I took my dino-loving kids to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. They have monthly Discovery Days and this month’s theme was Making Monsters: Science in Art. It was our first time to the museum and we instantly fell in love.
For $3 per person we received admission to the museum and got to participate in several awesome activities that blended science and art. We listened to a paleoartist, Brian Engh, talk about how he works with fossils and paleontologists to create the artistic renderings of what they believe the dinosaur looked like and the environment it lived in. What a cool job!
The first activity was about how to draw dinosaurs. We chose from several step-by-step drawing worksheets to sketch the dino of our choice. Next we cut out tangrams and arranged them on the page to create our own dinosaur. Then we chose from a selection of cut-out fossil body segments that we pieced together to create a new dinosaur. Finally, we were given a scavenger hunt list with different Pokémon characters. We had to find the fossil in the museum of the dinosaur that inspired each Pokémon character. Super cool. My Poke-fans loved this part.
The Alf is a fantastic location with imaginative hands-on activities that my junior paleontologists enjoyed. We will go back and I highly recommend it. Such a treat on a Saturday afternoon.
And because we can’t get enough fossils, we went to the Homeschool day at the La Brea Tar Pits a few days later. There were very few activities this time around so I was not as impressed, but homeschool day gives us a chance to go down into the Observation Pit which is usually closed unless you’re on a guided tour. We love it down there!
Resources for Junior Paleontologists:
I think about my time as a child and all the days I spent sitting bent-kneed at a desk with worksheets and blackboards for my view. I am lucky enough to provide a different experience for my own children. One of my favorite things about being a homeschool parent is our freedom to explore. I like to take the kids hiking during the cooler months of the year. Previously, I focused on shorter hikes with interesting elements. But now we have entered a new phase. The kids no longer complain after the first mile. They look for what’s up ahead and keep moving. I can say code words like “geocache” and they’re on a wild hunt to find one. Or I can bring along my secret weapon – my nephew – wherever he goes, they go. I carry plenty of water and snacks and they keep going.
The last two hikes we did were about 5 miles each and we were greatly rewarded for our efforts. First, we went to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park for a hike to Dripping Cave, AKA Robbers Cave. Legend has it that cattle thieves and train robbers used this cave as a hideout years ago. The trail is relatively easy and mostly flat. We parked at the Awma Road parking lot and hiked the Aliso Creek trail to the Wood Canyon trail. Out and back it’s about 4.6 miles but if you turn off to explore Cave Rock from the Wood Canyon trail you add about another half mile to the hike. When we arrived at Dripping Cave the kids were excited to explore and loved climbing the other nearby rocks. We had our lunch here and then headed back the way we came. We were lucky enough to cross paths with a deer on this hike, which doesn’t happen very often, but the kids were delighted to see it.
This week we decided to explore Red Rock Canyon near Foothill Ranch. We started at the Borrego Canyon trailhead at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. The 1.3 mile trail is very slightly uphill for an easy climb. At the intersection of the Mustard trail we stopped to have snacks and were entertained by a tiny gopher who loves oranges. From Mustard, we connected to the Red Rock Canyon trail and followed a rocky dry river bed, climbing a bit more than we expected. The climbing and rock scrambling was worth it though, as the payoff dropped us in the center of rocky red cliffs that surrounded us with majestic formations carved by erosion. the kids enjoyed climbing and exploring the walls of Red Rock Canyon and we spent a good 45 minutes exploring before heading back. Overall, we hiked about 5 miles round trip for this one, but we enjoyed all of it.
I love these days where we put the books and worksheets and computer assignments aside and get outdoors and walk the dirt paths to wondrous worlds making memories with our family and friends. Never did I imagine that I would be able to spend the days like this with my kids and I am thankful for the opportunity. They always ask, “Do we have to take the freeway?” Well, yes kids. Because everywhere worth going requires a little bit of effort. But soon, it will be time again to stretch your legs.
What’s your favorite Southern California hiking spot?
We just got home from an amazing adventure. We took a road trip to the Grand Canyon, parked our pop-up at Mather Campground and spent five days exploring. It was one of the best vacations ever.
When we got to the park, we spent the first evening setting up and running out to Mather Point to catch the last few minutes of sunset. It was our first glimpse of the canyon and it’s true – pictures don’t fully express the grandness of the canyon. You can’t see the depth and the color that seems to change depending on your location and the time of day. It’s pretty darn beautiful.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and spent Monday through Friday exploring. We decided to start at one end and work our way down the South Rim.
Highlights of the Trip:
Mule Deer: These guys were awesome to watch. The campground was relatively empty Monday through Wednesday so we had lots of Mule Deer foraging in the area. We gave them plenty of space, as you should. But they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our presence. They even came to our campsite to chew on a few trees, and a pair of deer settled in for a nap in the campsite across from us. At one point a group of five large males with huge antlers were all within a few hundred feet of us. They lose their antlers every year and grow new ones, but if you find antlers, you must leave them where they lie. They are protected within the park.
Hiking in the Canyon: We had a tight grip on the kids for both canyon hikes we went on, but traveling down into it was like stepping into a different world. The huge walls and cliffs of limestone, shale, and sandstone were awesome.
Earning the Junior Ranger Badges: The kids completed the activities in their workbooks and attended two Ranger talks (Critter Chat and Geology Glimpse). When they did their park pledge and received their badges from the ranger they were so proud! They are now Junior Rangers at two parks – Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.
Here is what our week-long adventure looked like:
Day 1: We first went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and picked up Junior Ranger books for the kids. We don’t explore National Parks without these awesome books and the kids love working on their workbooks and earning their Junior Ranger Badges.
Then we drove about 25 miles to Desert View Watchtower, stopping at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin on the way. The short, self-guided paths at Tusayan were fun to explore and the kids enjoyed seeing what was left of the meeting areas and storage rooms that local tribes built and used nearly 1000 years ago.
The Watchtower, built in 1932 in the Ancestral Puebloan style, was exciting. There are four levels, with 85 steps to climb, an outdoor observation deck, and is painted inside with Native American symbols. From the top of the Watchtower you can look out and view the Grand Canyon from the highest point in the park. There are many lookout points on the side of the road that travels along South Rim, and we stopped at all the major points on our way back to camp.
On our last stop we were surprised to find a herd of elk resting in the trees. They were pretty amazing to see.
Day 2: We hiked South Kaibab trail about a mile down into the canyon to a spot called Ooh Aah Point. This is the first main stop on the trail with a grand view of the giant canyon that is spread out in front of you. People tend to walk out on the rock pile for a better view, but we held on to the kids and stopped to rest and have a small snack before heading back up. The hike up is tough, but my 5- and 8-year olds handled it well. They say it is equivalent to climbing 76 flights of stairs to get back up from this point. The trail is semi-rocky with lots of built-in steps to climb.
Day 3: We spent the bulk of our day traveling the Hermit’s Rest route. You can take the free shuttle bus to many major lookout points and end up at Hermit’s Rest, a stone building that was built in 1914 for tourists and travelers. You can get on and off the shuttle bus to get from one location to another, but there is also a trail that goes along the path that you can walk on. We opted to walk a stretch of the path where the lookout points were closer together and got back on the bus for the longer distances. Overall, this adventure took us about 4 hours, but if you stay on the bus it’s about an hour and a half.
Day 4: We hiked down into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. This path was a little less rocky and there weren’t a lot of steps built into it so I thought it was easier than the South Kaibab Trail. There are two tunnels to pass through on this hike – meaning that you pass through holes in giant boulders on the canyon trail. The first tunnel is a short distance from the trail head and is an easy out and back walk. The lower tunnel is about a mile down from the trail head. Getting back up is like climbing 65 flights of stairs. We also went to the Geology Museum and attended the Geology Glimpse ranger talk which was fun and informative and the kids got their Junior Ranger books signed for attending one of the ranger talks.
Day 5: Day five was crowded in the park. People were filtering in for the weekend. We spent the day collecting souvenirs from the Hopi House and the Bright Angel area.
Our trip was an unforgettable experience and the time we took for it was perfect. We got to see everything along the South Rim without rushing. We planned family meals that we made together in the pop-up trailer. We had no television. One of the smartest things we did was keep our cooler and dry food in the back of the car. After our hikes or while we were out exploring, all we had to do was pop the back open and make sandwiches, complete with drinks, chips, and other snacks.
Lastly, my camera broke almost the moment we got there. Turns out that was good and bad for me. Bummer because I didn’t have a camera, but wonderful because I spent the entire trip capturing memories with my eyes and enjoying each moment, rather than fumbling for the camera to get a picture and missing tiny moments in between.
The day after Thanksgiving is GreenFriday and many California State Parks are offering free passes to get outside, rather than going shopping. Click here to find your park and get a pass. Spend time with your family this Thanksgiving holiday. What do you want your next adventure to be?
For more information about the Grand Canyon and to start planning your trip, Visit the National Park Service website.
Like most kids, my children have interests that pass. I thought dinosaurs and woolly mammoths would pass. I nurtured the interest like any good parent and expected the next year to bring a new love. And it did. We have added many new loves to our list, but one thing that has not passed is dinosaurs. In fact, it has grown into a love of paleontology and archaeology. A fascination that stays with us in a way that we are often pinched with the bug to find new ways to feed our fossil fire. Where can we dig? What can we watch? What’s in that rock?
This year we purchased an annual pass to the Natural History Museum, which also includes admission to the Tar Pits and the Page Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum. We were planning a trip anyway to explore, and we wanted to see the Mummies exhibit before it left so it made sense to just purchase the annual pass knowing we would get several uses out of it.
We’ve wondered what might take the place of the mummies that occupied the space downstairs near the cafe, and we were excited to learn of the Pterosaur exhibit. We were surprised through, that the exhibit is near the main member entrance and the space downstairs is still behind covered windows.
We entered the new exhibit on a member-only preview day so the crowds were limited once inside. It was sort of magical for us because we have such a polished appreciation for the age of dinosaurs and other creatures from long ago. We walked into rooms filled with fossils, and replicas, and informative plaques, and short films, and life-sized models of the Pterosaurs that once took to our skies. Some hover overhead, similar in size to the school bus in the parking lot. Some were smaller than your cat.
There are interactive screens, like a video game, where you can dive for fish or hunt for bugs. My son loved that part. My daughter liked using the joystick to learn how the Pterosaurs used their wings to harness the wind during flight. I liked the room near the end with the Pterosaur replica soaring over the water. Such a beautiful display.
I expected to pass through quickly, as my kids often do, jumping from one display to the next. But this one lasted. They took their time. They explored. They watched. They enjoyed. This one is definitely not to be missed.
So it’s been awhile since I posted here, but it isn’t because I haven’t been busy. I’m also the educational contributor over at Dandelion Moms and I’ve posted a few things there. Check out what I’ve been up to! Just click on the image to read the articles:
A lesson in the desert is an article about our experiences and education from our camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park. So much fun!
Here you’ll find a few fun activities that will keep your kids brains working this summer. Don’t let them get caught up in hours of video games – get them moving and keep their heads in the game so they are ready for the new year that lies ahead!
I’ll be posting again soon with some of our favorite activities that are educational, but don’t feel too much like school. Stay tuned!
One of the things I like about being a homeschool mom is taking my kids on field trips to local venues that offer educational experiences at a discount. In December we attended the homeschool event at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. The admission rate is deeply discounted for homeschool families and you can purchase tickets in advance online. Typically, the Aquarium has two homeschool days per year: one in the spring and one in winter. We attended the spring event last year.
During homeschool days at the aquarium they do not take reservations for regular school field trips so it is only homeschoolers and the general public, which means a much less crowded experience. They have tables set up with educational information and homeschool-related material. They also open the classrooms from 9:00 to 12:00 for kids to experience the touch tanks and there are tables set up with games and activities to teach students about the animals of the ocean. My four-year old loved holding the starfish, and my seven-year old loved examining the skulls.
We fed the lorikeets, watched the sea lions and seals, and spent lots of time at touch tanks with jellies, starfish, sea cucumbers and so much more. My daughter has really been interested in learning about penguins lately so we had a lot of fun checking out the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. Something that we have been having fun with since our visit is keeping an eye on the penguin habitat from home by tuning into the webcams on the Aquarium’s website. They have an under water and above water webcam of the penguin habitat so we get to see them from different angles.
I’m also really excited about the new lesson plans that the Aquarium has linked up to some of the webcams. You can find the Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits here. There are lots of other great teacher resources available on the Aquarium website too, so take a few minutes to browse through their wonderful educational offerings. I also like the many resources that are available on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website. Especially the Sea Searchers Handbook. Many of the resources are meant to be used when you can visually observe the exhibits, but I think the materials are flexible enough to be used as teaching tools without being there. If you haven’t been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I highly recommend it. That was my son’s first aquarium adventure when he was a baby.
What is your favorite aquarium or marine science exploration activity?
Explore more with these amazing books:
My kids love to read. Chapter books, picture books, comics, nonfiction. You name it, they’ll read it. Sometimes when I am going over an assignment for school, my son will ask, “Can’t I just go read?” Sometimes I say no and require that the assignment gets completed, but other times, I say “What the heck, go for it.” I mean, really, he’s reading. My response to the “go ahead and read” theory is that I need something that he can put down on paper when he’s done reading to show that he is learning and making progress in critical thinking and writing skills. So I am putting together a few different worksheets that I can print up for him to complete when I decide that reading time is over. So far, I have made a 3-2-1 Summary worksheet and a Main Idea & Details worksheet. These are mostly to be used with informational text, but can also be used with other books with educational elements. For example, my son reads the Extreme Adventures chapter book series and these include informative passages about animals and geographic locations, so these worksheets could work.
We read a lot of short nonfiction books too, so these are great companion worksheets that can be completed quickly after independent reading or story time, when we read together as a family. For my little one who is four, I have her write a few words about the subject, like the names of the animals or planets, then I ask her to draw a picture about what we read. I always write the words for her on a separate piece of paper, but she copies it onto her own page and then draws her pictures.
You can download the worksheets here for free!
3-2-1 Summary: 3.2.1 Summary
Main Idea & Details: Main idea
New! Who, What, When Worksheet: Who.What.When.Where.How.Why
See our nonfiction and picture book selection here.
I’ve been planning on starting a few sensory bins for my preschooler and have a long list of favorites that we are going to try. The other night, we made rainbow rice. This was a fun activity for my little to help make, and she is really enjoying the finished product. We looked at a few different suggestions, but here is the technique we used.
We added 1 cup of white rice each to six Ziploc baggies. To each baggie we added a different color of Wilton Icing Colors. Then we added 3 to 4 squirts of hand sanitizer to each bag. We sealed the bags and shook and squished them until the colors were mixed through. We poured the rice into a glass pyrex dish and let it sit out overnight to dry. Some of my icing color was chunky so I removed the chunks that didn’t dissolve. The next day we had beautifully colored rice that was ready to dig in. We got a little bit of color on our hands, but not much. And now that it has dried completely, it doesn’t transfer to our hands at all.
Last year we made “snow”. You can find that recipe here. Here are a few of the favorites from my list that we will be trying soon:
- Borax-free flubber. We’ll be using this recipe from Little Bins for Little Hands.
- Here is the Rainbow Slime recipe we are going to try.
- Super cool glowing sensory bottle from kids activities blog!
- No-cook play dough recipe from The Imagination Tree.
What are your favorite sensory bins or activities? We love trying suggestions from friends!