(this is going to be a long post… with lots of photos…)
A few months ago, I wrote a post (also with lots of photos) about what road-schooling looks like for our family (after we’d embarked upon a 6 week road trip around South Africa).
Followers of this blog will know that our kids don’t go to school and we educate our kids differently (although I’m reluctant to pigeon-hole our educational philosophy with names like homeschooling / unschooling / life-learning / interested-led learning / whatever!)
I will say this though: we have our children’s best interests at heart – far more than any self-appointed expert or well-meaning stranger.
And, I’ll also say this: I do not believe there is one, single right way to educate a child.
So. That said. Here’s a quick look at what “school” on the road (and around the world) looks like for our family:
ANIMALS, PLANTS & WILDLIFE…
The kids learned about manatees at the aquarium at Disney’s Epcot… (there were lots of them in a big tank – and we watched them being fed). Later, in Titusville, we went on an excursion to find manatees in their natural habitat. Their first popular hang-out area was empty… but we eventually found one languishing happily in one of the canals close to Merritt Island.
We also learned about tigers and bats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom…
We watched a documentary on Great White Sharks – on a huge curved IMAX screen at the Science Museum in Tampa.
Now that we’re in Cape Town, the conversation (about Great Whites) has returned… the kids met a Cape Fur Seal (called Pirate) in the Hout Bay Harbour yesterday. Knowing that Great Whites eat seals – Joah has expressed concern about Pirate’s safety. There’s also a second-hand store in Kalk Bay that had a bowl of shark teeth. The kids were fascinated with the serrated edges – and reminded me how sharks grow new teeth (whenever old ones fall out).
In Tampa (and this was a first for me too) – we watched pelicans dive for fish off the pier at …. beach. Loved it!
The kids have seen a lot of alligators in their natural habitat. We went on an excursion to find some… and we did! (Although it’s definitely not hard to find gators in Florida). There have been lots of discussions about the difference between gators and crocs.
The Wild Centre in the Adirondacks offered a wonderful immersion into the wildlife of the area. We watched a short documentary on moose… the kids watched river otters play (and listened to an interesting talk given by one of the museum volunteers)… and, of course, we learned about trout (a lesson Joah will never forget).
There was also an opportunity to sniff the scents left by beaver, mink and otter (and to try and determine which was which).
The Natural History Museum in DC had fantastic displays on all kinds of wildlife (both alive and extinct).
One of the museum volunteers gave a talk and a demonstration on different spiders. She had a few tarantulas and showed how they could shed their entire exoskeleton. The museum had a fantastic bug and butterfly display too.
The art museum in Baltimore also had a fabulous bug display…
The Wild Centre had an interactive exhibit on different bogs. For some reason, Morgan really loved the bogs. There were different mushy things to touch and sniff – and they had a mock-bog that you could walk on.
And in Fort Christmas (Florida) – the kids learned how to bleed a tree and make turpentine…
And… they studied varies samples of plants, shells and fossils at the Museum of Natural History…
One of the things I appreciate and respect about the United States… is how they have preserved their history.
There are endless historical sites (not to mention all the museums) that you can visit… and almost everything has been beautifully and carefully curated. I could spend months… years… in the United States – simply drinking in all the museums, monuments and history!
Needless to say… the kids experienced American history first-hand.
It began with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC… followed by a visit to the theatre where he was shot… and the house (across the road from the theatre) where he died.
Morgan didn’t care too much about Abraham Lincoln… UNTIL…. she saw a large model of a slave ship (in the American History Museum). The story of the slaves had an enormous impact on Morgan. She was utterly mortified. She kept imagining Adelaide (who worked for us for many years)… in that situation. She stayed at the slave exhibit for a long time – and she asked me a lot of questions about all that. She was particularly revolted by the idea that slaves were viewed as “things” or “shipments” or “merchandise”… instead of people.
When I told her that Abraham Lincoln was one of the key people in the fight to abolish slavery – suddenly, he was no longer just a huge, marble statue. Suddenly, he was a very important man – “Like Nelson Mandela” she said.
We enjoyed an unexpected treat at Fort Christmas – where we were able to walk through numerous restored cabins from the early 1800’s…(perfectly preserved and furnished).
Also at Fort Christmas was an old school house where the kids got a taste of what actual school might feel like…
In the town of White Springs (Florida)… we had a fantastic history lesson about a famous medicinal spring, the tourism that grew around it… and Stephen Foster’s music. The Stephen Foster Museum houses 10 gorgeous, moving dioramas dedicated to Stephen Foster’s most famous songs. There’s also a bell tower with the world’s largest tubular bells.
We visited a lot of museums – and the United States certainly knows how to do museums.
As far as American History goes, I think the National Museum of American History (in DC) was one of our favourite visits. We spent the whole day browsing (and didn’t come close to seeing all of the exhibits).
Oh – and one more American History experience… we learned about the Street Car (or Trolley) on a tour of downtown Tampa. Here’s a pic:
… and while on the trolley, we learned about the historic region of Tampa called Ybor (famous for it’s Cuban community and, in particular, it’s cigars)…
Oh… and also the ridiculously gorgeous Tampa landmark (which we briefly toured) – the Henry B. Plant Museum…
Morgan and Joah’s keen interest in mummies and ancient Egypt came (ironically) after Universal Studios and “The Mummy” Ride. So… I purchased a book all about “King Tut” – and read it to the family as we drove from Orlando to Tampa.
There are 3 museums in particular that had awesome exhibits which explained more about ancient Egypt. The Natural History Museum (in DC), the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (which boasted interactive exhibits)… and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (which even handed out treasure maps to the kids so that they could locate important pieces on their own).
Morgan and Joah’s Greek grandparents were born and raised in Egypt… so there’s an extra incentive to learn about the area.
We visited a chocolate factory and museum in Pennsylvania. We watched a documentary on the entire chocolate-making process (from cocoa bean to finished bar of chocolate)… and then the kids watched as factory workers created all kinds of yummies with melted chocolate.
Joah has a thing for dinosaurs… and we had ample opportunity to learn about – and experience – dinosaurs whilst on our American Road Trip. From Dino Land and Dino rides (in Disney’s Animal Kingdom)…. to the huge Jurassic Park section at Universal Studios… to the more serious dino exhibits at the Natural History Museum (in Washington DC).
Probably the best dino experience came courtesy of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum… they had a gob-smacking section on dinosaurs – most of which was interactive. Joah’s favourite part was getting to stroke the real fossilised bone that once belonged to a T-Rex.
Even here in Cape Town, Joah’s dino-fascination remains in tact. He has been bending the ear of our hosts, Meg and Miles, with all his T-Rex facts – and has been begging me to buy Cheerios (because they come with collectable dinosaurs).
(Above): Joah touching the T-Rex femur…
AIR & SPACE
We had ample opportunity to learn about planes, jets and rockets. First we visited the Kennedy Space Centre… and then, we visited the National Air & Space Museum in DC. The kids had loads of questions – and it was so much fun to show them instead of just tell them.
The National Air & Space Museum had a huge section on “How Things Fly” designed especially for kids. There were endless interactive games and experiments that helped the kids better understand how flying is possible.
We had loads of opportunity to learn about… and to experience… trains. Firstly, there was the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel & Museum (our hotel used to be the old train station). There were lots of steam trains that the kids could climb on… a small museum explaining the history of the trains… and a large model railway.
The Indianapolis Children’s Museum also had a lovely section on the history of rail… (and loads of interactive things for kids to see and do). We also learned more about trains at the American History Museum.
I have a thing for old steam locomotives – so there was a lot of ooooh’ing and aaaah’ing from me.
Science lessons came in numerous forms. We visited MOSI (the science museum in Tampa)… again, with endless interactive exhibits, experiments and learning experiences. It was also where we watched the documentary on sharks… and visited the planetarium… and a hurricane simulator (speaking of simulators, we had also experienced a tornado simulator in Epcot)…
And… speaking of science, we also visited the birthplace of Thomas Edison (which housed a lovely museum explaining more about his various inventions). As a gift, the kids were given a lightbulb pendant (which they still have).
ARTS AND CRAFTS
As you probably know, I’m an artist… so wherever we travel, the art materials go with us. Needless to say, there was endless opportunity for drawing, painting and scrapbooking as we travelled…
There was also the opportunity for experiments with various crafts. In White Springs, the kids learned about pottery making, weaving and they even visited a blacksmith who helped them make an iron hanging hook! 🙂
And… of course… we also visited art museums, including the National Portrait Gallery and the (ridiculously awesome!) Walters Art Museum in Baltimore…
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Well… nothing like travel to teach kids about geography and about the world.
They now get it… they understand that the world is far, far bigger than South Africa. They understand that the United States has various time-zones and climates – and that it’s possible to wear shorts and swim in the sea in Florida… but, if you drive north for a bit, you can enjoy snow, frozen lakes and ice-fishing in upstate New York! 🙂
Now – they can’t wait to explore other countries! I think the travel-bug has bitten! 🙂
This post is already too long… but I have endless photos and stories to share of what we saw, experienced and learned during our 2 month road trip in the USA.
What we love most about this kind of learning is that it’s fun… it’s exciting… it’s interesting.
When you can see… experience… experiment… touch… taste… smell…. it’s so much easier to get the lesson at hand. That’s what world-schooling is about – it’s about learning and growing and understanding and exploring… while journeying.
And yes… there was loads of play-time and fun-time too! (We’re big believers in play-as-learning)
And yes… (for the cynics)… we also are covering reading, writing and counting. Don’t worry, we’re not spawning two illiterate, undisciplined terrors. There are still rules and chores and not-necessarily-fun stuff that they have to do… (as we all have to do… dirty dishes and invoicing being a case in point!)…
But, in all… this way of life really works for us. It’s really important for Nick and I that our children love learning. I never want them to see learning as a boring, hateful chore… or as something they are forced to do.
Anyway… on that note… I’m going to end off (Joah wants to swim – so I’m going downstairs to watch him).