Challenges to our 18 sites in 16 weeks plan:
1. Fatigue. I had no idea how exhausting some of these field trips would be. After spending all day at the National Mall, we are usually wiped out for a good day and a half. It was worse when we started (midwinter), since our bodies weren't used to all the walking (and my kids are run around the neighborhood every day kind of kids)! We have built up stamina as we progressed, (Tuesday, Emma didn't ask to be carried at all) but a big field trip makes the next school day quite a challenge because we're all grumpy and tired. I don't know how far away the buildings are from one another, but Tuesday it took us about 45 minutes to walk back from the Air and Space Museum to our truck in the parking garage right off the Mall. We were taking our time, granted, but it was still a long walk.
2. Related to number one - scheduled field trips break up the monotony of a week of math, grammar, music, etc. but they also affected our school routines. After a big field trip (particularly the out of town trips), it seemed to take a couple of days to get the kids back into the routine of school work. This doesn't mean I let them off the hook - it just means much more complaining and resistance from them.
3. Cost - we were able to foot the expenses for these trips, but they were significant at times. No matter how we go into town (metro or driving), it seems to take about 20 dollars. We found it was quicker to just drive in and pay to park, than to worry about the metro (2 dollars per person each way off-peak hours plus 4.50 for parking, and takes longer). If you don't pack a lunch, add that cost, if the kids want snacks or souveniers, add that cost. We almost always packed lunches, and limited both snacks and souveniers (mainly I picked up a couple of books to supplement our curriculum) and it was doable. But you have to plan ahead.
4. I thought my kids were just the right ages for this kind of experience. Now I'm thinking Emma and sometimes Nathan were a bit too young. Nathan learned a lot, but he fatigues easily and complained a lot. However, he appears to have retained information gained during field trips - at least the major points. He knows about Trenton, the Delaware river crossing, Yorktown, etc. We were able to get around the complaining if dad came along, or if our cousins were with us. This is a great help if you have some reticent kids.
So, What did they learn?
That's a really good question. It's hard to gage the answer, really. I have more empathy for teachers and test builders. I know my kids learned and experienced a lot, but I wasn't always sure what questions to ask to engage their knowledge and understanding. In the end, I went with lots of open-ended questions and fewer fact/date questions in a structured interview. I wrote down most of their responses - because they just couldn't supply in writing all the details I wanted.
Here's a summary
Emma: Emma was able to tell me the name of the first president of the United States (GW), and the author of the Declaration of Independence (TJ). Thomas Jefferson was her favorite person we studied because "he liked flowers." She remembered the names of a few field trips to talk about them, but I'm not sure she remembers the earliest field trips. At the time, she loved Mount Vernon, but describing the visit to her recently, she just looks at me funny. I do hope that she brings from the experience a love for adventuring and seeing new places, and learning new things.
Home school in general: Reading skills have improved - she can now tackle easy readers (level 1 books) and often read most of the words on the page. I think she's done well. She can do simple addition and subtraction using concrete objects to count. She seems to enjoy learning the notes on the piano, and playing simple pieces from our entry level piano book. I think she misses the social interaction with friends and teachers at school. At home, she gets lots of negative attention from her brothers, she could use a spot of positivity from people unrelated to her.
Nathan: Nathan's favorite field trips were Mount Vernon, the Franklin Institute, and Jamestowne.
TJ's were Franklin Institute, Jamestowne/Yorktown, and the Dinosaur & Caves IMAX movies we watched (at Museum of Natural History and Franklin Institute, respectively)
I asked both boys to describe what they think were the most significant events we studied that contributed to the success of the colonists and their eventual freedom. Nathan listed the Declaration of Independence - because "It showed our independence", the Battle of Yorktown, where the British surrendered, and the capture of Trenton - because he thought that the soldiers followed the Delaware river all the way to Yorktown (which is not true, but at least he got the fact that the Delaware river crossing was near Trenton).
TJ listed the Battle of Saratoga - because it brought the French to our aid, the Boston Massacre - because it made the Americans very, very (fighting) mad at the British, The battle of Cowpens - because it made us less afraid of Tarleton and the British, and Knox getting the guns from Ticonderoga - we took back Boston. Honestly, much of this information TJ learned from his own reading. The only battle sites we toured and learned about in some detail were Yorktown and Trenton. We did have some wonderful books that helped him learn at his own quick pace.
When I asked what they thought about the fact that both TJ and GW were slave holders, Nathan wrote "I know GW feed his slaves. Why didn't TJ free his? Maybe because he wanted his slaves to learn at his house, with all his books and stuff."
TJ said "I don't think it's good."
Side note: We didn't spend a lot of time talking about slavery or indentured servitude, but we did discuss these issues, and the fact that about 30-40%of the English heading for the Jamestowne colony prior to about 1770 were indentured servants. By 1770's, slave labor became readily available, and indentured servitude was on the decline. Slavery was a huge issue even in colonial times, and Thomas Jefferson condemned the practice in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. (the section was deleted). He also attempted to end the practice as president, but failed by one vote. Slaves counted as 3/5 a person for purposes of determining how many congressional representatives were to be had in a particular state, according to the Constitution. While we didn't get to the civil war, I wanted the boys to have some understanding that the slavery issues was long and complicated and disagreements about the practice predated the civil war by 70 years. I also wanted them to understand that the quest for freedom and equality didn't end with the revolutionary war - at that point, women weren't allowed to vote (and didn't get that right for a long time). Slaves & indentured servants obviously weren't allowed to vote, and even children didn't have the same opportunities then. But it was an important beginning. See? Even mom learned something:)
I also asked which aspects of colonial life they would have liked and disliked most had they lived at that time. Liked: TJ said he would have liked not having to have a fishing license, no gun laws or restriction (he's a big field and stream reader, he's pretty current with gun legislation), easier to claim land. Nathan said "riding horses, peace with the indians".
Disliked: TJ: "Lots of poverty. I would not have liked lack of hygiene (bathing), (lack of) medical knowledge, toilet knowledge." I think he had a pretty clear picture about what life was like then:) Nathan just wrote: "British" and "Slavery".
I loved that both boys seemed to understand some of the critical issues facing the army at Valley Forge. I asked, why do you think the soldiers perservered? Both said "Because they had a taste of freedom." This was a line from a reading about Von Steuben, and how he adjusted his training to be most effective with the Americans.
I asked if they had read about a time when it seemed likely God intervened in behalf of the colonists (hey, it's homeschool, I can mix religious questions in!) Nathan thought maybe the Delaware River crossing was one example. TJ thought it was when Baron Von Steuben and the French came to America's aid.
Nathan's 3-4 favorite people we studied were Ben Franklin - because he was a scientist, sent Von Steuben to Washington, and found electricity in lightning, George Washington-he was brave, led an army into Trenton, took over Yorktown, and crossed the Delaware in a big thunderstorm; and Thomas Jefferson - author of the Declaration of Independence, he wanted people to research and learn how to read, and he hated the British.
TJ's favorites were: Daniel Morgan - "because he whipped Banister Tarleton (the meanest man in America)", was thoughtful, a woodsman, and a rifleman. Francis Marion - Because "He drove BT nuts," and he was deceptive, smart, and sneaky. Lafayette - because he was "cool", one of the first French to come help us, calm under pressure, Washington's favorite General - shared an emotional bond with Washington.
I aksed how being a patriot child today compared with what it was like for Patriot children then. TJ responded: "Back then a lot more soldiers died in wars...There's not as high a risk that our dad would get hurt. (They're) Always gonna get scraped up, but getting hit or sick doesn't happen to everyone."
What have you liked about our study of colonial history? Nathan said "The colonists won! GW had so much bravery and trust in his troops, and his troops had so much bravery to fight when they were outnumbered." TJ said "I get to hear about cool guys (and a few women)...lots of battles." Disliked: Nathan: "King George's taxes (those were stupid), so many patriots had gotten killed, or died from disease." TJ reported there just wasn't enough information for him. (And I seriously picked up nearly every educational children's book I found on the topic! - I'll have to give you our reading list!)
So, all in all, I'm pleased with what they have learned. I think I'm most excited that the children have been so enthusiastic about the material. I think TJ in particular has developed a thirst for historical knowledge. He's certainly able to pick up a lot from his independent readings - he just needs interesting, appropriate books. That may be the challenge for me in the future. For me, the experience has been fantastic. I have loved reading and learning right along with the children. The more I learn, the more I appreciate how miraculous it was that the patriots were victorious. They were outnumbered, barely trained, out gunned, unsupplied, and in every way out matched. Only through herculean and inspired efforts were they able to prevail. Makes you think about the significance of personal freedom as motivation, and the importance of visionary leaders like George Washington. To me it also seems that God had a hand in this struggle, that he encouraged the cause of freedom here. He inspired leaders, he supported the troops, he planted the desire for liberty and justice. I hope we as a nation can always have Him on our side.