Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Arches National Park, UT

Arches National Park boasts many wonderful sights including natural arches and interesting rock formations, but for me, the thing that will always stand out most was the intense, saturated color. The fiery orange of the landscape set against the crisp blue of the sky with bursts of colorful flowers scattered about, was almost overwhelming to my senses. I'll never forget it!



What You Need to Know

Like most National Parks, there's so much that can be done here: camping, backpacking, and the like. Be sure to check the website for all the possibilities! You could certainly spend a week or more just exploring and taking it all in. For us, though, we found it to be a great day stop on our Grand Canyon loop trip. You'd be surprised at how much you can see in just a few hours!






The entrance and Visitor's Station is at the Southern most part of the park. Spend some time in the Visitor's Center, check in with a Ranger, and then consider walking the Nature Trail to learn more about the flora you'll encounter in the park.

You can get an idea of the trails ahead of time. There are many easy, short trails along the driving route and lots of picture-taking and overlook areas, too. If you have plenty of time, definitely consider one of the longer, more difficult trails!

There are bathrooms scattered throughout the park, but there are not any restaurants. Be sure to take snacks and plenty of water.






Most of the trails are safe, but rough so strollers won't work well.

Remind kiddos to stick to the marked paths. With so much open space and rocks to climb, it's very tempting to want to go off-path. However, there are many delicate ecosystems that need us to look out for them.

For safety precautions, click here.

Check out some of the Ranger-led programs prior to setting out. Personally, I think stargazing at Arches would be amazing!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yosemite National Park, CA

Imposing granite mountains, lush greenery, roaring waterfalls, and towering trees - Yosemite National Park in California has it all! It's no wonder this destination consistently makes the top 10 national parks destinations and boasts around 4 million visitors every year.

Mountain Trio


What You Need to Know

Due to busyness in the summer and road closures during the Fall, Spring, and Winter, finding just the right window to visit is important. We went in mid May and it was pretty much perfect. There were a couple of road closures, but it was mainly for the more remote areas of the park that will be of greater interest to serious campers and hikers. It didn't impact us at all.

For lodging, we decided to stay in Evergreen Lodge, which is in very close proximity to the park. There are also lodging and camping options within the park itself, but they can fill up very quickly. Of course, you can always stay outside the park, as well, but it adds to the drive time every day. I cannot recommend Evergreen enough. The restaurant was stellar, our cabin was the perfect blend of rustic charm and comfort, and there were lots of neat bonuses such as the game room and the natural playground.

Evergreen Lodge Playground


As for food, we ate at our lodge restaurant twice a day and in the park for lunch. As per our usual, we took snacks and water with us for the in between times. HOWEVER, it's important to note that bears are a very real threat at Yosemite so it's not recommended you keep food in your car! Take only the snacks you can keep on you and leave the rest back in your room.

Check the park website for updated information on transportation. There are shuttles servicing some areas of the park. Since it wasn't busy when we went, we preferred to drive ourselves. This worked very well for us for the time of year we went. Another thing to note about transportation - larger vehicles such as RVs are limited as to where they can go due to the steep and narrow roads.

As with many of the larger national parks, Yosemite can easily occupy you for a week. But, if you only have a day or two it's still absolutely worth a visit! I'd recommend concentrating on Yosemite Valley. Start at the Visitor's Center and check in with a ranger for up-to-date info on closures or warnings. Rangers are also great for giving recommendations!

We spent the day working our way around the loop. After the Visitor's Center, we hiked Lower Yosemite Falls, then Mirror Lake, and finally Bridalveil Falls. If you follow the loop around, you'll find lots of pull-outs for picture-taking opportunities. We ate lunch in the valley since everything there is nice and close.

Bridalveil Falls


Covered Bridge


Mirror Lake


Mirror Lake Trail

Yosemite Falls

Day 2 was supposed to be devoted to the Southern portion of the park, Mariposa Grove, but it was absolutely pouring. Mariposa Grove is known for it's sequoias, but since we were planning on visiting Sequoia National Park anyway, we decided to cut our losses and head on out to get away from the rain.

Additional Resources

Learn about the Jr. Ranger booklet requirements here.

More NPS resources here.

National Park lesson plans here, courtesy of PBS.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Badlands National Park, SD

Don't let it's ominous name put you off - the Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, is a wonderful way to spend a day! Merely driving through this picturesque park is a delightful experiences with lovely overlooks and vistas - and the occasional animal sighting - but add in the many family-friendly trails and boardwalks and it makes for a great adventure.

First view of the Badlands


As with most national parks, you could certainly spend more time here, but if one or two days is all you have to spare, it's still very much worth a visit! We arrived at about 11 and left before sundown. We saw a great deal of the Northern portion of the park and felt we had ample time to experience and enjoy what it had to offer.

What You Need to Know

There are multiple entrances to the park, but I'd recommend starting off at the Ben Reifel Visitor's Center. You can learn about the park there and check in with the park rangers to learn about closures or updates.



There are multiple short trails to explore and lots of overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road. Door Trail, Window Trail, Cliff Shelf, Saddle Pass, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail are all half a mile or so. The Notch Trail is longer and more strenuous, but it involves a ladder, which is a lot of fun for kids.

Saddlepass Trail

Window Trail

Short boardwalk trail


Keep an eye out for Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and don't be surprised if you see other wildlife scattered throughout the park. We saw lots of bison and some sheep!





Consider picking up a booklet at the Visitor's Center so your kiddos can earn their Jr. Ranger badge. This badge requires participation in a ranger-led activity OR viewing the movie so leave some time for that! For something different, consider picking up a GPS activity booklet.

Overlook


As for food and lodging, there is a campground and a lodge (operating seasonally) inside the park. Be sure to check online for hours and availability. Otherwise, the nearby town of Wall has food and lodging. We ate breakfast in Wall and then packed a lunch and lots of snacks (and lots and lots of water!!) to tide us over during our day in the Badlands.

590 West

Storms can pop up quickly in the park, so sneak a peek at the weather before you head out for the day. We did have a storm blow through while we were there, but it came and went and didn't slow us down, thankfully. Apparently they can be vicious with lots of lightening, so be mindful of that possibility.

Additional Resources

The Badlands National Park offers several unique educational opportunities. The first is distance learning. The second is the ability to teleconference with a park ranger! This would probably have to be done as a part of a group, so if you're a part of a co-op, it might be worth looking into! Last, but not least, consider printing off this scavenger hunt checklist at home to be completed at the park.

For further resources, Enchanted Learning has a short lesson and printout featuring a prairie dog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The Grand Canyon is an iconic vacation spot for good reason. It's truly one of those breathtaking views that cannot be adequately captured on camera or film and each vantage point offers a different perspective. I cannot think of a better way to spend time than wandering through nature, marveling at staggering beauty.

First view of the Grand Canyon


Like many National Parks, you could find enough to do here to spend an entire week - there's a bounty of trails and programs. However, we covered most of it in two days and felt that was adequate time to capture the essence of the Grand Canyon.

The park is divided into two main sections - the North Rim and the South Rim. If you're planning a family vacation, you're focus will probably be the South Rim. The North Rim is pretty remote and has little to offer in the way of amenities. 

The park can further be divided between the right, towards Hermit's Rest, and the left, toward Desert View Dr. During our trip, we spent the first day exploring the Visitor's Center, which is about dead center, and then we followed the trail along the rim toward's Hermit's Rest. On day 2, we drove down Desert View Drive ending at the Desert View Watchtower.

Bird watching near Hermit's Rest



What You Need to Know

There is a shuttle system that will get you all the way down to Hermit's Rest in the one direction, and partly down Desert View Drive, in the other. We went during the off season and were surprised at how quickly the shuttles filled. We decided to mainly walk the trail down to Hermit's rest, taking the shuttle now and then between the longer stops, and then took the shuttle for the return trip back to the parking lot. On day 2, we skipped the shuttle altogether, opting instead to drive ourselves since the shuttles don't go all the way down Desert View Drive. Be sure to check before you go to be sure of shuttle operations and road closures specific to the time of year you'll be visiting.



Be on the lookout for ranger-led programs! We attended one right off the bat and it was a great way to learn more about the park! My kiddos are both readers, but even they can only pay so much attention to an endless array of placards - there's just something more engaging about a live person, and an expert no less.

Elk!


The Grand Canyon also has Jr. Ranger booklets! For those who are interested in attaining a badge, this Jr. Ranger program requires children to participate in a ranger-led program, so plan accordingly.

The park now has a mobile app! Check it out and download it before you leave home.

The Watchtower

Far-off view of the Watchtower


For food and lodging, check the website for the most up-to-date information. Tusayan, a small community about 7 miles South of the park, has some options. We stayed in Williams, which is about an hour from the park. It had lots of food and lodging options and some interesting Route 66-related activities and stores. For both days, we ate breakfast in Williams, ate lunch at one of the Grand Canyon restaurants or snack shops, and then headed back to Williams for dinner, surviving off of our own snacks and water in between times.

Unique rock formations. 


You can hike down into the canyon, but it's tenuous and takes a lot of time - the better part of the day. Our boys were 8 and 11 when we went and even though it was May, it was hot. We decided against that particular hike, but it's certainly worth considering if you have teens and everyone is in good physical condition.

Overall, this is probably a trip better suited to bigger kiddos and teens, but little ones can certainly be accommodated, it just might be more work for mom and dad - lots of stamina and a watchful eye. The paths were all in good condition and might work for a very rugged stroller, but carriers will be your best bet here.

Tusayan Ruins
With so much to see and do in the world, I don't often find myself longing to return to a place I've already been, but the Grand Canyon has found a place on that list. I'd love to return when my boys are older teens or adults and hike into the canyon with them and maybe raft on the Colorado river. But no matter when you go or what you're able to do - or not do - you'll be sure to remember the sheer beauty and grandeur that is the Grand Canyon National Park.

Additional Resources

The park offers 2 free lesson plans! One on Geology in National Parks, and another on Stratigraphic Column Formation. In addition, browse through these "distance learning" resources for all ages!

Check out the books below or purchase them through my Amazon Affiliate links.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Epcot World Showcase, Orlando, FL

Educational opportunities abound in Epcot, but the World Showcase cannot be beat for it's unique mix of culture, education, and fun. There are so many elements to delight the senses - the architecture, food, performances, and more. I've been many times and always notice something new.

The World Showcase features 11 countries. Everything is carefully modeled after the country it represents, and the Cast Members in each section are natives of that country! It's the millions of details that really draws you in and creates such a rich, immersive experience.

What You Need to Know

The 11 countries represented are:

Mexico
Norway
China
Germany
Italy
The American Adventure
Japan
Morocco
France
United Kingdom
Canada

The countries, or "pavilions" are arranged in a circle and you can start in either Mexico or Canada and work your way around from either side - there's no wrong way to start. There are themed restaurants and food kiosks in each section The gift shops offer unique wares, too, with most countries having additional shops geared toward something that country might be known for - perfumes in France, tea in the UK, etc. Also, there are also unique performances and shows sprinkled throughout.

For example, in Mexico you can enjoy the sounds of a Mariachi band, and learn about Dia de los Muertos. In Norway, be on the lookout for the Stave Church Gallery which features history on Norse Gods. The Dragon Legends Acrobats perform throughout the day in China. Prepare to ooh and ahh over the miniature train replica of The Romantic Road in Germany. Master juggler, Sergio, will awe you in Italy. Get a refresher in American history at The American Experience, and stay to hear the Voice of Liberty acappella group. Japan will enthrall you with the strength and precision of the Taiko drummers. Drop into the Gallery of Arts and History, and grab a coffee at the Tangerine Cafe in Morocco. France offers fantastic treats of all kinds, and a lovely show, Impressions of France. Snap a photo in an iconic red photo booth in the U.K. And last, but not least, the live music shows in Canada are fantastic and not to be missed.

As you can see, there are so many things to see, do, and eat! But there's more!

Each pavilion offers Kidcot stations where kids can drop in and meet a Cast Member from that particular country. They'll do a small art project and fill in a spot in their passport. The opportunity to meet and speak with a native is pretty awesome - kids can hear the language and get answers to whatever questions they may have!

Since there's so much to see and do, you'll want to decide ahead of time if you want to breeze through each section to hit the highlights, or really immerse yourself in a handful of pavilions. You can visit the website prior to arrival, and download the My Disney app to get up-to-the-minute info while you're in the park.

Voice of Liberty Acappella 

Toe-tappingly good music in Canada

Beautiful China



PB&J Funnel Cake in The American Experience

A spicy dumpling in China

An eclair in France

Germany

The model train in Germany

The gondolas in Italy

Italian architecture

Mexico - there's a ride, a restaurant, and a gift shop inside!

Inside the Mexican pyramid

Fantastic Mexican music.

The Tangerine Cafe in Morocco. Good food and excellent coffee.

The Stave Chapel - Norse Gods and Mythology museum

Lovely Norwegian architecture.


Another thing I wanted to mention is that Epcot hosts several festivals throughout the year. We've been during the International Flower and Garden Festival, the International Food and Wine Festival, and now the Festival of the Arts. Personally, I've never felt like the festivals add or detract much to the experience - I wouldn't plan around one either way, but I thought I'd mention it.

Be sure to check out a crowd tracker like such as this one at Magic Guides. You can get a sense of how busy the park will be and when. The Disney calendar is also very helpful to see the park hours on any given day and any events that are scheduled.

For planning, Disney's website is a must. It will give you up-to-date information on all attractions and you can make reservations, if needed.

Last, but not least, Disney has a ton of resources to help you - whether it's trip planning or accommodating special needs. Check out the website first, but if you still have any unanswered questions, hop on over to the Mom's Panel OR call guest services.


Additional Resources:


Tons of great info here from The Sparrows Home, including links to other resources. Her book is available on kindle for free right now or you can get one from her site! Be sure to sign up for her email list - there's a wealth of info on her book's site!

If you're completely overwhelmed, consider booking a tour through Traveling Homeschoolers. I haven't booked with them, but I've been following them for a few years and everything seems very well done.

The World Showcase, just like a single vacation to any one country, can never fully capture what each culture has to offer, but it can give a glimpse into the differences, and more importantly, the similarities between far-off places and people. Hopefully, a new appreciation will be gained and a curiosity will be sparked that will lead to better understanding of the world around us.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney




Sunday, February 9, 2020

Forbes Lists of 25 Best Places to Travel in US

Trying to plan your 2020 vacation? It's not too late! Forbes just released a list of their recommended top 25 vacation spots. 


  • New Orleans, LA
  • Vail, CO
  • Memphis, TN
  • Greenville, SC
  • Orlando, FL
  • Sun Valley, ID
  • Indiana
  • Martha's Vineyard
  • Key West, FL
  • St. Louis, MO
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Scottsdale, AZ
  • Redding and the Shasta Cascades, CA
  • Denver, CO
  • Southern Utah
  • Lake Tahoe, CA
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • McCall, ID
  • Philadelphia
  • Miami, FL
  • Puerto Rico
  • Plymouth, MA
  • LA, CA
  • The Ozarks

I was pretty stoked to see St. Louis on the list! We live about half an hour from downtown and know firsthand how much there is to see and do. It's full of very family-friendly places as far as attractions go - and so many are FREE! I'll definitely be highlighting more local experiences on the blog, so check back!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Sloss Furnace, Birmingham, AL

Every new place offers a unique experience, but every now and then we stumble upon something that is completely unexpected. Sloss Furnace is a perfect example and was the uncontested highlight of one of our family vacations. Visiting a historic iron furnace facility was one of those experiences that we never knew we always wanted - and one we'll never forget!


Add caption

Most of your time will be spent exploring the grounds in a self-guided tour, but there is a visitor's center that does a great job of explaining the history of Sloss and how the industry impacted the area. All of the areas and equipment are explained so students better understand the process.


Be sure to stop in here!


As a home educator, this is the type of thing that, frankly, I'd never think to focus on and wouldn't be able to teach in a memorable way. I'm always appreciative of experiences that bring history and industry to life and highly recommend this tour. Plus, it's just plain fun!



Monkeying around


Super creepy tunnel to explore


What You Need to Know

Check the website ahead of time to be certain of visiting hours. Weddings, concerts, and other special events are sometimes held here.

When it comes to safety....you're sort of on your own. There are certainly some places that are roped off and clearly marked to warn visitors away, but there's a lot that can be climbed and explored. Also, there's just a lot of rusty metal all around. Supervision is definitely warranted here.

Most of the paths are gravel and there are some steps and uneven floors/ground. Strollers and wheel chairs won't work well here. There's a lot of walking. Wear comfortable shoes!

Be sure to check out the bonus nighttime tour and the photography class offered. I think either one would be amazing for teens!

Additional Resources

Sloss's website has some good info to read ahead of time. It will all be covered in the Visitor's Center, but why not save some time?

Check out this short, but informative article about the history of iron and steel from ThoughtCo. Depending on how interested your kiddos are on the topic, there is a whole host of related articles on that site, including this one on the history of the Industrial Revolution.

This lapbook about the Industrial Revolution, from In the Hands of a Child, looks great! It's for grades 5th-10th. I did't purchase it, but I did download and review the preview and it looks well worth the cost.

Check your local library for the books below, but should you choose to purchase, please use my links. As a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, every purchase helps support my blog.

Lyddie is a fantastic book that showcases child labor in industry. I read it as an adult and loved it. Bonus: your child may never complain about chores again!

The Industrial Revolution for Kids is informational and includes suggested projects and activities to help bring the lessons to life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Ho'okena Beach Park, Big Island, HI

Sometimes it's nice to visit a well-known and populated beach - they usually have lifeguards, restrooms, and other assorted amenities. Other times, it's really nice to find an out-of-the-way spot that's quiet and low-key. Ho'okena Beach Park was that place for us.



What You Need to Know

Getting to this off-the-beaten-path beach is half the adventure. Googlemaps got us there just fine, but the twisty, narrow roads and lack of signage kept me holding my breath until we finally pulled into the parking lot. 

While this is a campground, we mainly saw locals here. Several were fishing - one with a spear! It was too cold and the waters were rough, but we enjoyed the salt-and-pepper sand and had fun exploring the rocky shoreline.







There are restrooms, a small parking lot, picnic tables, and a concession stand for snack foods and beach rentals. 

Swimming and snorkeling are allowed here, but the general consensus seems to be that the waters can be rough and the undertow is strong, so be forewarned!

Additional Resources

Fun printables from Simple Everyday Mom.

Impressive range of lessons from NOAA.

Check your local library for the following resources or click on the links to purchase. As a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, any purchase you make through my links helps to support my blog.