Our family is planning a vacation to Wyoming and South Dakota this summer. So, why am I talking about homeschooling? Because we are doing unit studies and reading books about those two states and different places, people, animals, plants, etc. in preparation for our trip. We are learning a little history, geography, science, math and such to help make our experience more exciting. You can do this, too. All it takes is a little time searching the internet and ordering free travel guides, a trip to the library and perhaps ordering a couple of books to take along for fun. I found that this really gets the kids more excited about the trip, creates conversations along the road that might not have happened otherwise and helps create opportunities for further learning as we travel. Plus, it is so fun when the kids can say, “Hey, I read about this before we came!”
To begin the process, I look into what is available from each individual state we will travel through. Each state offers a free travel guide that can be either downloaded from the internet or mailed to you in hard copy form. These usually include a state map and a guide to all the places, people, things and entertainment available in the state. Many will also include brochures or flyers for specific locations if requested. Some states also have searchable websites with information on local attractions, calendars of events and details about specific items of interest. I find these sites most helpful as a place to begin. Plus, my kids love getting stuff in the mail.
I have also learned to search on the internet using the name of the state and the word FREE to find local attractions and learning opportunities that cost very little to no money. This often leads us to find diamonds in the rough, like a train museum in Alabama that ended up being a major highlight of our trip. Local museums lend themselves to learning about local culture and history in a way that books and the internet can not. Being able to see, discuss and sometimes touch items from the past makes learning come to life and creates amazing memories.
Our lessons always begin with geography by learning where each state is in reference to where we are now. Last summer, in preparation for our trip to Alabama, we learned the location of states that we would pass through on our way there, all the states that surround Alabama, the names of major waterways we would encounter and a LOT about the Gulf of Mexico. For this trip, we are going to get out the maps and plan our route from Nebraska to South Dakota and over into Wyoming, keeping in mind that there are several major places we want to see along the way. We will talk about state capitals, population, typical crops and animals raised in those areas, plus rivers and lakes, mountains and mountain passes we will cross as we travel.
Math lessons can include calculating distances and travel times for each day. It can also include figuring out how old a particular site is, how long ago a battle was fought there, etc. I plan to talk about acreage and miles as compared to metric measurements of the same kind. Conversions of kmph to mph and such can be done with the older kids. We can calculate driving times at 55 mph, 65 mph and 75 mph. Calculating estimated gas mileage, costs for gas, lodging and food can also lead to stimulating discussions. Creating a time and money budget makes a good economics lesson.
Science can be included in several ways, but our favorites are rocks, trees, flowers, birds, and wild animals. We find out about local flora, fauna and natural attractions that we may encounter. For example, we plan to visit Yellowstone National Park. So, one of our science lessons will include things about geysers, mud pots, earthquakes, hot springs, the color of minerals in water, etc. We will also learn about buffalo, elk, deer, grizzlies, black bears, marmots, moose, ground squirrels, eagles, hawks, mountain goats, and several other animals we may encounter along the way, plus their habitats and food sources. I plan to dig up one of my son’s favorite books called “Who Pooped in the Park?”, a reference book about using animal droppings and scat to identify animals that have been in the area. Who knew that stinky stuff on the ground could be so educational? In South Dakota, we hope to make a stop at Wind Cave. So, some of our science lessons will include cave uses, formation, terminology, flora and fauna, etc. We also hope to make a stop in Thermopolis, Wyoming where there are natural hot springs to swim in and a dinosaur dig to explore. That may lead us into lessons on dinosaurs, specifically the ones they are finding in Thermopolis.
History lessons can be tailored for each state, as well. Because there is SO much that we could cover, I plan to stick with the general history of how the state joined the union, perhaps an episode of “How the States Got Their Shapes”, if there is one about the states where we are headed, and anything that I know my kids will find intriguing. The majority of my focus will be on the history of several of the places we plan to visit. On our list is Mount Rushmore (which could lead into a lesson on each of the presidents on the mountain), Devil’s Tower, and Yellowstone National Park. We also plan to make a stop at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming and the tiny local museum in my home town. Both are great resources for getting kids excited about history and making it more personal to them.
Reading lessons can include both fiction and non-fiction resources about characters, people and events that take place in the locations we plan to visit. If we have time, I hope to read to my kids some of the writings of Lewis and Clark, some fiction and non-fiction stories about Buffalo Bill Cody and books about the different places and animals we hope to see.
There are also art and music lessons to be added, if there is sufficient time and interest. Old cowboy songs, state songs and music from composers who lived in these specific states are on the list. Art lessons can include drawing scenes from Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Devil’s Tower. (We may also sculpt some things out of mash potatoes if I remember to get it on the list!) Photography discussion and instruction about the proper use of a camera and how to take good pictures is also on the list.
One of the things I have recently learned is that many libraries have video resources available for borrowing. Our library has DVDs about Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, buffalo, and several other topics that relate to our studies. Taking the time to make popcorn and sit down to watch a video together can be lots of fun. The stories, music and pictures add another dimension to the learning and interest!
This is also a great opportunity, if you have not already done so, to introduce your children to the library. It is important the kids learn to use the library, not only for finding pleasure reading, but for doing research. The internet is a great resource, but I have found that my kids do much better and absorb more information when they have a tangible book in their hands. Most librarians are happy to schedule a time to teach a brief lesson on using the library or there are books in most libraries that provide information on how to use the library. (I find that worth a chuckle.)
Just because it is summer does not mean learning has to end. In fact, this is a chance to make learning even more exciting and garner enthusiasm for your trip by making the places you will visit come to life through books and research. You can spend a little or nothing to accomplish your learning goals.