A few years ago, we went on an amazing vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This was the first time our family had visited that area so we were super excited. When we’re traveling, my boys always enjoy doing more of the touristy activities while my husband and I prefer doing the outdoorsy nature activities. So, soon after arriving, our family sat down with all of the brochures we had picked up at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center and we figured out what we’d like to do for the week.
We enjoyed all sorts of fun activities on our vacation. My younger son wanted to go to the Guinness World of Records Museum and to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. My older son wanted to go to a place called Wonderworks in Pigeon Forge, which had all sorts of physical activities such as a rock wall, a ropes course, and laser tag. My husband and I wanted to go on lots of hikes in the mountains and to see some waterfalls and maybe even a few bears (from the safety of our car, of course.)
It didn’t take long for us to realize that our vacation had somehow taken on an overriding theme of astronomy and space exploration. This came as a big surprise to me! I expected my boys to learn a ton about mountains and the geography of Tennessee. I wasn’t expecting them to learn much about space on a trip to Gatlinburg!
The Guinness and Ripleys Museums both had quite a few displays and hands-on exhibits which involved space. Wonderworks also had lots of space-related activities. We saw two planetarium shows at the Creation Museum in Florence, Kentucky on our way to Gatlinburg. We stopped at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force on our way home, and they had a space shuttle trainer as well as several other space-related exhibits. Plus, we watched a 3D movie there called “Journey to Space.”
We went up into the mountains one evening to watch the sunset and ended up staying to take advantage of the opportunity to see the stars without all of the light pollution. We were blessed to see a shooting star while we were up there. We even brought a few DVDs with us to watch at night as a family and Apollo 13 was one of the movies that we happened to grab.
Remember That Vital Ingredient for Success?
By the time our vacation was over and we returned home, both of my sons had been bitten by the Space Bug! It was time for us to start our regular homeschool schedule and I hadn’t planned on covering anything space related other than having one of my sons study astronomy for science.
I knew that if I wanted to capitalize on my boys’ excitement I needed to employ that vital ingredient for homeschooling success – which is flexibility.
So, I pulled up my homeschooling lesson plans on the computer and made some changes:
- I switched their literature selections around. One of my sons was studying British Literature that year so I had him read The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. I found a book about the space shuttle disasters for my other son.
- I added some videos on YouTube about the space race and the history of space travel to my son’s astronomy class.
- We found an online pilot training program for my other son to complete.
- We found a computer game called Kerbal Space Program, which allows kids to design rockets and attempt to orbit and even land on various planetary objects. They also have to figure out how to get back home by safely re-entering the atmosphere of the home planet. My sons are learning a TON from this game.
- One of my sons took a 3D Modeling and Printing class and he decided that for his project he wanted to design a model rocket with different stages.
- For writing, I allowed one son to write a science fiction novel.
If I had been rigid and had tried to force my boys to stick with my original plans I would not only have killed their excitement about astronomy and space but I would have killed their excitement for learning in general.
As our summer break was coming to a close that year, neither of my sons had been eager to start their schoolwork back up. After taking that vacation, however, they were very enthusiastic about their studies. I’m sure they wouldn’t say that they loved ALL of their subjects that year. But, there were enough things woven into their day they DID enjoy that they had wonderful attitudes and learned more than I ever dreamed.
As homeschoolers, we have a huge advantage over public and private school educators because we know what interests our children. With a little bit of planning, we can ignite their imaginations. Be flexible! Allow your kids to dig deeply into subjects which interest them. If we take the time to do this for our kids, they will love to learn and we will have a very successful homeschool.
Question: Are you willing to change what your kids are learning about or do you make a plan and stick to it? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.