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!

Fall Camping: Places to Go

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Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Catching Up, On the Road; Denver

Wow! Summer is flying by! I apologize for my “blog lag,” as I have just returned from a trip to Denver for my brother’s wedding reception! I am still catching up, and this short post is just meant to share what we’ve been doing as I catch up from our trip. Though I did some writing, it was nearly impossible to post anything on this trip due to the late hours we kept and the technical issues I continually had with my laptop. I was forced to slow down, but it was worth it for spending quality time with relatives… I will be sharing some pictures soon since they are so much more exciting.

We had a great time and got to do some sightseeing: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– built into a mountainside, is a beautiful hilly walk, with great experiences for the kids with animals in very natural habitats. The views over the city of Colorado Springs alone are worth the hike. I’ve never seen so many giraffes in one place, and we were there at the right time to see three new baby lion cubs! Coming from the Chicago area, we’ve had many zoo experiences, but I’d have to say this is the best one. I recommend bringing water, as this is all outdoors and they charge a steep price for water bottles.

The Denver Aquarium too, is amazing. I really marvel at the design of the exhibits, and the interactive kid friendly atmosphere. Not being a very urban type of person, I felt more comfortable in the more laid back Denver than in Chicago. The way the sea creatures are displayed is a work of art in itself. Everywhere, there is something to look, even above your head! Everything had a natural feel, and drew us in.

The Denver Art Museum was very exciting. Every floor had projects that gave kids a chance to create. At the entrance, kids could get one backpack per family and the backpacks contained projects and scavenger hunt activities corresponding a a floor of the museum. Each floor had a little reading room/ play area decorated with different types of art corresponding to the theme of that floor. It gave us a chance to relax and read the art books, and let the children play. I really admired the variety of exhibits in the museum, the interior design meant to feel homey, and the activities to keep children busy and let them learn.

Restaurants: We had dinner at the Irish Snug on Colfax Street and heard Irish singer Brian Clancy, who is there almost every Saturday. Luckily we had a baby sitter that night, as a we celebrated with my bro and his wife, to the tune of good old Irish drinking, fighting and love songs amidst the chorus of audience participants. Brian Clancy is a great singer, and a lively local legend.

Another fun, eclectic place we tried was Buenos Aires Pizzeria on 1319 22nd St, Denver 80205. Surprisingly great pizza and Italian food, sandwiches and Argentinian food with many choices. The bread and pesto sauce were amazing! And real, freshly made gelato ice cream for desert!

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!

Kids in Flight!

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balloon_moonI know what you’re thinking– Where are the kids? Next time! Some things take a little planning, and maybe parents want to go up first to assess the flight for their kids. Found out hot air balloon pilots do take children on board. Nostalgia Ballooning is the only balloon company in the Chicago area. According to Nostalgia Ballooning in Hampshire, Illinois, children under five squirm too much, but provided there is parental help, children above five are generally able to see out of the basket and follow directions– which is all that is necessary for them to be involved in this lovely adventure! So when our son turns five, then he and  his sister might go with us!

This time I went with my father for his birthday and we had a wonderful time. He is standing next to me and the guy to the far right is Art Moller, a pilot from New Mexico, where hot air ballooning is big! We drove through New Mexico last spring, and perhaps next year we will try it out there! Just looking at his website with pictures of balloons flying over the red desert is absolutely amazing: www.albuquerquehotair.com

We arrived at 5:30 a.m. (You can see the moon still out when we were up in the air in the picture above.) Morning is when the winds are most still. Evenings are the second best time. The crew helped the pilots spread out the balloons on the ground and hold them while they were filled with cool air. You can see the size of the balloon in my new header picture where it is still being filled behind the truck. Once the balloons were full, the pilots started blasting the propane and a little hot air made the balloons start to pull away. We climbed into the basket, which felt like an over sized picnic basket. Five adults fit comfortably, considering everyone had a beautiful panoramic view. If you like watching out a plane window as you ascend, think of how it would be to feel embraced by the sky and fresh air from a basket! Planes hit turbulence in the clouds as they ascend more than 4,000 feet. Hot air balloons stay below that airspace. It is still possible to distinguish houses and trees.

The balloon lifted off gently and moved at only about eight miles an hour upward. We reached 3,828 feet high, and could glimpse Lake Michigan and Chicago on the horizon, with the sun shining almost right out of it, meaning we were due West of Chicago. We traveled 8.02 miles and the trip lasted 1.07 hours. About half way through the trip we came to a lower altitude. We crossed over familiar roads, the I 90 expressway, and drifted East. There is no control over the destination– but the countryside is full of decent landing spaces. Since the fuel lasts only a little over an hour, the pilot begins scanning for good spots well before then. We touched some tree tops as we flew over! When the pilot found a good spot, we landed, but waited for the ground crew to get permission from the property owner. Permission granted; the ride was over but the excitement lasted. The entire crew helped push the air out of the balloon and it was crazy to see such a glorious and gigantic item stuffed into a seemingly small, plain bag!

I want to look into this National Balloon Museum more. Have any readers been there? Let me know about your experiences with hot air balloons!

Another opportunity I’ve been looking into and planning for is the Young Eagles Program. Kids over eight years old can ride for free with a pilot as an introductory flight. This happens at airports all over the country. Check for events in your area. Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and the Dekalb-Sycamore Airport of Illinois sponsor a Young Eagles Flight event every year.

Children’s Literature, Picture Book Chapter 3: Scrapbook of Travel Adventures

Sophia and her Momma spent the next morning looking at their scrapbooks while Sophia’s little brother is slept.

“So this was my baby shower!” Sophia exclaimed. I thought you had baby showers before the baby came out?”

“All through my pregnancy, we were trying to sell our home,” said Momma. “It was very important, and very stressful on me. So we waited till you came into the world. That way all our friends and family would get to meet you!”

“How old was I then?” Sophia asked.

“You were only a month old in those pictures,” Momma said.

“What was my favorite present?” Sophia asked.”Did I get any shoes?”

“Well, yes. As a matter of fact, our friend gave you the little pair of white bunny slippers.”

“I remember those,” Sophia said. “I wore them in Idaho.”

“Yes,” Momma said. “You cried every time you lost the ‘girl bunny’ or the ‘boy bunny! I’m not sure how you told them apart,” Momma smiled, “but when you asked where they were, I always told you ‘they went down the rabbit hole’ and then you’d find them under your sheets. But one time, you dropped the ‘girl bunny’ outside in the snow after preschool, and cried for three days till we found it! It was good that the snow in Idaho doesn’t stay all winter like it does here in Chicago!”

Sophia laughed. “I sure loved those bunny slippers. We still have them, right?”

(Painting of Momma and Sophia sitting together holding the scrapbook. Next to them are the tattered pair of bunny slippers.)

Did I get any other shoes?” asked Sophia.

Momma said, ” you did get a bag of shoes from Karla, the airline stewardess. They were her daughter’s old shoes.”

“Really,” Sophia said excitedly. “That means that those shoes came from someone who traveled! Karla traveled to different countries, right?”

“Yes,” Momma said, “She worked for an international company and went all over the world.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Sophia. “Are there any pictures of me in those shoes?”

“Those were the first shoes you wore outside. Here’s a picture of you in them at grandma and grandpa’s house.”

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“That must have been fun. But what about travel pictures, Mom?”

“Well, here is your first big trip. We went to Costa Rica with our friends.

(Art: next two pages show scrapbook up close with pictures of Costa Rica and captions of what was happening, ending with a little notation about how Sophia lost her sandal there at a church and cried.)