Homeschooling 101 — Take Advantage of Your Nearby University

When I was thinking about where to take my kids on their dates (see my date night post), I realized that I had stopped taking advantage of one of a homeschooling mom’s best friends.  We have two universities within 30 minutes of our home.  Along with universities comes something that every mom can love:  museums.

Why are university museums so wonderful?  Some of the good things about visiting them include:

  • wide variety of subject matter
  • changing exhibitions
  • activities for families
  • FREE!
  • small enough to see in an hour or two
The museum we chose to visit this trip was a life science museum.  While visiting the zoo cost and entire day and $50 dollars for 4 of us, the museum showed up close examples of real life animals that we could never see in the wild for free.  I chose not to go into the morality of killing animals for curiosity’s sake (and, for that matter, these animals looked like they had been dead for a long, long time.)  Instead, we focused on looking for animals we had seen in the wild, and comparing them to other animals we may never have a chance to see at all.
Maximus was most impressed with the Kodiak Bear, although the liger and the porcupine came in a close second.  Each exhibit had a lot of information — enough to do an entire science lesson or two.  We chose to skim most of the information this trip, but if I lived within a couple miles of this museum, I would build an entire science curriculum around its ecosystem dioramas.  We did have an indepth discussion of rodent teeth, however.
This museum also has almost daily activities for families, including a story time and a live reptile show.  Because the students are excited about their subjects, the presentations are wonderful.
On this same campus is a Museum of Peoples and Cultures, an Earth Science museum with rock samples and dinosaur bones, and a beautiful art museum.  We have in the past taken sketchbooks to the art museum, and no one is surprised to see us trying to sketch out our favorite picture.  It has also been really wonderful to visit the earth science museum and see students actually working on cleaning their paleontology finds.
Why are these museums better than a picture book?  One of the main reasons is that young children have very little concept of size.  When Maximus stood next to a lion (dead and stuffed, of course) he said, “That’s not very big!”  Even after I pointed out the size of the feet and the claws, he was not very impressed.  I guess he thought a lion was the size of a horse!  On the other hand, when he saw the marlin nearly 8 feet long on the wall, he was very impressed.  He just had no idea how big those things were in relation to each other, or to him, until he saw them.  Even a picture in a book with a human next to an animal doesn’t really do it for a young kid.
Another reason museums are better than a picture book is the possible interaction with knowledgeable students or docents, who really can make a trip wonderful.  At a visit to a dinosaur quarry, we encountered two students, twins, who were so eager to share their knowledge with us that we ended up spending much longer than we had planned, and coming away with much more appreciation for how a scientist comes up with an extinction theory.
Local historical museums (in Utah nearly every town has a “DUP” Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum) are also a great resource for homeschoolers.  You can actually see a butter churn, look over old farming tools, and maybe even wear a sunbonnet.  The docents usually are from the area and can tell a great story which really helps bring history to life.
If you are like me, and have kids of varying ages, it is easy to forget about tools that you once used, such as these museums.  When my older kids were younger, I took them to these museums regularly, until they felt like they had thoroughly explored them and weren’t interested any more.  But I forget that my littler ones have not had that opportunity, and are not bored with these museums.  I need to make a real effort to let them see for themselves the interesting things in these museums.
My suggestion:  Google “free things to do in ” your area.  Chances are, you’ll find something exciting to spice up your curriculum.  And remember, it can be off subject.  Some of the best encounters we have ever had at museums are when we went somewhere we weren’t sure would be interesting.
Do you have a great suggestions for free local field trips?  Please leave a comment.
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