Young children are fascinated by fossils, particularly those left behind millions of years ago by dinosaurs and other ancient life. One of many science project ideas for children that will teach them what fossils are and how they are made is the creation of their own fossils. They can simulate what took millions of years for dinosaurs and other living things in just minutes using a few simple ingredients.
Making Contemporary Fossils
Children can make their own fossils with a few simple ingredients such as Plaster of Paris, water, and petroleum jelly, thick pieces of cardboard or even shallow foam trays (like those from a meat market). Seashells, leaves, and anything else that could make a fossil imprint are also required.
There are a number of conditions in which fossils can form and those found in mud are the easiest to simulate with Plaster of Paris. Following the directions on the Plaster of Paris, mix about one-half to one cup with water until it forms a thick, smooth consistency. Spread this Plaster of Paris mixture on the cardboard or in the foam tray at least an inch thick.
Next, coat your shell or leaf with the petroleum jelly before pressing it into the Plaster of Paris firmly. The plaster must then be placed in a warm area to dry and cure properly. Once the plaster is dry, the object can be removed from it and you will see that an imprint of that item is permanently left behind, much the way mud worked millions of years ago with ancient plant and wildlife.
Among the many science project ideas about fossils, the Plaster of Paris method is the easiest for young children to understand. The plaster represents the mud that was deposited over small animals, leaves and other life forms that then took thousands to millions of years to cure into stone. The imprint left behind in this stone is what is known as a fossil.
You can simulate other fossil forming conditions using sand or ice and burying or freezing small plastic toy animals. Among the science project ideas to simulate fossils using sand and ice, these concepts are not quite as illustrative as the plaster to reinforce this particular geology lesson.