Homeschool Road Trip

Back Home to Texas

Last week our family enjoyed a homeschool road trip across Texas. It’s been twelve years since I moved away from Dallas. And it’s been seven years since I last visited the state I grew up in.

Business meetings lured me back. I don’t like to be away from my family so I took them with me. We left days in advance of my meetings so we could take our time driving and enjoy the beaches along the way. In between meetings, we drove up and down Texas eating barbeque.

texas-bbqWe ate our way through Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Boy, we sure do love Texas brisket and ribs.

Jack and Eli are good travelers, yet a seventeen hour road trip did require some entertainment. We bought each of the boys their own personal video player and hit the library just before take-off to load up on movies. We found the coolest travel Spirograph for some smooth-road crafting. And we found Minecraft Activity Book 3! Sweet.

However, the coolest car game we found was so simple, yet the boys LOVED it. Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kids. I mean we always play I-Spy and the license plate game, but there was something about this cute little $7.25 card set that had the boys asking for it almost every leg of the trip.

Huh, who knew?


We stopped at Gulf Shores, Alabama for the first leg of the trip. My husband found a nice little Microtel near the beach. The boys woke early to find it raining outside. No matter. The Microtel serves free waffles for breakfast. Who can be upset when your belly is full of waffles?

The rain continued and we decided to go for it. We were the only souls romping in the ocean that day. A steady bit of cold rain fell from the sky. We didn’t care. It was glorious to run across the soft white sand into warm, clear blue water. Which surprised me! I didn’t think you got clear blue water on the Gulf, but we did. Jack and I stayed in the longest. We liked the huge waves that hit us as we tried to remain standing.

That same afternoon, we headed over to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial. The ship is amazing. The boys didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the whole thing, but I sure did. As we climbed farther and farther down into the belly of the ship, I became light headed at the thought of living down there, let alone surviving a war. The ship is quite interactive and the boys were able to lie down in bunks made from chain and steel pipe, pull out a swivel stool to “eat” in the galley, and jump behind bars in the brig.

reunion-towerNext came a long, and exhausting drive to Dallas. We spent the first couple of days visiting family. Scott had scoped out some history attractions so we spent a ridiculous amount of money to go up inside Reunion Tower.  Scott didn’t tell me how much it cost until after the tour was over. I almost died. However, it did have this great interactive computer that the boys could manipulate to learn about the various historical sites and landmarks around the city. That was cool. Jack experimented with it for some time. Eli preferred to play with the interactive light show where he could make the lights of Reunion Arena change colors, lol.dave-busters

I wasn’t sure if they were ready for it, but we also walked over to Dealey Plaza where the boys learned about President John F. Kennedy. It was sobering to share that point in history and actually stand on the grassy knoll.

It was also hotter than heck so we left in favor of eating…more BBQ

The coup de grace in Dallas was Dave and Busters. Growing up in Dallas, Dave and Busters was a pretty standard thing for a kid to do. Jack and Eli went nuts. Of course, grandparents, aunts and uncles were on hand to keep their game card filled with tokens. We played until we all lost our minds.

 


Our next stop was Austin. Scott navigated us to  Fossil Rim Wildlife Park on the way.  For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Feeding zebras and giraffe right out of your hand is pretty darn cool.

fossil-rim-giraffe

In Austin, we decided to check out Innerspace Caverns. On the outside, it appears way too touristy. Yet, it was delightfully educational and informative. Jack and Eli were the only kids on the tour and they loved it. Of course, they kept asking the tour guide if they could possibly try to mine any ores (Minecraft style, of course), but she was wise to the ways of Minecraft and instead chatted intelligently to them about their favorite game. I have never seen cuter bats in my life, btw. Wow, the tiny 3 inch bats are like fuzzy, upside down hamsters and when they fly you think you’re seeing a hummingbird.

Last on our list was Houston. Short, but sweet Houston was a blast. After some confusion over which hotel we had actually booked (who knew there are THAT many Sheraton’s located close together?), we got ourselves settled. The boys played in the swimming pool while I took an Uber to my morning meeting. There was no way I wanted to drive in Houston traffic. Geez.

Then we set off for the Houston Space Center. Jack was in heaven. He’s a big space nut and the kid literally read every sign and placard in the place. He also volunteered to be the test astronaut on the space station. That was cute. He got to experience sleeping vertically, the tight quarters of a toilet, and keeping food Velcroed to his leg. Pretty cool.

houston-space-center-jack

Happy kids means happy homeschooling and I wouldn’t mind another homeschooling road trip soon. The boys were excited each and every day, they cooperated swimmingly, I got to do my work in the car using my cell phone as a hot spot, which meant loads of mommy time to enjoy with Jack and Eli. I feel like an Airstream may be in our future…

How do you homeschool on the road? Leave a tip or comment below so we can all learn from each other!

Happy homeschooling,

Kate

PS: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links which means the Homeschool Helpdesk gets a small bit of compensation should you decide to click those links. Thanks in advance for your support in this way!

Homeschool Kids in Colombia Part II

Bottle caps and Taxis: What More Could a Kid Need?

Kids run to a taxi in Medellin, ColombiaIt’s been two weeks since we arrived home from our two-week trip to Colombia. Guess what I hear almost every day?

“Mom, I want to go back to Colombia…can we please go again next week?”

That surprises me! Usually my kids enjoy our yearly vacation to the Georgia mountains, yet after four or five days they are ready to come home. So what’s so special about Colombia? As my five-year old puts it, “They’ve got bottle caps and taxis.”

Ah. Now that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

An Adventure, Not a Vacation

One thing you’ll notice is that I have not described our trip as a vacation. It wasn’t. Traveling to Medellín with two young kids was an adventure.

Part of creating a well-balanced, enjoyable experience was recognizing age-appropriate ways for our kids to experience Medellín and not subject them to scads of claustrophobic tours and adult-oriented activities.Boy riding in taxi Medellin Colombia

One of the activities our boys found to do was simple: collecting the bright, shiny bottle caps off the Medellín city streets. Huh, there ya go.

Each day as we set off for a new destination, I packed two, long slim plastic bags in my satchel. I passed the bags out to the boys and found that they’re delight in this activity was especially helpful when we were a bit lost or had a longer-than-expected walk. They were captivated and soon began challenging each other to find a purple cap or yellow one or one that had a large “B” on it or one that was brand new instead of caked with dirt. You get the picture. They loved this and I’m certain we brought home at least 30-lbs of bottle caps in our luggage.

The other activity that both my boys found amazing was riding in a taxi. While frightening for me, our youngest was delighted at the attention his joyful smiles and salutations received as his blond head bobbed out the taxi window at break-neck speeds. Waving to motorcyclists and cabbies alike, he was delighted  how many folks smiled and waved right back.

Eli had found his audience. And in his words, “this is so EPIC!”

Safety

I should quickly address safety as so many people were quite surprised that we would risk our children’s lives by taking them to Colombia. The biggest issue is theft, yet like any large city you also need to take precautions when traveling at night and also stay away from those areas reported to be more dangerous.

These precautions are obvious whether you are traveling the metro in Paris or hailing a taxi in New York. We didn’t feel especially exposed in Medellín, yet we also didn’t throw caution to the wind.

We kept our electronics out of sight. If we did travel with our old iPad, Scott was sure to pack it away in his Pacsafe Backpack, that we bought specifically for travel. I slung a Travelon Cross-Body Bag, which held a remarkable amount of stuff. Both bags had all sorts of zipper locks and secure carabiners, plus they had cut-proof straps and RFID blocking card slots.

Let’s just say they are ideal for travel and helped us be less exposed to pick pockets.

Scott and I agreed that when one of us was navigating the city streets, the other would hold the boys’ hands. Although Jack and Eli aren’t used to holding our hands at home, after a few days they agreed to stick closer to us as they began to understand how difficult it could be to find them if they became lost.

My only fear was being able to communicate with police or local if the boys wandered off in a crowd. We took care of that by making sure we had physical contact with the kids at all times and it worked really well.

Otherwise, we felt completely safe at night in our home. We made an effort to greet the various security officers in our neighborhood. I’m not sure if this was helpful or not, yet I liked the idea of being at least polite to our neighbors and that they would know who we were in case we did need help.

‘Nuff said

Learning on the Road

What is currency and why is it different from country to country? What is an exchange rate and who figures out how to set the rate? What is a global economy? Why do we have passports? How fast does an airplane fly? What does 50lbs of luggage feel like? How long does it take to fly to Colombia? How do you say, “Hello, pretty, mountains, hamburger, milk, toilet, love, good-bye, friends,” etc. in Spanish?

The gift of learning abroad is immense!

hanging our laundry Plazoleta de Villa de Aburra

Hanging our laundry in the apartment

Kids run to a taxi in Medellin, Colombia

Rushing to the next taxi ride

View of Plazoleta de Villa de Aburra Medellin Colombia

Belen, our neighborhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our days were filled with adventure, whether that be trying to find milk or nighttime diapers, or wandering among the locals in the zen-gardens of Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), where you are asked quite politely to remove your shoes in case you forget. Or in case you can’t read Spanish. Doh.

The boys climbed, peeked, skipped and ran from one adventure to the next. I thought they might tire of going out to eat. Not once. I thought they might tire of the long walks and number of u-turns taken when we got lost. Not once. I thought they would miss their home, miss their beds, miss their toys. Not once did they complain.

Each night or morning our family would decide what we wanted to do the next day. We made sure the boys were a part of the decision process and that made a huge difference.

Parque Arví- Our Favorite

Metrocable over Santo Domingo Medellin

Riding over Santo Domingo

Definitely our favorite adventure had to be riding the Metrocable Cars to Parque ArvíThe metrocable is a gondola lift designed in 2004 as transport for those living in the least developed neighborhoods of Medellín to reach the metro station that runs throughout the city. It carries 30,000 people daily, which is remarkable as we found it to be the least crowded of any public transport. Seriously.

We took a taxi north in order to reach the Acevedo Metro Station. From there we purchased tickets to ride the metrocable cars on line A.

The view was stunning. The initial ride from Acevedo to Santo Domingo was beautiful, yet also our kids’ first experience with the reality of poverty. As our gondola glided over open-roof, cement block houses no larger than a bedroom the boys became distressed and anxious. They didn’t understand why some people have so much and others so little. They wanted to help and asked if we could stop and give everyone our pesos. It was difficult to experience and difficult to explain, yet what a huge impact it had on them both.

Once we arrived in Santo Domingo, we purchased tickets to ride further up the mountains to Arví. As we rose higher and higher, our view changed from the colorful lines of laundry hanging to dry outside the tiny homes to that of a giant forest peppered with farms. It was one of those stunning National Geographic magazine images and had all of our mouths hanging open.

We watched butterflies dance among tall fir trees and sat there wondering how on earth they had moved all this heavy equipment up the mountain to build such an amazing cable system. Homeschool on the road is so totally cool.

Parque Arví is a ecological nature preserve and Pre-Hispanic archaeological site. It was green, cool and picturesque. We chose to do a self-guided walk up the mountain and noshed on snacks we had packed in Scott’s backpack. The boys were delighted to be free to run, skip and jump outside the hustle and bustle of the city. On our route back down the mountain, we met three guys from Germany, Poland and Venezuela asking us for directions in English. We were delighted to speak English and delighted to be of service to someone else after being the tourists lost for so long!

Metrocable view from Santo Domingo to Arvi

Metrocable view from Santo Domingo to Arvi

The End

I could go on and on about our daily adventures, yet this isn’t a travel blog, it’s a homeschool blog. What I hope to share is simply this: if you’ve got the itch to travel with your family, pick a place out of the ordinary and go! The learning is incredible and despite preconceived fears of traveling abroad with the kids, it’s actually easier than I imagined. While there are some families that travel off the beaten path with panache, I wouldn’t say that is our family. We are more cautious, more slow to adjust and take our time getting our feet wet. Yet, whatever pace you set, it’s an incredible experience that won’t soon be forgotten.

In our case, we’ll be back in Medellín in February for the next leg of our homeschool-on-the-road adventure. Stay tuned…

Happy homeschooling,

Kate

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