Children’s Literature Conclusion of Book 1

Buses… everywhere in Costa Rica there are buses. Buses to the cities, buses to the mountains, buses to the beaches, and to the rain forest tours. Waiting for a bus could be a little uncomfortable, but once we were on the bus, there were plenty of nice people to share conversation with. Nobody minded speaking Enlgish to us, nor did they mind our muy poquito Espanol.

One bus ride seemed almost magical. We left the beaches of Cahuita and  Puerto Viejo to go up into the mountains. We were on our way to visit an American missionary family. Norte Americano, that is– from Los Etados Unidos like us. They came to help people and had adopted many orphan children from Costa Rica. They had plans to take us to see the volcano, Mt Irazu.

The trip lasted several hours. At one point the bus driver let us get out to use the restrooms and buy bananas at a farm stand. As we rode through little villages early in the evening, everyone was outside. children were kicking balls, grown-ups walking dogs, fathers playing with their children while mothers cooked a meal. The missionaries informed us that almost everyone had a T.V. even in a poor country. Yet they didn’t seem to be occupied with t.v. They were all having fun outside!

We passed a banana field and a man boarded the bus and sat near us. He couldn’t speak English but he kept talking to us with his hands. He kept saying, “Bonita Senorita Sophia! Sophia Laurie!” “Like Sofia Loren?” “Si! Sofia Loren!” he exclaimed!This man only thought of nice things to say. “She is part Italian, and very beautiful,” Daddy said. The man was beaming and trying to tell us about his own beautiful children. I couldn’t help thinking how rough his hands were and how hard he had worked all day– even late into the evening– to take care of his own family. He must have children and grandchildren that live close by. How often do we see someone beaming from ear to ear after working so hard! And talking to complete strangers like us after being out in the fields all day!

Soon we arrived in the city. It had really gotten cooler outside. The bus stopped outside the ruins of a beautiful old cathedral that was all lit up with colorful lights.That is where we met our friends. They took us to dinner that night and to see Mount Irazu the next day.

“Mama, was Costa Rica your favorite place that we traveled to?” “So far, yes.” “Why Mama? Because it was so beautiful? Or because the people were so friendly?”

“Both,” Mama said. “Is Italy like that too?” Asked Sophia. “I think so. People like to talk. And they like to be outside going places– busy late into the evening.” “That’s how Giovina is,” Sophia said. “I think Daddy and I will paint Costa Rica first!”

Learning Together on the Go: Part 3 Memories

In a world where everything is changing, and convenience is king, I hear many parents who look at car trips as a headache rather than an adventure. They’re afraid their children will be hungry and whiny and have to stop for the bathroom constantly– which are all just as much a reality at home. In “continuation of the Learning Together on the Go series”, here are some more ideas to make your car rides exciting!

Memories:

Traveling is a great time to reflect on places you have been, and to tell stories of where you went as a child. It’s hard nowadays to be all together– parents working different shifts, kids in daycare. Make the most of family trips– they’ll never forget it! These lyrics of “Galway and Mayo” by Irish band Saw Doctors speaks to that:

“We used to go out driving
We’d travel near and far
Nearly every Sunday in me
Father’s oul’ ford car
He’d be pointing out the landmarks
Everywhere we’d go, through the
Twistings , turning , winding roads
Of Galway and Mayo

Me mother in the front seat
Children in the back
We’d be imagining Indians in the
Fields waiting to attack”

Last spring we were able to take a trip to Pennsylvania where both my Dad and Grandma grew up. My mother grew up nearby in Maryland, and her mother’s childhood home– built by her father– still stands. My Dad was along with us and it was neat being able to show the kids the landmarks I remember visiting as a child. After careening down a narrow mountain road that I remember very well, we were able to stop at Summit Diner– a place I remember eating banana cream pie with my Mom and Grandma when they were alive. We had to use the GPS to find it. It’s really amazing and comforting to find places that haven’t changed!

Kids too, have memories to reflect on. In their short lives, a trip you took six months ago– relatively speaking– is like me remembering the last time I was in PA– twenty years ago. There’s always something to talk about on a trip, and very little need for kids to be watching movies or playing video games in the car. My Dad shared a story about being stuck on a mountain road after a ski trip. The road was closed down due to a blizzard and they just made it into a nearby town before the road was closed off. The visibility was so bad that my Dad and Uncle had to walk in front shoveling while my Mom drove the few miles into town. What a memory! I’m so glad the kids got to hear it, although I need to write these things down and retell them.

Kids may feel bored at times covering a vast expanse of land, but without driving all those miles, how would they know just how big the world is? When we drove from Tennessee to Arizona, my kids got to experience how big Texas is. They got to see the change in landscape from trees to ranches to cacti. No only can we appreciate the variations in landscape along the way, but things that we see jog our memories. Passing through a military base in New Mexico got my husband talking about his time at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Although we came to Arizona to see Tuscon and the Sonora Desert, flying in to our destination would have excluded other opportunities for views of the landscape and family memories.

And don’t forget those stickers and passports I wrote about in Learning Together on the Go part 1. Keeping a record of states traveled and routes will help them keep it all in context for years to come!

Children’s literature: Mom and Daughter Relive Costa Rica via Scrapbook

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“Mom, we have to find a picture for Daddy to paint– somewhere cool that I’ve been to!” Sophia exclaimed, the next morning.

Sophia’s little brother was still sleeping, so mom and daughter sat on the couch to look at the family scrapbooks.

Sophia goes through her baby pictures. “Am I still that cute, Mama?” she asks. “You are even more beautiful now.” her mama says.

Sophia reads a caption on the page: “I never tried to squeeze my baby’s feet into shoes before– her feet get stronger without them. But now that she’s walking outdoors, I emptied the bag of hand- me- down baby shoes that Karla gave us, and found two pairs that fit her. Here’s Sophia in her first shoes!

“Wait, Mama!” Sophia said. Karla gave us used baby shoes?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?” asked Mama.

“Karla the airline stewardess?! I got my shoes from someone who had traveled all over the world? No wonder I’ve been to so many places already– I’m wearing someone else’s shoes! I bet her daughter traveled with her in these shoes, and now I am traveling! See Mama, shoes do take you places!”

Mama just smiled. “Let’s look at your pictures in Costa Rica. You were only 1 and 1/2 years old then. Your first trip overseas.”

Turning the page, Sophia saw that Mama had embellished it with detailed journal entries. Now that she was old enough to read, Sophia found herself delighted at what she was learning!

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Here’s Sophia at 4:00 a.m. ready and waiting to go to Chicago O’Hare airport. minus 13 degrees outside– January in Chicago! Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane!  It’s winter here, but Costa Rica will still be having their summer. Wonder how hot it will be and how many bugs? Part of our time we’ll be up in the mountains, so we’ll keep some sweaters and rain jackets, but leave most of this winter clothing behind once we get to the airport. Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane! Costa Rica, here we come!

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When we first arrived, the sky was clear but the wind was blustery. We were told that the wind gusts were unusual and had to to with Mount Turrialba volcano having erupted on January 5, 2010– one week earlier. Vocanoes can send ash far up into the stratosphere and this can continue affecting weather for quite a while. High winds and even rain and thunder in the sky can result from a volcanic eruption. No one was hurt in the volcano that year, but everyone felt the high winds were very unusual for such a mild climate.

Our trip started and ended with San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. San Jose is packed with cars. Only ten years ago, people mostly took buses or rode bicycles. But then people started being able to afford cars. There are so many cars that the city of San Jose made a law that people can only drive their car one day a week, and on the weekend. Some people may drive on Mondays, other people on Tuesdays, etc! So people still have to take buses or share their car with someone else. It did take us incredibly long to get to our hotel!

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In Costa Rica, coffee beans grow. They have the best tasting coffee in the world! And guess what? Mommy never cared for coffee before– until she had to start chasing little Sophia around! Yep, we had to put you on a little harness sometimes!

You ran all over in those little sandals. We put them on you in San Jose and you wore them the entire trip, until we returned to San Jose, and you lost one of them at a concert and cried for two days. We never found the missing sandal. It seems that it wanted to stay in Costa Rica. Funny to think of it, we got those sandals and summer clothes from a friend who had taken her kids to Puerto Rico. Her little girl is only a little older than you and they are part Peurto Rican– like you and Daddy. I think that sandal wanted to stay near the Carribean. I can’t blame it– sandals don’t like Chicago winters!

Learning Together on the Go: Part 2

by Wendy Kullman

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Devise a strategy not to use your “devices” on the trip! How do you feel after a day of working on the computer? Why subject your child to that?

Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that!  A family vacation, or any trip together can be seen as a time for developing deeper family relationships. Make it happen!

Here are some strategies that I hope will accomplish both learning and togetherness– MISC. as in miscellaneous (with lots of m’s): Manipulatives, Math, Music, Manners, Memories, Imaginative play, Stories, Cards.

Manipulatives:

Here are some fun, non-messy hands-on activities your children can be doing while you’re on the road:

Travel Tangoes: These are magnets shapes that can be made into all different animals or other patterns. They come with only a small number of peices (only about 6 per set) and a magnetic board with flaps that show different patterns to create. The answers are on the back of each flap. These have kept our children entertained quietly in the car, and we have also brought them to a wedding reception and a concert. We were able to interact quietly, helping our kids, while stimulating our brains and theirs! Really works well for all ages! (Except children who are young enough to put them in mouth.)

Magnet letters: bring your refrigerator magnet letters and an old square shaped cookie tin. Keep the letters in the tin, and children can use them to practice sounds with you or write messages with them. Not good for children under three of course.

Learning Palette: This manipulative “toy” by Usborne  is the FUN, HANDS ON, SELF-CORRECTING learning game that teaches essential grade-appropriate skills without batteries or electricity. Covering addition all the way to algebra, it meets the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. Each card is self-correcting. You can buy sets for reading or math skills. You really have to see it to believe it– click here for demonstration!

Interactive Math:

When I was growing up, my uncle would always quiz my cousin and I on math facts in the car. I was always inclined to write down the problems, but now with the Singapore method used in many schools, children can learn to solve problems in their head much more reliably. We always did counting with our two year old in the car– it was a good time to work on memorization of any kind. Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that! Flashcards can help too.

Music:

You don’t want to be singing “Old Mac Donald” over and over again. Nor is resorting to the radio a good idea. So plan ahead! Go to your library and check out a bunch of children’s CDs, classical music, and songs you all can learn from. I always enjoy getting foreign language CDs designed for learning, because we can all practice together, and sing together!

My advice is to intersperse music with other interactive games and learning activities, so that you’re not relying on music and get some peace and quiet. There are times when children just need to let it out, so use those times to introduce new music!

If your child plays an instrument, make them practice at intervals during the trip. We take my daughter’s violin and have her play for relatives; but we’ve also had her play at an outdoor picnic area at a rest stop, and at the oil change place while waiting. These kind of situations challenge the child to recall and utilize their skills in interesting situations. It’s refreshing to hear music in these otherwise boring places, and we always get applause!

More M’s to follow!

Camping with Baby, Under Tree Tops…

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Sophia 2 years old

Baby sleeps soundly, loving rain drops…

I mentioned in earlier in my blog how we took our daughter camping for the first time when she was four months old.  (I have a picture from this adventure– will post it when I find it!) Why do you think they like the song “Rock-a-bye Baby in a Treetop”? There’s nothing like going to sleep to the sound of rustling trees! Labor Day weekend held a steady downpour that year. But our baby fell asleep early, and slept through the night (such a thing was not heard of at home!) Mommy awoke well-rested, and that made for a peaceful, enjoyable weekend with friends.

There is nothing out of the ordinary being out in nature with a little one. Trees and rain are more comforting than night lights,  electrical things running, parents downstairs washing dishes and talking.

I grew up camping, (although not starting till we were older). So it was not new for me. But it was a fun challenge taking a baby, and made me look at life and duties as a mom differently. It was so peaceful.

Is camping only for “outdoorsy” people?

No, it doesn’t have to be. Our family likes hiking and canoeing, but that is not a complete picture of who we are. We like cultural events, festivals, quaint towns, and new places– as long as there is something worth seeing. We camp nearby to save money, and to have a connection with nature.

KOA campgrounds are nice for children because of their community feel, breakfast, mini-golf, swimming pools, and nice bathrooms. They are a good starting point if you’ve never camped, and its easy to find them. But there is nothing wrong with state parks and other campgrounds.

Why go camping?

If the above mentioned reasons are not enough, here are some more to think about.

  • It’s a good bonding experience for the family. When a baby is born, both parents are usually very exhausted. Home routines become rushed and perfunctory. Mommy and Daddy both have very different roles for those first few months, and Daddies even tend to feel excluded.
  • Since camping traditionally is more of a man’s role, it gives Daddy not only some relaxation, but a place of honor. He’d probably rather start a campfire and set up a tent than cook meals and make the beds at home. Its a great way for family to come together and put aside all the distractions.
  • Camping saves money, and if you don’t care for outdoorsy activity, you can camp near a festival, near a town where you’d like to do sightseeing.
  • You can make it a social event. It’s a lot less work than hosting a dinner party, and you can spend time telling stories and experiencing nature. It makes you feel freer!