Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Category: Traveling with Kids

Traveling with kids does not have to be difficult. Hints from a Mom of 12 with LOTS of travel experience.

Photo Journals and Photo Pages

As much as I love Shakespeare (the topic of my last several blog posts), it’s time to change themes, at least for today. (Since I’m currently at the American Shakespeare Center‘s Summer Teacher Seminar, you would be right in guessing that next week’s topic will likely be back to Shakespeare.)  Travel is another big part of my life, and has been for my entire life – before, during and after homeschooling. In fact, one of the great things about homeschooling was that we could travel pretty much anytime we wanted, especially in the early years. (As my kids got older, school year travel did become a little more difficult, between co-op classes and the college schedules of my older children.)

Big Family Trips

But we still managed to take some amazing trips along the way – many of them with very educational themes. (Visiting Jamestown during its 400 year anniversary, following the Lewis and Clark Trail during its 200 year anniversary, and many trips to Washington D.C., to name just a few.)

Photo Journals

And then, when the younger children were getting older, we made several trips to Europe. (Those, I have to admit, were both educational and fun.) By then I was publishing books through CreateSpace with a fair amount of regularity. It didn’t take me long to decide that making photo journals would be a great way to remember our trips. (My version of scrapbooking these days.)

        

I made the first journals the way I’ve done all my paperbacks thus far – using Microsoft Word and then saving my final project as a pdf. I have found the results of doing that to be satisfactory, especially when I wanted to do just one or two pictures/page.  Below are samples of pages from a couple of my first photo journals.

Turkey with Dan and Eli

Italy with Dan and Sonia

Using PowerPoint for Photo Pages

Since then I’ve figured out that PowerPoint is easier to do picture pages in. After our recent cruise in Europe, I made my mom several collage pages through PowerPoint, enabling her to print several pages through Walmart’s photo shop.  One option now is to add the jpegs of those pages directly to a Word document for our next travel journal. One nice thing about using PowerPoint to make collages is that an 8 x 10 inch PowerPoint slide converts to a jpeg that will make a good quality 8 x 10 photo. (More on size concerns below.)


Using Canva for Photo Pages

Recently I was going to help a good friend make some photo collage pages. She liked the idea of being able to print them as 8 x 10s, like we had done for my mom. But, much to my dismay, I discovered that she didn’t have PowerPoint. I was stumped. I knew it was one way to make collages easily, but surely there were others as well. So I was off to find her another option. That’s when I remembered all the fun I was having using Canva’s website to make my cover images for my blog posts. Maybe it would work for collages too. Sure enough, there are some great templates on Canva with which to make collages. She was soon on her way to making several pages.

Fortunately we tried uploading her first 8 x 10 collage from Canva to Walmart before making additional ones. We discovered that for some reason those jpegs were not high enough quality to print as 8 x 10 photos. We increased the size of her Canva collages to 16 x 20 and those worked fine. Below are some examples of photo pages I made recently with Canva. Of all the picture pages I’ve made, these have definitely been the easiest!

  

Monday, on my other blog, I hope to go into details about the travel journals that I’ve been writing on and off since a trip from Panama to Massachusetts when I was nine-years-old. Those are a great way to have students involved in family travels. (And to expand on the educational value of such trips!)

Happy traveling and creating!

Cathy

The Wonder and Value of Audio Books!

Books on Tape

I’m sure by now most or all of you have enjoyed some form of “Books on tape.” For those of you too young to remember the things that came before CDs (or are even CDs becoming old school now?), my earliest memories of books on tape were when my Dad was in Vietnam in 1970. He read aloud a book for us, recording it on a cassette tape, one chapter at a time and mailing the tapes to us in the United States. My husband did the same thing in 1999 when we were in Germany and he was in Saudi Arabia with Desert Storm. (My dad read a horse story and my husband read Mouse and the Motorcycle.)

Audio Books vs. Read Alouds

Since those times, I have listened to hundreds of audio books, and I don’t think the best narrators out there will ever surpass those experiences. But I will say that many of the narrators I’ve listened to make the power of the written word come alive in some pretty wonderful ways. And while reading aloud to our children should be a regular part of parenting, sometimes it’s nice to be on the receiving side of read-alouds, and not just on the giving side.

One of the nice things about audio books (as opposed to read alouds) is that they can be listened to again and again without wearing out the narrator (read: parent or older sibling). And they can be enjoyed at almost any time. One of my sons who learned to read late commented recently that he would have LOVED to have had more audio books available when he was younger. (We tended to have enough for road trips, but certainly not near as many as “real” books, so he and other late bloomers were at the mercy of their older sibling’s reading time when they wanted to enjoy a good book together. (Chronicles of Narnia and the entire American Adventures series were popular read alouds.)

Traveling with Children

We tend to listen to A LOT of audio books while traveling, regardless of who is in the car. Obviously the choices of books vary, but the act of listening to books is a common part of road trips in our family. In the early years it was generally CDs picked up from the library or tapes and CDs that we had purchased. Even the one vehicle we’ve owned with a DVD player in it (our 8 passenger Toyota Sienna), involved much more listening than watching. (See the blog post on travelling on the Lewis and Clark trail for more information on how we handled that.)

When traveling with children, I can’t even imagine not having a vast variety of audio books to help fill the hours with fun and education.  As I mentioned in the Lewis and Clark post, we have a special love of Odyssey, Jungle Jam, and Jonathan Park stories for road trips that involve children.

Children’s Books

As time moves on, so does technology. So now, we are just as likely to be listening to a book we’ve downloaded, but in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been an Audible account holder for three years now, and since that account is more for me, than for others, it does contain a lot of books that I got just for me to listen to. But, in the midst of all of those there is still a fairly good mix of children’s books – from Winnie the Pooh and the Little Prince to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (and the Hobbit, if you can include that on a list of children’s books, which I have mixed feelings about). I’ve listened to this particular recording of the Hobbit all the way through twice, and if you won’t think less of me, I’ll even admit to having listened to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (actually I’ll admit to those either way – they were fun books). I have only listened to the beginnings of the other two, but in time, I hope to add those to my completed list. (Maybe I’ll look for an opportunity to share them with my grandchildren.)

Educational Value of Audibles

For children learning to read, the ability to hear a book and follow along on a physical copy can be very fruitful. And for older students, the amount of educational materials available on Audible is quite impressive.  Their collection of the Great Courses lectures series alone makes Audible invaluable. The lectures are aimed at college students and other adults, but with careful use, many of them can also be very useful for high school students.  (More on Great Courses below.)

My Personal Audible List

My listening library is as eclectic as my physical library (and the books I write, for that matter). My interests are vast and varied – and a quick look at my audio library shows that. Many of those books are ones that I sought out for one reason or another, but many others are ones I found thanks to one of Audible’s great sales (their “Daily Deal” being one of my favorites – though sometimes I find they can go many, many days before I see something even worth looking at). One of the many things I like about Audible is that when you have a membership they give you 12 months to decide whether you actually like a book or not. (And when an account gets as backlogged as mine does sometimes, that’s a nice time period.)

With that wonderful refund policy, I’ve actually returned about 10% of the books I’ve gotten from Audible. I usually make returns for one of two reasons – I don’t like the narrator or the bad language is just too much to put up with. Or, thirdly, on a few occasions it was because I just couldn’t get into the story. And it’s nice to be able to return a book for any of those reasons.

And, as a result of their specials, and their generous return policy, I’ve discovered a whole world of Audio books I wouldn’t have known existed.

Great Courses as Audibles

I would be remiss in not mentioning one particular category of Audible books that alone would make my Audible account worth having – the Great Courses lecture series.  Almost every Great Courses series that can be bought as just an audio can be gotten through Audible. At just $10 – $15 (depending on your credit costs), I know of no better way to listen to their amazing array of wonderful courses! (And if you watch the sales, sometimes they are even cheaper than that!) I still buy the occasional video-based course straight from Great Courses, but if it will work as just audio, I buy it from Audible!

Just a small sampling of some of my favorite Great Courses Audible books (and I’ve bought over 40!):

Other Types of Books I Enjoy

And of course, I do listen to “real” books in addition to the many lectures I enjoy –  both fiction and non-fiction.  Some of my favorite non-fiction books have included more books on writing, more on history (I’m sure both of those surprise you), in addition to more Shakespeare and economics. My fiction books are pretty well mixed as well, though I have discovered that I enjoy quite a few “political thrillers” and “cozy mysteries,” – with Rhys Bowen being one of my favorite, newly discovered authors!

At $10 – $15 for the “full priced” audible books I buy, and $5 or less for the sale books, I get lots of bang for my bucks for the Audible books I purchase.  If you haven’t already given Audible a try, I can strongly recommend it!

Trying Audible

Now that I’m three years and three hundred plus books into my Audible journey, I’m constantly amazed at how many people haven’t tried it. For $15/month, you get one credit (which equals one regularly priced book), or for $25/month you get two credits. (And it probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s an even more impressive/expensive membership for those of us who want to get an average of more than two books per month.

So have you given Audible a try for yourself and/or your family? What are your favorite books to listen to? I would love to hear what your thoughts and experiences with Audible have been.

Happy listening!

Cathy

Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life

I think parents in general and homeschoolers specifically have a tendency to become too focused on the here and now. We tend to worry about when our children will learn to read, whether they’ve finished enough textbooks, and how we’ll get them through high school. But although I covered homeschooling highschoolers in an earlier post, I don’t think even that is where we should be focusing our attention. What will their lives look like when they are adults? What will our relationships be with them then? While they will always be our children, our relationships with them can and should change as they become adults.

As a result, I’m not one that cries at graduations or weddings. I see those as further celebrations of the job that we have done (as imperfect as it may be). Maybe it’s easier for me to think that way, since as of last summer, all of my children are adults. But let me encourage you by telling you, it’s all worth it! All the struggles, all the concerns, all the difficulties along the way to seeing them growing up – someday our jobs raising them really are completed.

I’ve been celebrating the completion of almost 35 years of homeschooling since my youngest graduated last May. I had threatened to dance across the stage at that graduation, but since I was also the key note speaker, I only danced internally.

In July the youngest turned 18, marking the passage of all my children to adulthood. (Even if Alabama thinks that age is 19, we’ll go with 18. I don’t want to wait another year to consider that job done, especially when the “child” in question has already graduated and left home!)

Those were celebrations, to be sure. But I think the final celebration of my work as a “Mom of 12” came when my children honored me with a video for my 60th birthday this past week. I laughed and cried (tears of joy) all the way through the 30-minute video where my children and “bonus children” (my son-in-law and daughters-in-law) shared various memories from the last many, many years.

And while no one will ever doubt that I’ve made as many mistakes as any other parent, I can know that I did my best as I raised my children, and that through it they all not only survived but also thrived.

As I watched the video (multiple times, in fact), I have to say that these are the types of things that bring joy to the heart of a homeschool mom, when she hears the thanks for:

  • Always believing in them when they struggled with learning something
  • Always being there for them (even when we were geographically apart)
  • Being willing to say, “Yes, and…” in support of their ideas whenever I could.

Teaching them:

  • To think outside the box
  • To never give up
  • To be willing to try new things/to be adventurous
  • To be thoughtful
  • To be questioning
  • To do their best (but not stress about the scores/results/etc.)

Several of my children enjoying a game.

Instilling in them

  • A love of Learning
  • A love of Games
  • A love of Travel
  • A love of History

Statue of York in Louisville
Following the Lewis and Clark Trail gave us history and travel!

So, when the homeschooling or parenting path is difficult, and you just want to throw in the towel, remember, they do grow up. (I’ve always heard “They grow up too fast” – but I don’t think I would go that far!) And someday, you too will be developing new relationships with your adult children and just looking back at these days as memories.

In the meantime, enjoy the present, don’t stress about the past, and look forward to that day in the future when you too will be retired from this current job that sometimes seems like it will go on forever.

Happy learning and living!

Cathy

Traveling Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

Family Trips

We have used family trips as learning experiences on many occasions, including going to numerous National Park battlefields across the country, and traveling to Jamestown in 2007 to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of its settlement. But one of the most memorable trips our family has ever taken was when we traveled along the Lewis and Clark trail in 2005. There were seven of us in our eight-passenger minivan and we travelled for almost three weeks. It was an amazing trip. In fact, as the younger children got older they often asked when we would do that again. Sadly, it was probably a one-time event, since schedules just become more complicated as the kids grow up.

Packing for the Trip

Of course, with seven of us in that van, space was at a premium.  As we planned the trip, we quickly decided that seven suitcases going in and out of the hotels almost every night would be a bit insane.  So, we went with three very large suitcases and one smaller one.

In each of the large suitcases we packed two days of clothes for each of us. And in the smaller suitcase we packed our overnight stuff and our swimsuits. That way we only took in two suitcases each night – the small one and one of the larger ones.  Most times we were staying in a hotel for just one night, but on several occasions we had more to see in the area, and we planned a two-night stay. Of course, on those nights we made sure we brought in a suitcase that still had two days’ worth of clean clothes in it.

Laundry Along the Way

And of course, we had to do laundry several times on the trip, since it was a 20-day trip and we only brought seven days’ worth of clothes. I did laundry one night at a hotel while the kids (which included my 27-year-old daughter) hung out at the hotel’s pool with a water slide. And I did it another time at a laundromat, so I could get our many loads done quicker.

For that trip, we had our general route planned out at least as we headed north and west from St. Louis (that was easy, since we were staying as close to the Lewis and Clark Expedition as we could do in a car). We had considered camping, to save some money, and be more like the Expedition, but we gave up that idea pretty early into our planning – we would have had to bring more gear for camping, which would have pushed us over the edge for fitting into our minivan. And it would have made it more difficult to arrive at our destination late at night, which we often did.

Hotel Rooms vs. Camping

So, we decided to splurge and go with hotel rooms, a decision we were very happy with. (We saved money in other ways – keeping a big cooler in the van with sodas and the makings for lunch meat sandwiches, so we typically only ate fast food once a day, and then only with water.)

We started the trip with our first two nights’ reservations made. Our first day’s drive got us to the St. Louis area, where we knew there would be much to see and do; since the expedition had officially begun at Camp Dubois, just a bit outside of St. Louis. But we had no other reservations made beyond that, because we didn’t know how far we would get each day. We had to make an average of 260 miles each day, in order to make it to the Pacific Ocean and then back to Montana for a family reunion in two weeks. But other than that, the schedule for those first weeks was fairly flexible.

Planning as We Went

So we worked out the details as we went along. My oldest did almost all of the driving, and I played navigator and tour guide. Depending on what there was to see and do on each particular day, would determine how close to the average we actually got. Some days there were too many sites to visit, and we logged significantly less miles. But some days the drive was the main event, and we could make up some of the earlier “missed” miles.

When we started the trip, we hadn’t discovered a particular hotel chain we liked, and we typically chose our hotels based on what we found in the little hotel brochures as we crossed into different states every day or so.  From those we could see what was ahead, what the prices of several different hotels would be, and which of our preferences we could get – an indoor swimming pool, a large room or two connecting ones, and free breakfast. And, while we had cell phones by then, they were not the mini computers we carry around with us these days! By the end of the trip we had found ourselves choosing from the Choice Hotels line the majority of the time, and that is still our go-to chain more than a decade later.

We couldn’t always get a hotel with an indoor pool, but we did on enough occasions to make the younger kids happy.  And on more than one occasion the teenagers were watching the younger kids in the pool while my oldest and I were repacking the van. (Wet swimming suits were a small price to pay for happy kids and smooth packing!)

Packing Sanely

Fortunately, moving our supplies was easier than it was for them!

Speaking of packing – two of the things that we did on that trip that helped immensely were color coding everyone’s tops and using gallon size Ziploc bags to sort clothes. Into each bag we could put one person’s shirt, socks and underwear.  The bags were marked by names and colors, making it easier to pass out clothes each day, and making it easier to sort the clothes back into the right bags and suitcases after doing laundry.

Before we went on the trip, we sat down as a family and chose 7 colors. Then I checked to see who had what colors of shirts and who was missing what colors. Trips to a couple of thrift stores and we were all set. Matching colors also made it easier to spot the other family members when we had stopped somewhere.

Entertainment Options

Another decision we made that proved very helpful to us, was to allow only one DVD per day. We brought along a container full of family approved DVDs and another one full of CDs. On the first day, the youngest one got to choose the day’s DVD, on the second day, the next to the youngest, and so on. There was no arguing over the chosen DVD, since each person would eventually get their turn to choose. And there was no arguing about additional DVD’s, since that would have resulted in fewer DVDs being watched on the trip, rather than more! (Being the “mean Mom” that I am.)

When they weren’t watching a DVD we generally had a CD on – and we rotated through several different series that were generally liked by all (Jungle Jam and Friends, Father Gilbert Mysteries, Chronicles of Narnia, and the unabridged version of Undaunted Courage).  Whenever I had historical facts to share, or things to point out, the CDs would be paused.

Reaching our Primary Destination

By the time we made it to the Pacific Ocean we had all seen, done, and learned an amazing amount of things connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition!

And by the time we had returned, I had almost completed our journal of the journey, The Lewis and Clark Expedition Jaime-style. The book from Fodor’s Travel Historic America series, the Lewis and Clark Trail was very useful to us. If you are considering a trip along even a portion of the trail, that book is well worth the investment!

For more of our ideas on learning with travel, you might also want to check out our book, Learning as We Go: Teaching through Travels.

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