Monday, March 31, 2008

Adventures in Nature

This past weekend I traveled to Bakersfield with the swim team that I coach each winter/spring. On our way, I noted the pretty decent showing of wildflowers in Cuyama Valley. I knew my girls would be particularly interested in these, so shared the news with them. They were elated!

Today, the girls and I ventured out on our own wildflower hunt after a morning of math and reading with Mom, map marking (capitals of states we've visited, locating relatives' homes, notating other geographic facts the girls already know about the U.S.), and science with Dad. My original intention was to take the paved road to Cuyama, a quick, simple adventure. But then, I saw some mustard on the nearby foothills, and decided to take the "shortcut" through Tepusquet Canyon (paved). We saw beautiful shows of purple lupine, orange poppies and something yellow that may or may not have been mustard, but they were too deep into private property for us to explore. So, I turned onto nearby (unpaved) Colson Canyon Road which leads into the forest. Surely, there would be wildflowers galore nearby.

Well, one thing led to another, and we ended up having a great ride through the forest with stops at some wildflower patches (Shooting Stars, Lupines, Poppies, Indian Paintbrush, Fiddlenecks, and a few we couldn't identify) and several shallow, rocky creek crossings. At one point, we met up with a guy on a quad. He assured me that the van wouldn't be able to make the "big, steep river crossings" ahead. Well, we never found whatever it was he was talking about. The crossings were never more than several inches deep, and always had very nice cobblestone bottoms with gently sloping entries and exits.

Using the GPS rather than the Forest Service map, well, we got lost! The GPS identified a forest service road as the Miranda Pine road we'd been looking for, so we made a lefty only to find (8 miles further down the road) that we were on the DEAD END Pine Road. So, back up the road we went 'til we found ourselves at our intended 'Y'!

We weren't really lost. We could always have turned back and gone the way we'd come, but we really didn't want to do that. And in the end, though it took us more time, we found camps we'd never seen before, found some great wildflower spots, enjoyed some stops along the creek. Now we hope to go back and camp there, if only for a night, in coming weeks.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

To trailer, or not to trailer...

Plans remain in the works for Dream Trip U.S.A. 2008, and the whole family is getting involved now. The trip has already worked its way into our geography, history and art lessons.

The most exciting news in recent weeks has been the offer of the use of a pop-up trailer for the trip. A co-worker offered up his trailer free of charge. It's not used often, but sits in his driveway. Loaning it to us would empty his driveway for a spell while perhaps providing us some added comfort. My mind has been reeling with the potential of it all (and the additional costs, more on that later).

Today we got to see the trailer for the first time. The 1994 Jayco is a tw0-axle behemoth weighing in at 2800 pounds (well under the 3500 pound max for the van). It sleeps 7, and includes more amenities that one could imagine a little box could manage. The idea of shelter from inclement weather (besides our tent) is compelling, but there are a variety of negatives to pulling it to. I'm still undecided, but tend to lean away from it at this point.

Positives
* we could stand out of the rain and wind while cooking
* the girls would have somewhere to stretch out and relax in inclement weather while I go about the daily business of packing, unpacking, cleaning and cooking
* the door, however, flimsy locks
* super easy to pop-up with its crank system
* no need to roll up bedrolls and completely pack kitchen, luggage, etc. away into boxes in back of van every day (there are storage cubbies in the trailer)
* cassette toilet for nighttime emergencies
* water heater and shower

Negatives
* reduced gas mileage (increased gas consumption = higher fuel bill)
* increased cost to camp at many spots where tent spots are less expensive than trailer spots
* challenge of hitching up the trailer every morning without a spotter (it has to be unhitched so the pop-out won't hit the car)
* reduced speed for pulling trailer means longer days on the road
* challenge of finding parking spots, particularly in big cities
* $400 just to get the hitch and related equipment installed on the van so we CAN pull the free trailer
* Time invested in getting the rig ready to roll, including repacking bearings and who knows what else we find

How would you weigh in on this decision?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

History lessons on the road

As those who know our family can attest, we tend to take our children's studies on the road, whether that be botany studies on local trails or long drives to historic points of interest. In 2005, we toured the Pacific Northwest with a heavy emphasis on Washington. Among the highlights: we visited the functioning interior of Chief Joseph Dam, met a Native American artist at the Grand Coulee Dam Visitors Center, learned about the salmon life cycle at Bonneville Dam, hiked to a glacier in Rainier National Park, held a mountain lion cub and fed a baby bear near Bandon, Oregon. In 2006, it was a trek through the Native American lands of southern Utah with particular attention to pictographs and points of geologic interest (Goblin Valley and Arches National Park, to name a pair).

Researching our own area, writing the book and then following up with its distribution and sales took up most of 2007, so it's certainly time to hit the road again. And Grandma has, once again, invited us to spend a week with her in Washington, so...of we go!

Though the plans are still in the works, this is basically what we've developed so far.

(ITINERARY UPDATED 6/12/2008)

DAY 1
Central Coast to Yuba City, CA
Stay with family
(370 miles)
DAY 2
to Lava Beds National Monument - camp
(297 miles)
DAY 3
Visit Lava Beds National Monument
Move on to Crater Lake area - camp
(100 miles)
DAY 4
Tour Coburg RV factory
Camp
(332 miles)
DAY 5
Visit Mission Mill Village
Tillamook (hotel = hot shower)
(102 miles)
DAY 6
Tour Tillamook Cheese factory
Long Beach Peninsula, WA (stay with Grandma & Grandpa D.)
(83 miles)
DAY 7-12Enjoy the peninsula
DAY 13Visit Multnomah Falls
Revisit Bonneville Dam
Tour Luhr-Jensen fishing lure factory
Camp
(206 miles)
DAY 14
Revisit Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, OR
See American Stonehenge @ Maryhill State Park
Tamastlikt Cultural Institute
Camp
(157 miles)
Day 15
Tour Pendleton Woollen Mill
Visit Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Lewis & Clark Trail State Park
Hell's Gate State Park - camp
(155 miles)
DAY 16
Hell's Gate State Park with day trips to Nez Perce National Park
Visit Lewiston, ID
Camp
(nominal mileage)
DAY 17
Tour Potlatch Paper Mill
Ant & Yellowjacket
Canoe Camp
Heart of the Monster
Lochsa Ranger Station
Camp - lots of options
(168 miles)
DAY 18
Hang out at camp, on river, fish, relax
camp
(0 miles)
DAY 20
Head to Glacier National Park via National Bison Range
Camp
(236 miles)
DAY 21-23
Remain at Glacier National Park
DAY 24
Glacier to Gates of the Mountains
Camp
(140 miles)
DAY 25
Ulm Pushkin State Monument
C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, MT
Hotel/Laundry
(93 miles)
DAY 26
White Cliffs
Dip our toes in near Missouri-Marias Confluence (mile 2343)
Camp
(100 miles or so)
DAY 27
Tour various points along this Lewis & Clark Route
Louis Toav's Tractor Museum
Camp - Fort Buford
(300 miles or so)
DAY 28
Visit Fort Buford State Historic Site
Visit Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site and nearby Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Center
Camp
(nominal mileage)
DAY 29
Visit Affiliated Tribes Museum, New Town, N.D.
Pit stop in Garrison for Wally Walleye
Visit Knife River Indian Village
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan
Fort Abraham Lincoln - Camp
(311 miles)
DAY 30
Visit Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (mile 3009)
Camp
DAY 31
Visit a variety of locations in Bismark, N.D. which may include:
Bismark Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Dakota Zoo
Riverboat ride
Keelboat Park
Return to camp
DAY 32
More of Bismarck
DAY 32 - Veering off Lewis & Clark Trail
Stop in to visit the World's Largest Cow (New Salem, ND...we're driving right by! Might as well stop!)
Visit Theodore Roosevelt Natl Park - Camp
(170 miles)
DAY 33
Remain at TRNP
DAY 35
Eat our sack lunch at Castle Rock, S.D., the geographic center of the 50 U.S. states
Visit Devils Tower National Monument - camp
(268 miles)
DAY 36
Visit Tatanka and the Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood, SD
Homestake Mining Museum, Lead, SD
Black Hills - camp
(184 miles)
DAY 37
Guernsey State Park - explore and camp
(100 miles)
Day 38
Explore Guernsey Park
(nominal mileage)
Day 39
Scott's Bluff National Monument
Fort Laramie
Return to camp
(142 miles)
Day 40
Move camp to Black Hills
(roughly 100 miles)
Day 41
Enjoy Rapid City including any of a number of attractions such as:
Sioux Pottery & Craft Center
Museum of Geology @ SD School of Miles
Sjyline Drive
Storybook Island Park
Black Hills Caverns
Black Hills Maze & Family Adventures
Reptile Garden
Flintstone Bedrock City Campground
DAY 42
Visit Wind Cave Visitor Center
Visit Mount Rushmore
Camp
DAY 43
Explore Black Hills
Custer State Park
Day 44-45
Visit Badlands National Park
Camp
(66 miles)
DAY 46
Visit Lakota Museum
Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD
Cruise through Manchester, S.D.
Camp
(284)
DAY 47-48
Visit De Smet, S.D. - Home of the Laura Ingals Wilder Society
Camp
DAY 49
Visit Spirit Mound State Park
Visit the Ice Cream Capital of the World!
Stone State Park - camp
(260 miles)
DAY 50 - Back on the Lewis & Clark Trail
Visit SGT Floyd River Museum, Sioux City, IA
Tour Fort Atkinson
Honey Creek State Park - Camp
(117 miles)
DAY 51
Visit Lewis & Clark Trail Headquarters in Omaha, NE
Return to camp
DAY 52
Visit Mayhew Cabin (John Brown's Cave)
Visit Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center
Homestead National Monument
Camp
(142 miles)
DAY 53
Visit Patee House Museum, St. Joseph, MO
Visit Fort Leavenworth
Amelia Aerhardt Museum
Camp
(166 miles)
DAY 54
Visit Frontier Army Museum
Visit Shawnee Indian Mission (mile 5297) and other Kansas City sites including Marion Park, 58th Ave Ruts and Minor Park
Blue Springs Park - camp
(105 miles)
DAY 55

Laura Ingalls Wilder Cabin Replica and other sites, Independence, MO
Visit Fort Osage Museum
National Frontier Trail Center
return to camp
Day 56
Picnic at Arrow Rock State Park (mile 5461)
Horeshoe Lake State Park - camp
(290 miles)
DAY 56-58 - End of the Lewis & Clark Trail
Visit various points in St. Louis such as:
Forest Park
St. Louis Zoo
Grant's Farm
Cahokia Mounds
Chain of Rocks Bridge
Museum of Westward Expansion/Gateway Arch
Science CenterBellfontaine Cemetery (where Clark was buried)
East Alton National Rivers Museum and Loks
Day 59
Tour Chrysler minivan plant
Pitstop/lunch at Purina Visitors Center and petting farm
Meramec State Park
Camp
(96 miles)
DAY 60
Visit Wilder home & museum in Mansfield, MO (mile 5907)
Visit Wilsons Creek National Battlefield (mile 5962)
Visit George Washington Carver National Monument (mile 6031)
Twin Bridges State Park - camp
(125 miles)
DAY 61
Travel along the Trail of Tears
Visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Route 66 sites
Oklahoma City - hotel
(196 miles)
DAY 62
Visit Omniplex Science Museum
Route 66 sites
Foss State Park - camp
(107 miles)
Day 63
American Quarter Horse Heritage Center, Amarillo, TX (mile 6538)
Visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Camp
(201 miles)
DAY 64
Visit Bandelier National Monument
Camp
(410 desert miles)
DAY 65
Explore Bandelier
same camp
Day 66
Visit Chaco Canyon (aka Chaco Cultural Reserve)
Red Rock State Park - Camp
(219 miles)
DAY 67
Visit Arrive Petrified Forest National Park (mile 7270)
Meteor Crater
Camp
(218 miles)
Day 68
Visit Wupatki National Monument
same Camp
DAY 69
Visit Walnut Canyon National Monument
Lowell Observatory, Flastaff, AZ
Play in Colorado River; Dinner with Kirque
Camp
(233 miles)
DAY 70
Arrive Home

SUMMARY (as calculated by mapping software):
Driving distance: 8529 miles
Trip duration: 70 days
Driving time: 173 hours
Fuel Cost: $1,984.90

Education History

I've been reading a bit about the history of education in the U.S., and I find it interesting that the Puritans were the first to really push it. Why? Because if you couldn't read the Bible, Satan would getcha!

Here's a cool link to info on the first education law in the country (Massachusetts Education Law of 1642). The INTENT of that law is, I think, what homeschooling parents strive to do: help them become literate, functioning members of our society (and then some).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Constitution, Family Rights and Homeschooling

Well, if you haven't already heard, recently a court ruled that parents do not have a Constitutional right to educate their own children, to "homeschool." What does the ruling mean to homeschooling families? Only the future will tell. But for now, it's quite disconcerting as we've greatly enjoyed and benefited from the private schooling we provide our children.

I've delayed writing about this due to fear that we'd be "caught" homeschooling. But it's not as if we keep our homeschooling practices a secret, and we're already on the state's list since we filed all the appropriate paperwork as prescribed by the Education Code. With so much misinformation out there in Medialand, I just can't let the matter slip any more.

First of all, I didn't really start out as a strong homeschooling advocate. In fact, when I met my first family of homeschoolers I told myself I would NEVER "do that to my children." But then I met lots of other homeschooling families, and saw the myriad options for educational choice provided by a program tailored for so few students in a "class." As education reporter for the local paper, I had PLENTY of opportunity to witness the great things, and the weak spots, in local education, both public and private. In the end, it was our joy in raising our own children that led us to keep them "home." (We aren't really locked in the house, as so many people envision of homeschoolers. The girls and I volunteer at the local natural history museum where we run storytime, we take regular field trips to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities, and both girls are involved in dance, gymnastics and swimming.)

With our way of life threatened, I find myself becoming quite an outspoken advocate for homeschooling, and sharing our stories where ever possible. How do we homeschool? What amazing things have our children been able to do that, without a doubt, they would not have been able to do otherwise? Why do we homeschool? How do we organize our days? These are all questions I've been answering as people aware of the latest news pull me aside in the grocery store, at the girls' gym or on the pool deck.

For clarification, the state does provide for private schooling which does NOT require credentialed teachers. (Ed. Code 48222. Children who are being instructed in a private full-time day school by persons capable of teaching shall be exempted.) Our children attend one such school, and while we aren't required to take the state standardized testing, we do base our studies on the state's standards. We typically complete the prescribed work within the first 4-6 weeks of school, then move forward, filling our hours with work well into the next grades, or going into depth on subjects of particular interest to our girls.

It's too bad this case has gone so far. It stemmed from YEARS of alleged abuse, a bad argument by the family's lawyer, and the resulting sweeping decision. (Since when does a broad brush really cover all the nooks n' crannies?) The judge makes some specious arguments, not the least of which is that by sending children to public school they'll be safe. (Go ahead, click THIS link to today's latest news headlines regarding safety in our schools.)

As for the history of education in America, I found a great website with some really interesting information. It seems the Puritans started organized education in America in an effort to ensure everyone could read the Bible, thereby protecting the masses from Evil. In 1642, the Massachusetts Education Law required that children be educated in basic literacy (reading and writing). It did NOT state that a SCHOOL must be used.

According to Amy L. Matzat's article on the site: "The idea behind this, once again, was that if all citizens could understand the written language on some basic level, all citizens would be able to understand and therefore, abide by the governing laws of the land. At this point in time there was no concept of a formal school as we know it today; it was understood that each person would be educated enough to meet the individual needs of their station in life and social harmony would be that much closer. Who better to educate their children than their parents? The law did state, however, that should the above mentioned parents and masters grow lax in their responsibility and their children not be able to meet basic criteria it would be the government's right to remove the child from the home and place him or her in a place where he or she could receive adequate instruction."

I do believe we're doing a good job with our children. They are more that sufficiently literate for their tender years. Not only do they read and write, but they're beginning to THINK for themselves. They're social, they're active, they're involved in their community, and they love learning. What more can we ask?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Math Assessment

Some homeschoolers opt to work with local school districts, buy packaged curriculum or find help from any number of sources. I find a lot of my help online through a wide variety of agencies including (but certainly not limited to) the state's department of education. While we currently homeschool, there's no telling what the future will bring, so I keep an eye on state standards. I rest assured that, if/when our girls attend the modern traditional school, they won't be caught off guard.

On that note, this week I printed out the California math standards assessment for third grade and first grade. (The grades they would start next fall.) Each day, the girls are work their way through a little more of the 1/4-ream of paper the assessment requires, and I take notes on the areas that need work, and the new (to them, so far) concepts. I don't grade the assessment or give a score (though V will do just about any amount of math in exchange for a unique smiley face), but use it as a tool to help me see where we may have been lacking. Still, I remind myself that we're looking at NEXT year's grade level, and I remind them, too.

With the help of one of the sisters, I discovered some holes in the older girls' language arts skills. While we've covered a lot of spelling through our various activities, it never occurred to me to go over the spelling of colors and numbers! Since the oldest one can read just about anything now, it seemed a given that she'd have these basic words down. Well, a quick review over the course of a couple of days took care of it...I think. ;)

So, what's up with us in coming weeks? Well, our interactive history lessons will kick up a notch. During our Stone Age lessons, we built cave dioramas in our garden, learned to build fire (and just how tough that could be if you let your coals die out), began making pottery and built a bow & arrow. The girls made their own simple dresses, and the oldest went on a bear hunt. As we discussed Ancient Times, we visited museums with ancient wares still in amazingly fantastic condition, but with avid readers, we fell out of our hands-on tradition a bit more than any of us liked. So, stay tuned for news about our Medieval Adventures as we march forward in time.

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