Monday, May 25, 2009

More Homeschooling updates

OK, we're finally to May! These are our most recent trips:

Week 12 - Monticello

We have friends living in Charlottesville, so it seemed like a good idea to visit with them and have a field trip too. Monticello is stunning (and we've been some amazing places this spring). Well, we drove up and promptly locked our keys in the truck (which really didn't start off the day on the right foot). Luckily, our friends are AAA members, and made a phone call to get everything righted so we could enjoy ourselves. Monticello is Italian for "little hill", and the home itself does sit up on a hilltop. At the bottom of the hill is a complex of museums, gift shop, cafe, children's educational room, etc. - all recently built, lots of green technology. Tracy took pictures of the buildings themselves, they were so beautiful. We hung out with the kids in the educational room, where they could play and learn - one tool/toy was a replica of Jefferson's Polygraph machine - essentially a machine with two styluses (I have no idea what the correct plural form is for stylus) you write with one and the other makes an exact copy. That's one reason we know so much about TJ, he kept copies of the letters he wrote. He also had a clock that could tell the days of the week. Anyway, then we jumped in the shuttle van that takes you to the top of the hill where you tour the house. You would have to see the view, it's remarkable. The foyer is full of Native American artifacts, courtesy of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We also saw his library (he loved to read - and in fact donated his personal library to the country - his personal collection formed the basis for the Library of Congress. Saw his room, dining room, a couple of sitting rooms, a guest room. He also built large patios on both sides of the house where they held parties and dancing. Like other patriots I've read about, he died in debt, and Monticello and many of his possessions were sold after he died, I believe. He was an avid horticulturalist, and huge gardens lined one side of the house - probably 2 football fields worth of vegetable gardens. We walked down the hill and saw the family grave site. Jefferson was specific about his tombstone - he wanted only three things noted: That he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Believed strongly that public education was critical to the continuation of a free society, and from what I've read so far, he wasn't overly fond of many of the organized religions of his day, though he was a spiritual man. In the biography I've been reading (well, slowly leafing through), apparently he at one time went through the New Testament and compiled all of the sayings and teachings of Jesus - basically cut and pasted them to study Christianity at its purest. Thomas Jefferson seems a bit more complicated a man than Washington. We came away from Mount Vernon feeling like we really understood the type of man GW was, the many virtues he possessed that made him a great leader, etc. But seeing Monticello didn't completely make clear who this man was (though he seemed to be good at everything from music to educational pursuits to gardening). An enigma of sorts, I guess. Must finish book, I guess. It was a great trip, and it was so nice to see our friends:)

Week 13 - Valley Forge

Back to Philadelphia - Valley Forge had been on our list since the beginning, and we attended a special day for homeschoolers. There were probably close to 80 homeschoolers who showed up. We met at the welcome center, where a park service guide dressed as a colonial soldier lined the kids up and taught them a few basic drills. Then we marched to the top of the hill to see some of the sights. Valley Forge was a hill top (not a valley), so it was more easily defensible. the British never attacked - but GW had several redoubts built just in case. Again we learned about how these were built (the kids had seen this before at Yorktown). TJ was the only one of all the homeschoolers there who knew the earthenworks forts were called redoubts - go TJ! Anyway, then we marched on to the top where there were several of the cabins the kids could see. We split into smaller groups and learned about the clothing worn by the soldiers, what they ate, saw a replica of an outdoor bread oven, watched them fire the muskets, and learned more about army life. Then, just before the heavens opened and it started to pour down rain, we jumped into Aunt Erin's van and took a driving tour of the rest of the park. One of our favorite Revolutionary war stories was the story of Von Steuben training the American troops. We saw the parade field where he drilled the soldiers, with a statue commemorating his accomplishments. Cool.

That was going to be our last week. We were completely dead tired. At home we started to wrap up our discussion about revolutionary war era, and I asked the kids to think about some of the events they thought were critical to the Patriots' success. I even did a formal little interview to try to get a sense of their understanding and memory of events. I'll post about those results in a bit.

Week 14 - Leesylvania again -
This time we caught the visitor's center open, and spent a few minutes inside, mainly pestering the ranger about local animals (many of which TJ expressed a desire to shoot, which went over well, I'm sure).

Week 15 - Biking the George Washington Parkway

There is a lovely bike/jogging trail that goes the length of the George Washington parkway - from Mount Vernon to the Capital Building, I believe. We only biked a short portion of it, a little north of Mount Vernon. Again, we were right on the Potomac river. TJ stopped every hundred yards or so to look for a good fishing spot. At times we biked over marshy areas with wild iris. It was a cool, sunny day, perfect for riding. Right at our turn around point, Nathan wrecked. He had some major road burn to his elbow and knee, and screamed bloody murder. We were fortunate that two nice pedestrians rushed to our aid - one was a nurse, the other had a first aid kit in her car. Between the two of them, we soon had Nathan fixed up pretty well. He is his daddy's boy, and became really woozy as they were working on him. Then he was fighting mad. He actually walked about 100 feet ahead of me as I was walking his bike and scooter, which was good because then I couldn't hear him muttering about how he was never getting on a bike again, and how his day was ruined, etc...

That's it. Tomorrow is our final field trip - we're going to see the new Night at the Museum movie, at the Smithsonian museum! I downloaded a treasure hunting map so we can see some of the artifacts featured in the movie, then see the actual movie! How cool will that be? We will spend some time in the Museum of American History - we haven't been there yet, then maybe walk through the castle, and meander our way to the movie. Seems like a fitting end to our adventures.

I'm quite happy with all we've done. My sister and her children are coming to visit and sight see in a few weeks, and so we'll head back into the city to see more. We're trying to get tickets to see the White House (which have to be ordered months ahead of time) and the capital building. I'd also like to see the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Gallery, and I want to go up inside the Washington Monument. But hey, those are they only things on our original list that we haven't seen yet.

So, there are several logistical pointers I would give to anyone contemplating visiting these historical sites.
1 - Avoid weekends. The middle of the week was so much less crowded - the kids could see the museum artifacts, and I wasn't too paranoid they'd become separated from me and get lost. The one weekend we went in with our friends was completely crazy busy. Getting a stroller around the Museum of Natural History was nearly impossible.

2- Figure our parking in advance (particularly true for the National Mall). In DC, there is almost no free parking. The chances you can find a free parking spot are slim, unless you really plan a lot of driving around and waiting time.

3 - Understand traffic flow, and be careful about peak hours. For us, we used HOV lanes in and out of the city, which works very smoothly, even close to rush hour. But when there are no HOV lanes available, driving can be an absolute mess. Avoid trying to get anywhere Friday afternoons.

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