TikTok or on the Rocks?


A lot has been said recently about the social media app TikTok and other platforms that are consuming the attention of our kids and grandkids. TikTok shares short, user-created videos of people lip-syncing to popular songs, short comedy bits, and other mostly harmless fun. Media critics say it can be a kid-friendly experience with proper parental supervision.

However, a third of TikTok visitors are under the age of 19–many as young as 10. The average user spends nearly an hour a day on the app. That may be worrisome because studies show that young people who spend too much time on social media generally have lower scores on language and critical thinking tests. Some experts express concern that kids are trading too much screen time for real-life experiences.

That’s why it was nice to see, on a sunny blue-sky day just before summer break, some 40 fourth graders from Mrs. Floyd and Mrs. Gfell’s classes at St. Joseph Elementary climbing, digging and discovering prehistoric remains at Fossil Park—a “real world” treasure less than three miles from downtown Sylvania.

The attraction is part of the Olander Park System (TOPS), in partnership with the City of Sylvania and Lehigh Hanson, Inc. It’s nationally renowned and free, and it’s a perfect destination for a short summer visit with your children or grandchildren before school starts (and to keep them off the screen for a bit).

Danielle Marino, the program coordinator at TOPS, said the park had more than 5,500 visitors last year from as far away as California and Alaska–with groups ranging from families to serious rock and mineral hobbyists. “Lots of people come to see the trilobite fossils,” she said, explaining that these are preserved exoskeletons of small sea creatures that sunk to the bottom of the prehistoric sea that once covered northwest Ohio.

Danielle explained that fresh rocks are provided from the nearby Lehigh Hanson quarry on a regular basis, and TOPS staff spread them about the Fossil Park floor. She advised that a good time to visit is after a light rain, which washes away the dust and makes the fossils easier to see.

On the day I visited, the St. Joe’s fourth-graders scrambled around on the rocks, each equipped with an egg carton to hold their finds. A chart to identify the fossils was taped to the inside lid.

“This is really fun because it’s different. I never thought about rocks before, but this is a lot cooler than I expected,” Ellie (who said she is not a TikTok user) told me. “It’s not just rocks … it’s fossils!”

While we were talking, an excited young man named Vincenzo ran up to show his teacher the Crinoid fossil he found that looked like a baby donut. “I didn’t expect to find this much,” he said.

“It’s really interesting to see how fossils are stuck in the rocks and how this became land after it was covered in water for millions of years,” said another young man named Aaron.

MyLien Floyd teaches science to all of the St. Joseph fourth graders and has brought classes to Fossil Park for years. In the classroom, she lays out her own collection of fossils on the day before the field trip so students see samples of what they should expect and search for on the quarry visit.

She confirmed that many of her students are already engaged with social media—some with TikTok—but her assessment is generally upbeat.

“We need to embrace the digital world and find ways to connect it with learning. Kids are so tech-savvy that our job should be to teach them how to be smart consumers of content,” she said. “There are a lot of learning opportunities out there, and it’s the job of parents and teachers to show students how to find it—whether it’s through apps like TikTok or using technology to get information before they visit the quarry.”

Great point. And for the record: there was not a single smartphone insight among the highly engaged students on my day at Fossil Park.

(Fossil Park is located off Centennial Road just south of Sylvania-Metamora. Close-in parking is plentiful and bathrooms are open year-round. The quarry is ADA accessible and open seven days a week through the end of October from 8:30 am until 90 minutes prior to sunset.)

Longtime Sylvania resident Mark Luetke has served on city council, the board of education, and numerous foundation and community boards.

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