Tag Archives: field trips

Things We Aren’t Doing

We haven’t been field tripping much. But hey, here’s us getting on the Metro. We must have been somewhere!

I’m really firmly of the belief that you just cannot do it all. I know some people look at our lives and think, gosh, Farrar sure is killing it at this homeschool thing. I think we’re doing okay. And we’re definitely killing it at some things. On the other hand, every time I hear about things a friend is doing that we’re not, I similarly think, gee, friend sure is killing it at homeschooling. I wish I was too!

We’re drawn to admiring the things we’re not accomplishing ourselves, I think. But in order to have room to do the things we do accomplish, we have to drop things that are good practices. There’s just not enough hours for all the wonderful things in the world. You have to make choices. But choices are good! They let us focus. And we can always change our focus if we need to. But it’s good not to live in regret too much. It’s okay that we’re not doing everything. We’re doing other things.

With that in mind, instead of the things we are doing, here are some things we’re not doing.

We’re not taking weekly field trips.
When the kids were little, we were out somewhere awesome and educational practically every other day. Nowadays? Well, we did have a wonderful, full day at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History a few weeks ago. Mushroom went to a bunch of astronomy lectures and stargazing opportunities in the fall. But overall, we are just not on the go with field trips and opportunities constantly. We’re too busy with classes and things like trying to get through algebra.

We’re not reading aloud.
I always said I’d keep reading aloud all through middle school. However, with kids who don’t get home to even eat dinner until nearly 9 pm many nights a week, it’s just not happening.

We’re not practicing standardized testing.
We were so on this in the fall. And we’ll get back on it again. But right now, it’s fallen by the wayside. Sometimes things slip away that we need to do. Eventually, I drag them back and reimplement them. This is probably going to be one of those things throughout high school. I can tell already.

We can’t speak Spanish.
We can’t speak any foreign languages. Well, I know some Chinese and a smattering of leftover high school French. But we’re not doing any language instruction. After struggling through it for the last year and a half with BalletBoy, I finally gave up. I already have a plan for implementing Spanish with an online tutor come fall so that the boys can get their needed high school credits in it. I sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t push a foreign language earlier, but it is what it is. Nothing to do but move forward.

We’re not hanging out at the park day.
I’m a huge proponent of getting in open social time. But we haven’t been hanging out at the teen-centric park day. We’ve just been too busy with structured things.

We’re not doing history.
The other day, I realized that this term, no one is studying history. Mushroom is studying geography and foreign affairs in a local class. BalletBoy put more science leaning topics like anatomy on his plate for this term. History is my subject! I was a history major. I taught history in my school career! But… it’s not happening now at the Rowhouse.

We don’t have a great morning routine.
I miss the days when we had a strong morning routine. I left “morning work” out for the kids. It was warm ups like logic problems, silly creative coloring pages, and worksheet math drills disguised as games. When I came downstairs to start the day, we’d go over the morning work and then start on the sofa with reading aloud. We did this nearly every single day for years. These days, everyone gets up at different times. The kids check emails and youtube feeds. They munch waffles and ignore me. They start with different subjects. It’s just not a strong start. But I haven’t had the energy to make a change. I’ve put that energy elsewhere.

Balancing Acts

Somehow we made it through all of October without doing hardly any field trips and none that were just us.  We did have a couple of things planned that fell through due to illness, but really, it was just inexcusable.

It’s hard sometimes to balance the need to be home and get stuff done with the need to be engaged and spontaneous out in the world.  If I wanted my kids’ education to be only book work and occasional projects all proscribed by a teacher, I could have sent them to school.  But doing that book work and putting in the time on those fundamental skills is important too.  I posted before about how “fourth grade” felt like a watershed to me, about how I feel like we need to be putting in our time on those skills.  However, that doesn’t mean that learning has to become flat and dry or that we can’t still get a lot out of being expeditionary learners.

With that in mind, we finally made it out last week.  Morning work had to work with our listening book, The Calder Game.  The book proposes a sort of game where you think of things in fives – objects, pictures, words, ideas, anything.  So we’ve played around with drawing and then writing little five word poems or five word ideas.

Once we were all dressed and ready, we headed out to do Panera School, just checking off math, spelling and a book for science.  Then we headed to the National Gallery with little sketch books.  We wandered through leisurely then spent a long time in the Calder Room sketching and watching everything move.  Do you know, it’s actually fun to sketch a slowly moving mobile.

museum
Note that this is not a Calder. It’s by Nancy Graves and is the only work in the “Calder Room” at the National Gallery that isn’t by Alexander Calder.

It was fun to see the other museum goers peer over the kids’ shoulders at their tiny sketch books to see what they were up to while the kids were intently looking and drawing.

Afterwards, we headed home, full of art and happiness.  The kids were so thrilled by the day and the field trip that they really shamed me into remembering how completely essential it is to get outside, to do things other than just the stuff that looks like schoolwork.  It is a balance, with all the parts of our education hanging together like one of the Calder mobiles we drew.

Final Civil War Wrap Ups

The Rowhouse is on vacation for a couple of weeks.  We’re taking off for a little while, both from school and the city.  There was a final, furious finishing up of things before we left town.  Workbooks wrapped up and books finished.  As well, we had to finish up our American history unit with a final flurry of field trips, including to Lincoln’s Cottage (that’s above), Ford’s Theater, Clara Barton’s House and a number of other Civil War sites, including Manassas, where we attended some of the Sesquicentennial events.

For anyone not in the know and living on the east coast, the National Parks Service (America’s best idea, folks) has been giving out Civil War trading cards.  We collected about 40 of them from various sites.  The park service’s website (unfortunately not a website that lives up to the title “America’s best idea”) doesn’t seem to have a single site, but here’s a page for some of the ones we collected, which links to all the ones you can find in the northeast as well as all the ones you can find around DC.

We read more books than I could list without more time for the Civil War, but I thought I’d highlight one that we found especially useful.  Field of Fury by James M. McPherson had a detailed text and a spread about each major battle, as well as about the key leaders and some of the issues in the war.  The documentary pictures were very useful (and my kids kept noticing their use in museum exhibits as well).  Overall, this was the best single book resource we found for the war.

 

American History Field Trip Check In…

I committed last year to do a year of field trips for American history.  Um, sort of achieved and sort of not.  Here’s the post I made with the checklist last year.  Here’s how we’re actually doing with it.

Williamsburg

Field Trips Achieved:

  • National Archives
  • Library of Congress
  • Smithsonian Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
  • Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Museum of American Art
  • Memorials walk – Washington to Jefferson, not skipping the overlooked DC World War I Veterans Memorial
  • Georgetown fun: Tudor House, Dumbarton House, Old Stone House, canal boat ride
  • Pierce Mill
  • Original District Boundary Markers
  • C&O Canal at Great Falls
  • Baltimore fun: USS Constellation, Transportation Museum, Fort McHenry
  • Mount Vernon
  • Claude Moore Colonial Farm
  • Williamsburg
  • Jamestown
  • Monticello
  • Montpelier
  • Richmond National Battlefield and Civil War Center
  • James River Plantations
Monticello
Best Trip: Probably Williamsburg, but Monticello was a close second.

Longest Trip: We were in Williamsburg for three days!

Most visits: We’ve been to the Portrait Gallery seven or eight times at least.  I lose count.  We’ve also unexpectedly been at the colonial farm a lot.  I should have bought a membership.

Most unexpectedly fun: As I mentioned previously, we went in search of the original boundary markers for the district and that was like going on a geocache hunt.  Very bizarre but enjoyable to invade someone’s yard for a historic marker.

Baltimore

Field Trips Not Achieved (at least not yet):

  • White House tour
  • Capitol tour
  • Bureau of Printing and Engraving
  • Ford’s Theater and Peterson House
  • Lincoln’s Cottage
  • Frederick Douglass National Historical Site
  • Mary McCloud Bethune House
  • Fort Circle Parks
  • St. Mary’s City
  • Riverdale Mansion
  • Antietum National Battlefield
  • Clara Barton House at Glen Echo
  • Manassas National Battlefield
  • Gadsby’s Tavern
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Appomattox Courthouse Battlefield
  • Cumberland Gap
  • Harper’s Ferry
  • Gettysburg
  • Valley Forge National Historical Park
  • Philadelphia fun: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center

We’ll Make It Soon: We’re just now up to the Civil War and I’m hoping we hit the Lincoln and Frederick Douglass sites, a couple of the Fort Circle Parks, plus a quick day trip to Harper’s Ferry and out to Manassas within the next month or so.

Additions: We’re also going to hit some Atlanta sites when we visit relatives later this summer.  Cyclorama here we come!

Big Regret: I really thought we’d make it to Philadelphia.  I suppose we still can, but with overnights to Williamsburg and Charlottesville, it just didn’t happen.

Richmond

Another Week, Another Field Trip

The Husband joined us for what was really a lovely trip to Charlottesville last week.  Perfect fall weather and amazing colors.  Here’s Mushroom thrilled to have found yet another colonial era kitchen to observe.

And here’s BalletBoy trying out Thomas Jefferson’s bed.  Not the real one, of course.  It’s the model they have in the children’s room at the visitor’s center.

Mmm… Ham.

BalletBoy got to ditch his brother to go on the hike to Calvert Cliffs this week with co-op.  He was quite pleased.  Why is he eating ham in this picture?  Because he wouldn’t be still and eat lunch earlier like a normal child.  Wait, what am I saying?  Normal children don’t sit still to eat lunch…  do they?

I Wish I Was that Kind of Book Blogger and Other Thoughts from Last Week

Prepare yourself for a rambling post.

All ready?  Okay.

We’re slowly working our way through our Great American History Expedition Checklist.  Not many done so far, but two that seemed appropriate for while we’re doing pre-Columbian America and the dawn of the 16th century were the National Museum of the American Indian and the exhibit about the “discovery” of the Americas at the Library of Congress.  We’ve done them both for fun before, but this time it was school related.  Yeah, it’s not that different, but still.

There are a lot of things to recommend the American Indian museum.  Architecturally, it’s pretty awesome.  The collection is fascinating.  While we were there, we saw tons of interesting artifacts – both things we haven’t gotten to yet in our studies and things we have like Clovis points and Mayan sculpture.  We went through the “Our Universes” exhibit, which highlights some different tribes (including the Maya and the Inka, which was useful for us studying those two cultures) and focuses on traditions and storytelling.  The problem is that everything is such a mishmash.  I feel it every time I’m there.  I understand the benefits of seeing a whole bunch of animal sculptures in a single case so you can do cross cultural explorations.  And I get that they were trying to make a unified political statement about the value of indigenous American cultures across the board.  But when you can’t find out what culture or geographic region anything is from because there’s a total lack of signage and the computer touch screens that are supposed to stand in for signs are complete junk, then you’ve really over homogenized a diverse array of peoples and robbed us of our ability to get any sense of the scope of history and geography as visitors.

Luckily, while the scope was very different, the small exhibit at the Library of Congress was excellent.  They had a larger number of indigenous artifacts than I expected along with European documentary records about the initial clash between the two worlds.  Things were arranged in a logical progression.  Plus, there were cool old maps at the end.  I’m a sucker for old maps.  Also, their touch screens not only work, but provide real information I wanted to know about.  The whole thing reinforced for me how utterly frustrating I find the American Indian museum.  Plus, it’s architecturally interesting too.  There’s the kids fascinated by the floor on our last visit.

After we finished the exhibit, BalletBoy begged me to go down to the Young Readers Room.  This is a seemingly secret basement children’s library inside the Library of Congress where they keep lots of current children’s literature that has been stamped “extra copy” and looks about as beat up as at most regular libraries.  Maybe if you’re a senator, you can take your grandkids there and check out books for them?  But for the rest of us plebs, it’s for looking only.  It’s a bright, happy space with room for programming, lots of comfy chairs, tables of coloring pages, and a pretty adorable little puppet theater you can play with.  They have a few interesting things, like an entire copy of a Harry Potter book in Braille (it takes up a whole shelf!) and, most tantalizingly, a whole table of ARCs and galleys.

I must say, when I saw the selection of ARC’s, I wished quite fervently that I were the sort of book blogger who might receive ARC’s occasionally.  Alas, I am not.  But there was a new Grace Lin,  a new Catherine Gilbert Murdock fantasy, a Daniel Handler YA, and a Katherine Paterson novel called The Flint Heart that which looked downright delightful.  I read the first few pages of that one and I suspect it will make a great read aloud when it comes out.

Most excitingly, though, one of the books BalletBoy has been bugging me about literally every week was there!  The next Squish book by Jennifer Holm doesn’t come out for another month, but there on the table, I found an ARC for him!  He sat and read the entire first half of the book, but wanted to save the rest for when he can have it for real.  If they’d had an ARC of the next Amulet book, I suspect he wouldn’t have been able to be pulled away.

As we left, the kids picked up posters for the National Book Festival in a few weeks.  If you’re local and don’t know this event, it’s really a treat.  In our most memorable year, we had the pleasure of seeing (nearly back to back), Holly Black and Tony Diterlzzi, Mo Willems, Steven Kellogg, Megan MacDonald, and Jon Scieszka and David Shannon.  It was just as amazing as it sounds.  You know you’re jealous.  Here’s the lineup for this year.  They’ve added an extra day and a “storytelling stage” which includes a lot of great authors too.  Sorry soccer practice, but we’re totally there – books over brawn.  The weekend of September 24-25.

In my final bit of ramble, after we left the Library of Congress, (and bought BalletBoy’s new ballet shoes since we were on the Hill anyway), we went over to the brand new Yards Park next to the Nats stadium.  I’ve been meaning to go for awhile, but it kept not happening.  We’ve not been at a lot of baseball this season.  Well, I must say, it’s completely and utterly awesome.  If you’re local you must go.  I command it!  Mushroom, BalletBoy and I played a slightly epic game of Hide and Seek there.  But that’s not a commandment, just a recommendation.

First Week Moments

I saved up all the various things I bought for the kids so they could all come out at the same time in one box-curricula-esque extravaganza.  Of course, the first thing BalletBoy and Mushroom did was accidentally dump out their entire rock set, so we spent the first morning reorganizing it.

Most of our week was spent out and about with our co-op.  We did a trip with them every single day.  Here we are on the first day, in our traditional first day in the tree pose.  We have new members, which is exciting but also an adjustment for everyone.

Playing around on the boardwalk during our hike.

Appreciating the lotuses at the aquatic gardens.

The best part of the county fair was riding the school bus to get there!

Or possibly swimming in soybeans.

Here’s Great Falls, scampering over the rocks along the towpath.

And now…  whew, I’m tired.  But it was so good to be out and about all week, mostly outside, where the weather was hot, but not oppressive, and the rain held off for us.

The Great American History Expedition Check List

I’m in the midst of planning for next year and thinking out history.  We’re wrapping up the Renaissance, but soon we’ll sail across the ocean and make it over here to the New World.  I’m not sure what speed we’ll move at, but my hope is to cover American history all the way through to the present, or at least to the second world war.  In February, we’ll take a break to do a big before we go on a huge trip to Africa unit study.  Then, in March, we’ll go to Africa.  Finally, in April, we’ll recover from having been in Africa.  By May, we’ll pick back up with American history. We usually do lots of fun projects and a few field trips with history.  For American history though, I really want to go whole hog and see everywhere with an American history tie in.  I’m actually pretty excited.  Here’s the checklist of places I hope we’ll get to at some point in the next year:

In the District Proper:

  • White House tour
  • Capitol tour
  • Bureau of Printing and Engraving (I have always heard this one is an excellent tour, we’ve just never done it)
  • National Archives
  • Library of Congress
  • Smithsonian Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
  • Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Museum of American Art
  • Memorials walk – Washington to Jefferson, not skipping the overlooked DC World War I Veterans Memorial
  • Georgetown fun: Tudor House, Dumbarton House, Old Stone House, canal boat ride
  • Ford’s Theater and Peterson House
  • Lincoln’s Cottage
  • Frederick Douglass National Historical Site
  • Pierce Mill (if they ever get around to reopening it)
  • Mary McCloud Bethune House
  • Fort Circle Parks

 Maryland

  • St. Mary’s City
  • Riverdale Mansion
  • C&O Canal at Great Falls
  • Antietum National Battlefield
  • Clara Barton House at Glen Echo
  • Baltimore fun: USS Constellation, Transportation Museum, Fort McHenry, and a roll down a really awesome hill to get some grass stains

Virginia

  • Mount Vernon
  • Claude Moore Colonial Farm
  • Manassas National Battlefield
  • Gadsby’s Tavern
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Williamsburg
  • Monticello
  • Montpelier
  • Appomattox Courthouse Battlefield
  • Cumberland Gap (maybe we’ll do the train again…)
  • Museum of the Confederacy
  • Petersburg National Battlefield
  • James River Plantations
  • Harper’s Ferry (I know it’s not in Virginia, it’s in other Virginia)

Other Spots:

  • Gettysburg 
  • Valley Forge National Historical Park
  • Philadelphia fun: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center (or whatever it’s called)
That's Mushroom and BalletBoy having their first introduction to Fala (FDR's beloved little dog). We've really been going to a lot of these spots of historic import for awhile I guess.

We’ve obviously done many of the D.C. places many times.  I’m dorkily excited to actually visit all the Fort Circle Forts.  Some, such as Fort Stevens, we’ve been too, but most we’ve never seen (some aren’t there at all anymore).  Doing some local D.C. history should be a fun part of this.  We’re more than just a drained swamp, you know.  I also hope to get my outrage on a little and indoctrinate the kids into the injustice that is our lives without the right to vote.*  Our church has been doing some D.C. voting rights work that maybe we could look into being involved with.  We need to drag ourselves out to do that great American activity: protest.  One trip is already planned.  We’re going to homeschool days in Williamsburg and staying at Great Wolf Lodge (you know, with the indoor water park!) using the homeschool deals they offered.  I’m pretty excited to see what it’s like to be on a vacation where we seriously see historical reenactors for half the day and go down water slides for the other half.

*You should be outraged that I don’t have the right to vote too.  Especially that we have to pay taxes and don’t have the right to vote.  And that Obama used our rights as a bargaining chip.  Oh, good grief, I didn’t mean to get too much outrage on here.  Sorry.  It’s just that being literally disenfranchised will do that to a person.