted about 20 minutes and he was done, but the eight year old stuck with it for quite a while. The boys used plastic knives to sort of “saw” at the brick when brushing wasn’t cutting it.
This would be a fun gift to give to a child in your life, along with some other exploring tools. Seashells would also be a fun thing to dig out! Happy exploring!