Rock Clubs: 6 Steps to Start a Youth Group

You, too, can craft a vibrant youth program!

There are about 600 rock clubs in the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS). While most include kids under age 18 within their ranks, only a fraction boasts a full-scale youth group with deliberate programming aimed right at kids. I surveyed nearly 100 rock clubs affiliated with the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies (one of seven regional federations composing AFMS), and I found six “best practices” the most highly engaged clubs employ in starting and successfully maintaining a youth program within their ranks.

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Step One: Have a Champion!

The number one ingredient for success? Have a Champion! In my survey, rock clubs listed two reasons for not having a youth program: 1) no kids; and 2) lack of a volunteer willing to take this on. I’ll tackle number one a bit later. Meanwhile, let’s focus on number two.

The few rock clubs experiencing long-term success have one thing in common: a true-blue and committed Champion, with a capital C. Among the rock clubs where this has proven to be the case, Champion was often the parent of kids who were especially into our hobby or a current or retired teacher.

Identify who, within your club, is the most “kid-centric.” Then encourage and help that person. Begin with the parents of a child who is bonkers for minerals or fossils. Or a parent who is already a leader of a 4-H, Girl Scout, Boy Scout, home-schooling, or similar kids’ program. A Champion will be someone already invested as a parent, an educator, a community leader, or a volunteer involved in a kid-centric program. If you lead a rock and gem society, meet and greet and get to know everyone, and once you spot that one person who might serve as a Pied Piper for kids, latch onto and encourage him or her. My own Ventura Gem & Mineral Society has had ups and downs with our youth program. The times we’ve been up are when we’ve had one truly invested Champion take charge. Without a Champion, there is no youth program.

These kids proudly wear the activity badges they earned via the AFMS Future Rockhounds of America program, which is entirely free! (I’m not saying who’s in the sabertooth cat suit, but his initials are the same as the author’s.)

Step Two: Support Your Champion

Don’t hang your Champion out to dry. In other words, don’t expect him or her to do it all. Once you have a Champion, support your Champion! For true success, it takes a village. Support can be offered in many ways.

Make use of members’ talents. Rock clubs have members with varied expertise: cabbing, stone carving, wire-wrapping, fossils, mineral collecting, fluorescence, gold prospecting, field tripping, etc. Get members to step up to lead a class. Don’t expect one person to know it all or do it all. Give support by enlisting members to share their knowledge with club kids in at least one hands-on activity or lecture per year. With different members sharing their passions, you’ll quickly fill each month of the year.

Drum up donations. Many club members have rock piles sitting in garages, backyards or outdoor sheds. Get them to donate to the youth program. And be generous! Don’t take it as an opportunity to clear out leaverite junk. Provide quality stuff that will excite the kids. Per the late great comedian George Carlin, junk is stuff we toss, but stuff is junk we keep. Provide kids with good stuff while keeping in mind kids can be more discerning than adults.

Involve parents. A youth program should not be a babysitting service. Per my survey, successful rock clubs have asked parents to stay and help with sessions, or at the least with set-up and clean-up. Not only does this ensure parental involvement beyond your lessons and activities, but it also helps identify and groom future Champions to lead in coming years.

Have a chain of succession. This follows directly from my last point. All too often, a once vibrant youth program fades away with the departure of a Champion. Make sure someone is in the wings and is being groomed, supported, and educated to carry on. Think long-term.

In planning lessons for kids, always include hands-on activities.

Step Three: Plan a Full Year in Advance

Between October and December, gather folks within your club most invested in encouraging kids and plan out a year-long schedule. Then solicit volunteers who can help with each month’s program and publicize that program via your club newsletter, website, Facebook page, and email blasts at the beginning of the new year. The worst thing is moving in fits-and-starts and sending out last-minute announcements on an ad-hoc basis, then scrambling to get resources and experts to help.

Clearly specifying each month’s activity with the new year allows everyone to plan. For instance, parents and their kids are always overbooked between work and school activities and other organizations where they may belong. By laying out your full year, they can identify which topics/activities they would most like and carve out the requisite time within already busy schedules. Planning a full year also allows your volunteer presenters to plan their activities and gather the resources they need. A good presentation is a thoughtful presentation.

When planning for each month, make sure everyone is aware of the need to fill that schedule not just with dry, boring talks (“The Mohs scale is composed of 10 minerals, blah, blah, blah.”), but with hands-on activities that are fun from a kid’s perspective (“Let’s start scratching rocks together and use quartz to pulverize calcite into dust!”). Each class should see all kids going home with new rocks, minerals or fossils to add to their collections. I’ve seen some activities that include making toothpaste from mineral products. I don’t know about kids today, but the last thing I was interested in when I was a kid was brushing my teeth. But gold panning? Sign me up! Think from a kid’s perspective.

In addition to classroom-type presentations and activities, make sure to include at least two kid-oriented field trips each year. When I was growing up in Illinois, the state geological survey sponsored field trips that included collecting opportunities. That was the “crack” that got me totally hooked on this hobby of ours, and many of the specimens I collected remain in my collection 60 years later. Choose spots close to home (rather than overnight or multi-day trips) and make sure there’s plenty of good stuff (not junk!) that can be readily collected to foster fun rather than frustration.

During school visits or science nights, hand out “Goodie Bags” containing info on your youth program and how to join.
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Step Four: Publicize!

It’s hard to have a youth program if parents within your club and community don’t know about it. Here are public relations tips that emerged in the survey:

• If you have a club show, have a kids’ booth with fun activities, and when you spot parents and kids who seem to be having an especially good time, don’t let them wander off to the displays or dealers. Engage them in conversation, let them know about club field trips for adults and kids, and have a sign-up sheet to capture their phone numbers and email addresses. Then follow up within a week to invite them to your next meeting or event. Be proactive!

• At your show, have a kids’ exhibit with photos and results of activities to visually illustrate what your program does and what it offers.

• If you don’t have a show but your community sponsors art walks, sidewalk craft fairs, etc., arrange to have a club booth.

• Go to where the kids are! Does your club engage in educational outreach, for instance with classroom visits, a station at school Science Nights, presentations for youth groups (4H, YMCA, Scouts), etc.? Whenever doing educational outreach, hand out goodie bags with specimens and a leaflet not just about your club but especially the youth program.

• Go to where the kids are—again! A couple of rock clubs have had success with yard signs (with a web address, email address, and/or QR Code) at youth soccer and baseball games and similar venues to publicize their club and youth program.

• Finally, if you want to reach young adults with young children, embrace social media. If your club lacks a Facebook page, establish one today. And begin posting fun photos showing fun events any time your club does something kid-friendly while also celebrating the achievements of your club’s kids (with parental approval for a posting).

Free resources, like the AFMS badge program, give you a leg up in running a local youth program.

Step Five: Take Full Advantage of Free Resources

As things come together and you’re ready to initiate or renew a youth program, take full advantage of available resources, especially those that are free if only you ask. For example:

• Turn first to fellow members. Many gladly donate rocks, fossils, and mineral specimens to support youth activities. Others will gladly offer expertise. All you need to do is ask! Then offer genuine gratitude to those who step up. A “thank you” goes a long way.

• If your club has given you a budget and you know folks who regularly go to events like the Quartzsite or Denver shows, draw up a shopping list and have those folks search for bargains to bring back still more goodies you can use in kids’ activities. These are wonderful venues for getting nice stuff in bulk at bargain-basement prices. We’ve even met awesome dealers who provide materials for free when they learn how it’s being used.

• The AFMS Future Rockhounds of America Program offers an online manual filled with activity ideas and badges kids can earn, a Rock Pals rock exchange program, a Juniors Volunteer Award, poster contests, and more. Entirely free! To see all that’s available, turn to or email

• A subscription to Diamond Dan’s Mini Miners Monthly is paid for by some of the regional federations and is emailed as a free PDF each month to all affiliated clubs that have asked to be included.

• Both regional federations and AFMS offer contests and awards aimed at kids: Bulletin article contests, competitive exhibiting trophies and Junior Achievement awards. These offer kids a sense of satisfaction at a job well done, as well as more tangible satisfaction in the forms of certificates, plaques, and even cold hard cash.

Step Six: Practice the Four P’s

My final words of advice? Practice patience and persistence! In my survey, some rock clubs said they once tried starting a youth program but no kids showed up. Don’t give up after one attempt. As they say in the movies, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe not right away. But eventually.

A couple times within my own Ventura club, we’ve found ourselves without a Champion, and our program withered. But when volunteers resurfaced and plans were laid out and publicized, we waited. Only a couple kids showed up for the first few sessions. Frustration mounted, particularly when plans had been made, supplies gathered, and volunteer teachers stepped forward. Some suggested calling it quits.

Well…That was then. This is now. Within our Ventura club, we have nearly 50 pebble pups (ages 5-11) and juniors (ages 12-17). Nearly 20 regularly engage in our monthly programs. If you and fellow club members have made plans for a great youth program and are frustrated to see little immediate interest, don’t give up! All it requires is Planning, Persistence, and Patience, along with the fourth P: a Pinch-o-faith!

Check these websites for wonderful educational resources:

• AFMS Future Rockhounds of America Program –

• Diamond Dan Publications –

• Women in Mining –

• Minerals Education Coalition –

• USGS Educational Resources –

This story about rock clubs forming & maintaining a youth group previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story and photos by Jim-Brace Thompson.


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