Thursday, February 21, 2019

Turkey Run State Park, Marshall IN

Over the past several years, we've been blessed to hike some pretty awesome trails. Turkey Run is, at least for now, my favorite hike of all time.

Turkey Run State Park has a lot to offer nature enthusiasts. You can stay at the Inn or at the campground, which are both open year round. In addition to canoeing, horseback riding, swimming, and fishing, various programs and events are available. Be sure to call ahead to the Visitor's Center to get an idea of what's being offered when. 

There's a covered bridge and a few historical sites at the park that are worth visiting depending on the interest level of your group, but the hiking hiking trails are one thing that every visitor should make time for. 

Or at least one hike in particular.

Trail 3 was amazing! You cross a swinging bridge over the river near the beginning of the hike, which is always a good way to start off an adventure. Once on the other side, the fun really begins.

The trail was easy to find at first and we followed it down into the canyon. All of the sudden it seemed that the trail was gone. If I hadn't heard about this trail from a friend I would have assumed that the trail had been washed out and turned us back. There wasn't a sign, but I trusted my gut and simply followed the canyon floor for a little while. After a while, we caught up to some other hikers, and then later on we did run into some signs. Whew!

We were there early in the year so there was a small stream running through the canyon. Sometimes the trail crossed the stream, at other points the trail was the stream. We wound through some fairly snug spaces, over fallen trees, and even up some rough hewn rock steps embedded in a cliff wall.

My MIL on the ledge steps

We followed Trail 3 up out of the canyon to where it intersects with Trail 10. (Tip: don't bother with the lookout. There's literally nothing to see!) We followed trail 10 to the lookout and then back to finish Trail 3 down into the canyon via some neat wooden ladders. 

The trail loops back through the canyon and around to the swinging bridge which took us right back to the parking lot. 

What you need to know

This trail was a lot of fun and very adventurous. I'd only recommend it for kiddos who are able to walk and climb well. I would think that babywearing would be extremely difficult if not dangerous on some stretches of Trail 3. 

The trail was maintained just enough that you could navigate it safely. Large trees were used as foot bridges, the wooden ladders were solid, but rustic, and there were a couple of places with sturdy steps to ensure good footing. Otherwise, it's not overly commercial and fussy. It was a perfect combination!

Wear shoes that are sturdy and can handle getting wet. 

There are some steep areas, as you can see in the picture above, that don't have any sort of railing. It's a decent drop!

Trail 3 was rugged, but since it clocks in at under 2 miles, it's not particularly grueling and it's nice an cool down in the canyon!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, FL

 The Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the state of Florida, and the second-tallest lighthouse in the entire country!

What made our time here really memorable is all of the additional activities available aside from just climbing the lighthouse. The Lens Museum was fascinating, the Lighthouse Keepers Dwelling was packed with valuable information, and the Cuban Raft Enclosure is eye-opening. All of this and more is included in your ticket price!

Lens House

Lens house

More lens house. My favorite building!

Hands-on learning

Station 1

What you need to know

The museum doesn't open until 10 so this is a good activity for a late-start day.

Nothing bigger than a purse is allowed past the museum so diaperbags and backpacks will need to be left in the car. Thankfully, parking is very close to the entrance.

There are 203 steps up to the top of the lighthouse and some parts are very steep so it's quite the workout! Small children must be able to walk by themselves, they can't be carried up the steps.

Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes!

Allow yourself plenty of time here. Not only does it take a while to huff and puff up all of those stairs, but all of the exhibits really are worth seeing and experiencing. Your kiddos will be able to learn a lot about the history of lighthouses, the history of the Inlet, light refraction, and much more! Leave time to soak it all in.


More info on lighthouses here.

Lighthouse lesson plan.

Video about the Fresnel lens.

Friday, February 15, 2019

SeaWorld Orlando

I had the joy of visiting SeaWorld, Orlando, for the first time since I was a child and I'm so glad I was able to share the experience with my family.

If you're looking for a theme park experience without paying a lot of money or spending a lot of time, SeaWorld is a great option! We were able to experience a lot in just one day and the price was very reasonable. Plus, educational opportunities abound!

For starters, SeaWorld offers printable curriculum that's available to everyone! Click the link and scroll down. Three options are available to suit the age/grade of your child. Answer keys are included, thank goodness. These would be great to print off beforehand to work on en route to SeaWorld! 

As with any theme park, I highly recommend doing a bit of research ahead of time to get the lay of the land and have some idea of everything available to you. We didn't pay for anything extra, but there are a couple of upgrades you can purchase such as dolphin encounters, that would make for really neat experiences.

Some of our favorite areas:

Antarctica was a highlight for us. My youngest loves penguins and he really enjoyed seeing the penguins and all of the attention to detail in this section. I would skip the penguin ride itself, though. It was silly and smelly and you don't have to ride it in order to see the penguins. Oh, and make sure you're nice and dry before hitting this area of the park because it's COLD in there!

The killer whale show, One Ocean, was also really well done. You'll be in awe of these amazing creatures and impressed with their intelligence and gracefulness.

Sea Lion High was a cheesy show, but we still enjoyed it. Be sure to arrive early to watch the mime. He stole the show!

What you need to know:

Preferred parking was only $5 more and it eliminated our need to take the tram or hike to the park entrance. If you have a stroller, you get to park even closer! Very family-friendly.

Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the start of a show, in order to get seats. If you want a particular location - the splash zone for instance - plan to arrive 30 minutes early.

The splash zone is very hit and miss, but I'd advise you to take it seriously. People who did get splashed were SOAKING.

We felt the park could easily be experienced in 1 day. Consider getting the 2-day pass if you also want to visit Busch Gardens.

Don't skip the shows! We saw three of them and loved every one. They were really, really well done.

Seriously consider booking a tour. There's still plenty to see and learn without a tour, but I think there's plenty of time to include a tour and it would make the experience even that more memorable.

Additional Resources

Penguin unit study.

Dolphin facts.

A whole list of shark documentaries.

Killer whale fact sheet.

Look at your local library for the books below, but if you decide to purchase, please use my links. As a part of the Amazon Affiliate program, purchases through my links help to support my blog!

This ocean-themed curriculum is awesome. I used it with my youngest a few years ago. You purchase the textbook and then the journaling notebook that's the right age for your student. The textbook and easily be reused or resold. This curriculum also works very well for homeschool co-ops!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


History is a subject that can either be invigorating and exiting, or as dry as a bone. People either enjoy it or they don't so you know you've done well when a historical stop is fun and engaging for everyone, even the most particular, in your group!

Monticello was one such stop.

Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. The home, gardens, and outbuildings are open for tours as well as a museum, two gift shops, and a concession stand.

Front of the home where the tour begins.

Everywhere you look you find evidence of Jefferson's curiosity, genius, and zest for life. He was a president, writer, inventor, diplomat, statesman, architect, planter, lawyer and much, much more. You can't help but be awed by him and the life he lead.

When we visited, we were able to get in on the first tour of the day. Tickets are purchased at the ticketing kiosk and then you can ride the bus up to the house. The tour took about 30 minutes. Our guide was very well-informed and shared all kinds of facts and stats as he led us through Jefferson's home.

Back of the home. Beautiful gardens.

After the house tour, we were on our own to wander the cellars, gardens, and outbuildings. We started with the cellars, kitchen, and privy. There were little exhibits and placards in each room to explain how the rooms were used and something about the lives of the people who worked in them.

The privy

The underground kitchen. Several gadgets were invented by Jefferson himself.

The gardens were of particular interest to me. Beautiful flowers and a large vegetable garden graced the lower terrace. Below that was an orchard.

Large veggie garden


A few outbuildings were on display, as well. Complimentary tours are available for these buildings or you can peek inside them on your own. There were slave quarters and some stables available for viewing.

Next, we walked down to the family cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried. The plot is hemmed in by a large gate so we took a couple of pictures and then began the descent back down to the museum.

The museum was such that if you're a true history buff you could spend a lot of time there, but if you aren't or if you have kids, you can browse it quickly. One room focused on the building of Monticello, another room displayed items from the home and/or family.

The gift shop deserves a mention, too, because it was filled with all kinds of neat and interesting goodies. If you like to garden, I recommend purchasing some of the seed packets. The seeds are actually collected from the onsite gardens which have been maintained since Jefferson's time. I purchased some bean seeds that originated in MO and were gifted to Jefferson. I thought that was pretty fitting!

What You Need to Know

Monticello welcomes nearly half a million guests per year! If you are going during peak season you'll want to be sure to arrive early and be prepared to wait. Also, it's not particularly conducive to poor weather so keep an eye on your weather app as you plan.

The house tour is not recommended for rambunctious children. The home is furnished and decorated so it is very tempting for little hands. Luckily, it's short enough that parents can switch off. Check out the "Family Friendly" tour option!

Be sure to visit the website to check out all of the restrictions. Particularly if you have diaper bags or strollers. The house is a good distance from parking so you'll want to plan accordingly.

The educational opportunities here are staggering! Please visit their page to get a good idea of all of the tours and special events that are offered. We visited during the off-season so it wasn't crowded at all. We did the basic house tour and explored the grounds. In all, we only spent about 4-5 hours at Monticello, but we didn't feel shortchanged. Depending on age and interest level, you could spend much more time here or you could invest in one of the extra tours.

Additional Resources

Free Thomas Jefferson paper dolls here. 

Watch a quick video.

Info about the Louisiana Purchase (with free download!)

Cute quill pin craft.

Thomas Jefferson lapbook.

Awesome free printables. They have some for each president!

Look for the books below at your local library. If you decide to purchase, please use my links as I'm participating in the Amazon Affiliate program and each purchase helps support my blog!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Jekyll Island, GA

It's been cold here in the Midwest so lets think about warmer places!

As a Midwesterner through and through, I used to think that each beach was the same as the next. All you need is sand, the ocean, and maybe a palm tree or two right? Oh how wrong I was!

We've since learned that beaches can vary widely and each have a unique experience to offer!

Jekyll Island is a perfect example.

Located off the Georgian coast, about halfway between Florida and South Carolina, and just an hour outside of Savannah, this island community is a true gem. Our vacations are such that we don't fully explore each area, but I feel confident in saying that a family could easily spend several days or even a week here and not be bored!

Driftwood beach was the highlight of our time spent here. The other beaches on the island were fine, but this one was our favorite. It was unique and we found more more sea creatures on this beach than any other we've visited anywhere.

Blue jellyfish!

Look how well he blends in!

All of these things were found just wandering up and down the beach! If you've never seen a live sand dollar, they are really fun to observe! They shimmy back and forth to bury themselves in the sand.

Live sand dollar!


At one point, my oldest was just reaching into the water and scooping out sand dollars and shells with crabs in them. The water was just teeming with life!

Of course, there's a lot of driftwood to admire and climb on, too.

Jekyll Island has a lot to offer homeschoolers.

You could:

What you need to know:

Jekyll Island hosts a variety of events throughout the year so be sure to check the events calendar ahead of time to either take advantage of a particular event or avoid the crowds.

There are no lifeguards at any Jekyll Island beaches.

Good shoes are a bonus on Driftwood Beach because of the rock barrier. There are places where you can safely pass through, but sometimes you have to do quite a bit of walking to get to those spots. Also, if your kiddos want to climb the driftwood they'll want more than bare feet or flip flops!

Take plenty of water and snacks with you to the beach. Most of the beaches don't have concession stands. 

Be sure to visit the bathrooms before you hit the beach since the water is usually a bit of a hike from the parking lots.

If you do get antsy, go up North to visit the lighthouse, pier, and shopping at St. Simon's Island.

St. Simon's Lighthouse at night.

St. Simon's Island Pier. We saw dolphins!

Additional Resources

For more about visiting Jekyll Island with kids, check out this site.

Click here for a sea turtle unit study.

Free ocean animal coloring pages here.

"Who Lives in the Ocean?" free printable book at this site.

Look for the books below at your local library. If you decide to purchase, please use the links below to help support my blog through the Amazon Affiliate program!

The last three books are textbooks that my youngest used for science a few years ago - and loved! You purchase the textbook and then one of two available journaling textbooks that are rated for different ages. If you have a kiddo who LOVES ocean creatures then you'll want to check those out!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Branson, MO: The National Tiger Sanctuary

We visited The National Tiger Sanctuary on the last of our 3-day Branson vacation. We woke up bright and early, ate breakfast, packed up the car, and dropped by on our way out.

The tour was so informative and impressive. The care and concern for all of the animals they have is evident in all they do. We learned a lot and we felt good about being there. The website had left me with a good feeling, but I was still a tad apprehensive about this adventure. I hate when animals are abused or exploited and don't want to be a part of the problem. All of my fears were laid to rest as soon as the tour began.

There were lots of big cats available for viewing, but they got to choose if they wanted to come down and say hi. Our tour guide was very informative and welcomed any and all questions. It was very apparent to me that all of the animals are loved and their well-being is of utmost importance to everyone who works and volunteers at the sanctuary.

Some animal attractions can leave you feeling sad for the animals, but these guys seem to have it pretty good. While many of them started out in sad situations, the sanctuary has made it their mission to give these guys the best care possible and the bonus is that visitors get to learn about and admire these beautiful animals! Highly recommended for educational and entertainment factors and I hope to return again some day!

What you need to know:

Our GPS had no trouble navigating the area. There was ample parking and a nice gift shop with restrooms. You'll want to take advantage of the restrooms before your tour starts, because there aren't any along the way.

Planning is essential because they are only open certain days of the week and there are no self-guided tours available. Only so many people are allowed on each tour so make sure to plan ahead if you have several people in your party.

There are several tours to choose from including a tram tour! Choose this option if mobility is an issue for you or someone in your group. Otherwise there is a lot of walking on non-paved paths. Good shoes are recommended, strollers are not!

Tours are conducted rain or shine. No refunds are given for rain so be sure to take a poncho and old/waterproof shoes.

Pictures are allowed and leashed dogs are permitted on the tours.

Additional Resources

Learn more about tigers here.

Create a tiger lapbook on this site.

Check your local library for the books below. If you decide to purchase, please use my links as I'm an Amazon Affiliate and using my links helps support my blog.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Branson, MO: Fritz's Family Adventures

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed straight over to Fritz's Adventure. We'd never heard of this attraction before, but it was recommended by several friends.

It turned out to be a great choice for us! We had such a blast here running, climbing, and exploring. The underground tunnels gave me a moment of sheer panic, but otherwise we all had a blast.

Ben and Luke scaled this wall pretty easily. Both were able to make it to the top in good time. I'm fairly certain Ben is part mountain goat. Luke did really well, too. He was a bit slower, but he still made it up in good time.

I didn't fare so well.

Heights aren't my favorite so I'm not sure why I decided to attempt this right off the bat, but Ben and Luke made it look downright easy. Since I'm shorter, it's more arm work for me and I have very little upper body strength. I got to this point and had to come down. I did end up climbing one of the poles. That still got my heart racing because of the height and sway, but it wasn't too physically challenging. Ben went on to do the even harder course to the right of this picture and he did it well!

We were worn out after a while so we did some shopping at the outlet mall. Then we had lunch and a nap. Our tickets to Fritz's were good for the entire day so we went back once we were refreshed.

The entire family had a blast on the ropes course. Gabe initially didn't want to do it, but he talked himself into it. He was cautious, but he did well. 

The cool thing about this ropes course is that you're locked into a track the entire time so there's no possibility of forgetting to secure your safeties or making a mistake. There are a whopping 5 levels for all ages and abilities, too! Little ones can join in without adults and teens feeling bored.

I was amazed at how Gabe's confidence grew. He eventually just went off and did his own thing and went on the zipline portion several times. I was so proud of him. He doesn't like heights at all and he's small and weak for his age. It was an enormous challenge for him.

Finally we were exhausted. Too tired to even eat, we headed back to the hotel to watch TV and relax before bedtime. It had been such a fun and challenging day! I'd say we more than got our money's worth at Fritz's Adventures and will definitely be returning in the future!

What you need to know:

Tickets are good for the entire day and you can come and go as you like so plan to get there early and make the most of it!

They really tried to provide something for all ages, but there are some weight/height restrictions on certain attractions so look into that before heading out.

There is a small cafe and a souvenir shop. Lockers are also available.

Wear comfortable clothes and tennis shoes! Unless you're sitting on the sidelines, you'll be climbing, crawling, and exploring the entire time!

Remember that there are no timed passes which can be both good and bad. If it's a busy day you might spend a lot of time waiting around!

Click the link at the beginning of this post to check out all they have to offer. There are some fun add-ons available seasonally.