There are many ways to hunt for fossils, so I won't even begin to try to cover that topic in depth; instead, I thought I'd share some inspiring photos and a few tips from a recent day-trip 'expedition' we took as a family.
A view of Maryland's Calvert Cliffs along the Chesapeake Bay, a popular fossil-hunting site.
Fossils are plant or animal specimens (or traces of them, such as footprints) that have been preserved in rock. Often, fossils are found in sedimentary rocks, which are formed when layer upon layer of silt and minerals from a body of water are deposited, dried, and compressed into layers.
Plants and animals caught in the layers are preserved for many, many years until at some point, they become exposed again--typically--via natural erosion and human excavation.
Here's a closeup of the base of a cliff at Calvert Cliffs State Park. Excavating at the base of a cliff is a big no-no, because it can undermine the cliff and create a dangerous landslide. But you can (cautiously) look.
Fossil hunting is not without controversy, and it's a great way to open up a discussion with kids about the importance of protecting natural resources for future generations. Fossil collecting should only be done in accordance with local law (it's illegal to possess any fossils at all in some countries). Also, to be fair, rare fossils should be shared with everyone. Local museums are a great place to donate special finds.
Publicizing locations for finding fossils is also controversial, because some people do try to scavenge as many as they can and sell them for profit. In the process, they can do great damage to the fossils and the landscape, preventing the public at large from enjoying these treasures.
However, around the world, there are still quite a few publicly-accessible locations where fossil hunting is easy, and allowed.
If you have no idea where to find fossils in the area where you live, and you are in the U.S., a great place to start is your state's geological survey or geological society. They often publish guides or other tips for local fossil hunting, such as this one for Minnesota, this one for Pennsylvania, or this one for Maryland. I also found this link to a long list of surveys, including some for countries around the world. Here's a fossil-hunting page from the British geological survey, for example.
Of course, a straight Internet search is a quick and easy way to find local fossil hunting grounds. (Here's a page for a fossil-hunting site in Nova Scotia, and here's one for Sicily.) There are also various websites and books that collect, with great specificity, fossil hunting sites for entire counties, regions, or countries; poke around and they pop up easily enough.
Creek banks, dry river beds, and exposed cliffs are all good places to start looking for fossils. Sedimentary rock is typically formed from mineral deposits left behind by ancient seas and waterways, and modern waters erode through the layers of ancient rock to expose fossils. Quarries, or even roadside ditches, dug by human beings, can also be rich sources of fossils.
My son and his fossil find. We left this fossil for others to enjoy.
For kids, it's rather exciting to visit a place where fossils are immediately visible, sticking straight out of the rock. With a little research, you can find such a place within driving distance to share with them; or short of that, there are many small museums that have fascinating fossil treasures to share with everyone.
Have you ever been lucky enough to find a fossil?