Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by Sarah R

Field Trips

 

The dinosaurs are leaving! The dinosaurs are leaving!

When we heard that, our family headed into Washington, DC to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs aren’t really leaving, but the Dinosaur Hall is closing at the end of April for a five-year makeover and we wanted to see the fossils before it was too late. We hope to make one more trip before they close since it is such a long renovation.

A few basics: Entrance is free since it is a Smithsonian museum. It is easy to get to, either on Metro or driving, if you go on the weekends. If you go during the week I suggest taking Metro, because parking in downtown Washington, DC can be tough to find. On Metro, get off at the Smithsonian Station on the orange line; the museum is about a two-minute walk from there. If you drive, the walk will likely be a bit longer. We drove this time and had a five- to ten-minute walk to get to the museum. The museum has a  couple of dining options, and the food there is surprisingly good, albeit expensive. There are street vendors right outside the museum with much cheaper options, but there’s no good place to sit and eat.

The museum has an IMAX theater which offers a variety of videos to see. We did not explore what movies were offered on our visit, but the website outlines a nice selection of choices. There is a butterfly pavilion that charges a small fee if you wish to go through it. You can, however, look in the windows outside for free to see some of the butterflies if preferred. They also have other activities available listed on the calendar on their website.

The museum is large, with many exhibits to explore. We spent 3 1/2 hours and did not see all of them. Since we had come specifically for the dinosaur fossils, that’s where we started.  We visited the dinosaurs, looked at the different fossils, and peeked into the FossiLab where archaeologists work on the fossils. No one was working when we were there, but the children enjoyed seeing the area where fossils are cleaned and molds of them are made.  After the dinosaur fossils, we moved on to the Ocean exhibit where the children explored and learned some ocean facts.

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From Oceans, we went into the Hall of Human Origins. My five- and seven-year-olds were interested in this area, but it was designed for older children and adults. They did look at various skeletons and exhibits showing how humans have evolved through history, and we got to see the skulls of various early humans. My five-year-old stopped to watch a video about human origins, and my seven-year-old watched a video on evolution. All three of my children enjoyed looking at the mockup of a cave wall showing examples of primitive drawings, which we had discussed earlier in the year during our history lessons. We then moved into the Mammals exhibit where my five-year-old enjoyed looking at the giraffe models.

After the Mammals exhibit, we moved upstairs to the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. We learned about earthquakes and volcanoes and then looked at different types of rocks and minerals, those that came from volcanic eruptions and others. The children had a good time playing with a large magnetic rock that is on exhibit.  They watched paper clips stick to it and saw how the metal was attracted to the rock. We then continued through the exhibit to look at the various gems and finally made our way to the Hope Diamond. My five-year-old especially enjoyed that exhibit.

We then headed to the Insect exhibit where the kids saw various types of bugs. Unfortunately the bee hive in that area was closed, but the children still enjoyed looking around. On our way out of this area, we looked through the windows of the butterfly pavilion. They enjoyed seeing the bright butterflies flying around inside the pavilion.

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At that point, the kids were tired so we headed down for a snack and then home. There was a lot to explore in the museum, and we did not see everything. We could have easily spent far longer even in the exhibits we did visit. There were many exhibits with a lot of information about the various topics. This museum would make a good full-day trip for those that have the stamina to explore the different exhibits – and even then you are unlikely to have seen everything. We really enjoyed our visit and hope to make it back at least once more before the dinosaur exhibit closes. Even without the dinosaurs, there is still much to explore at the museum. We all enjoyed learning about rocks, dinosaurs, human evolution, and insects.

Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys sarahreading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.

A Visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Udvar Hazy Center, by Sarah R

Field Trips

 

In December we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Udvar Hazy Center, the newer Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Virginia near Dulles Airport. We spent only four hours but could have easily taken the entire day to explore this great museum.

 A few basics to begin: Admission to the museum is free since it is a Smithsonian museum. However, parking is $15 per car, and while it is possible to take public transportation there, most people will find it easiest to drive based on the location of the museum.  There is only one food option at the museum –  McDonalds. If you bring your lunch, you may eat at the picnic tables outside the museum since outside food and drink are not allowed in the museum.

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The museum has a number of fun things to do. If you check the online calendar beforehand, they may have an event going on that day. They have storytime most weekdays and other events, as well.  On the day we visited, they had a special twenty-minute puppet show about the  Wright Brothers which all three of my children (ages 2½, 4½, and 6½) enjoyed. They also have an IMAX theater with various educational videos.  There is a fee for the theater, but they had a nice selection of videos when we went.  We did not end up watching one, but I noted two that would have been both interesting and educational for my six-year-old.  They also have simulator rides for a fee. There is a flight simulator where you can either control a plane, which is appropriate for older children, or choose from a variety of programs for the ride simulator, including a space walk.  Both my four- and six-year-olds enjoyed their simulator ride to watch repairs on the Hubble telescope.

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Desmond in front of a plane

The main part of the museum is broken into two large areas. One has all the planes and the other houses the spacecraft Discovery.  We enjoyed looking at all the different types of planes and helicopters.  We saw one of the Wright Brothers’ planes and numerous early planes, as well as newer planes and helicopters.  We also got the see the Concorde plane and were able to discuss how fast it went and how it could carry a lot more people than some of the older planes  which only held one or two people.  We also discussed the various helicopters and looked at different types, such as emergency helicopteres used to take people to the hospital.  We saw planes that could take off and land in water and discussed how different types of aircraft needed different amounts of space to take off and land.  We compared how a helicopter could land without a runway, while all planes needed a runway to get off the ground or to land.

After we finished looking at the myriad types of planes and helicopters, we moved to the space area. At an exhibit with space suits, the children were able to put on a glove from a training suit and examine the suit itself.  They learned that it takes three hours to don the suit and were able to see what astronauts wear when they are out in space.  We then continued on to the spaceship Discovery.  We looked at the Mercury capsule which let them see the difference in size between the large Discovery and the early small one-person space capsules.  We also looked at the Mobile Quarantine Facility, which is where the moon astronauts were quarantined for the first few days after their return to Earth.  We discussed what it would have been like to visit the moon and why astronauts went into space.  We also saw assorted missiles and satellites.  We looked at the replicas of the Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover and discussed why NASA sent a rover to Mars rather than astronauts. We learned that scientists are working on ways to one day transport people to Mars, as well.

 We had a lot of fun exploring the spacecrafts and airplanes at the museum and spent a good four hours visiting the museum before my children were done.  With older children we likely would have spent even longer at the museum.  We will definitely go back. We had a great afternoon, and my children still sing songs from the Wright Brothers puppet show even now, two months later.

Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys sarahreading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.

Injury, Recovery, and Homeschooling, by Sarah R

in the rehab hospital

 

My first year homeschooling looked nothing like I’d planned – and it wasn’t just because it never looks like the plan.  My dreams of my son happily learning Math, Reading, Latin, Greek, Hindi, and Hebrew, while memorizing poems and stories and cheerfully doing copywork in kindergarten weren’t very realistic anyway, but there was a far more important reason our first year of homeschooling didn’t look like I expected.

My son was recovering from a traumatic brain injury.

A month after his fifth birthday, he fell head first out a window and three stories onto concrete.  We are thankful every day that my then three-year-old daughter, the only other person upstairs, knew to come get us right away.  We are also thankful that he did not have any major permanent damage.  However our lives changed with his accident.  He was in the PICU for almost two weeks, spent five days in a regular room at the hospital and then spent another three and a half weeks at a pediatric rehab hospital. It was a life-altering time for all of us.

When his plethora of therapists – physical , occupational, speech – and doctors asked our plans for kindergarten, we said we’d always planned to homeschool and those plans had not changed.  Each of them had the same response: “That is a very good choice for him at this time.”

He came home from the hospital in the last week of June. We started homeschooling a day or two later.  Our homeschool routine for the first six months was frequently interrupted by doctor and therapy appointments. We were fortunate in that he and his sister had been attending a wonderful preschool that took both our daughter and our younger son full-time for the summer and kept our youngest full-time until December, while my daughter went back to the part-day program that fall.  Having both the younger children with caregivers when their brother had doctor and therapy appointments 30-45 minutes away made it easier.  In the beginning, he had PT once a week and OT twice a week. Weekly speech transitioned to twice a week when the school year started.  He also had a weekly talk therapy appointment and numerous doctor appointments for check-ups.   We spent three to four days a week at various therapies and doctor appointments during those early months.  This greatly cut into the time we spent on formal education.
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doing math

One of the most noticeable new issues resulting from his injury was hyperactivity.  My son could no longer sit for more than ten seconds at a time.  Before the accident, he was able to sit and attend for ten minutes, which would have been enough time for schoolwork.  Ten seconds, on the other hand, made it hard to get him to attend to his work.  We had to come up with alternative strategies.  He often did his math while running around the living room or jumping on the trampoline.  His reading instruction was haphazard. We would often break a ten minute reading lesson into three days, only working for three or four minutes per day.  We also streamlined what we were studying.  I had dreamed of teaching my son all about history and science.  In reality, between his various appointments, focusing issues, and general healing from concussion, if we read two or three science and history picture books at random times during the week we counted it a win.

Eight months after the accident, my son moved to once a week OT, finished PT, and his doctor appointments slowed down to every six months.  Even then, we still had days when we got nothing done except his therapy. Many times through our first year, homeschooling was a lifesaver.  Because doctor appointments consumed our days, taking three weeks off would not have been possible in a regular school environment. With homeschooling we were able to work in a break when we had many appointment and were still able to finish off his kindergarten year with him advancing enough to move to first grade on a normal schedule. That type of flexibility would not have been possible in a public school setting.  We also did not have to deal with IEPs and making sure it was followed while he was in a large class, which could have easily overwhelmed him at that point in his recovery.  We were able to focus on him and his needs thanks to homeschooling and the wonderful preschool our other children attended.

Fast forward twenty-one months after his accident: you’d never know that my son fell out a window nor would you notice the issues we dealt with last year. There were still some issues that appeared as he healed that needed to be addressed, but most of them were not on our radar during his recovery period.  Once the main portion of his healing and therapy had ended, those issues were far easier to address.  He is still in OT, speech, and behavioral therapy to address a few lingering effects of his accident; however it is far easier to handle a handful of weekly appointment than a wide variety of daily appointments. He’s on track to finish first grade even though he isn’t able to sit for three hours of schoolwork. My dreams have been a bit modified from having him happily learn Latin, Hindi, and Greek, but he is doing well, learning, and having fun.

 

Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys sarahreading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.