Every day there’s a programme of activities at the Parks, led by Park Rangers. I’ve already written about the Junior Ranger Programme a bit, so I won’t repeat it. It means that in every park, the first things the girls want to do is get the books, and start completing the exercises. It also means that they’re happy to sit still for 45 minutes to listen to a talk on something. In Yosemite we got them to sit through a 45 minute slide show on “Amazing Amphibians”, which was all about frogs and toads. It was really aimed at adults, but they both got things from it (Emily especially liked the idea of the frog that freezes every night in winter, ‘like an ice cream’). They did get to go the a programme activity specifically for them – “Owls – What a hoot!”, in which they got to talk about owls, impersonate owls and make their own owl from paper and a balloon.
For their Ranger badges in Yosemite, they had lots of different activities to complete in their books, which included some drawing, some writing, some collecting, word searches, crosswords etc. If only we could keep them as excited about some of the other ‘boring’ things they see (like volcanoes etc). If you visit any of the National Parks with children, then you definitely have to do these activity books! And the girls love it purely because they get a badge at the end. They don’t even realize they’re doing more work in a day than they might at school!
And at the end they hand their book back into a Ranger to be checked (which the Rangers actually do – I’d expected them to glance and hand over the badge), and they sometimes get quizzed on parts of it. There’s no way that we could get away with doing their book for them! (Or perhaps we could for Emily, because every time it gets to her turn she goes instantly shy and hides away – until the ‘Junior Ranger Oath’ has been done, and then she re-appears when its badge time.) They then get to keep their books as souvenirs – and Charlotte uses them to invent more quizzes and games on the car journeys, as well as finishing anything she didn’t have to do to get her badge. For us, it’s a top feature of the parks.
The other thing we found is that some Visitors Centres loan out Activity backpacks. These contain a whole host of different activities related to a specific subject. At the Happy Isles Nature Centre we borrowed the Birds backpack. It had moulds of birds heads, spotting books and cards, some bird quizzes, and most importantly a pair of binoculars. Charlotte and Emily loved using them, especially on things within 3 feet of us, like squirrels and shoes. It didn’t matter that they weren’t doing every activity as planned – they were just having fun, but using the pack covered a whole range of different educational aspects for them, and taught them new ideas.
It is experiences like this that make me smile when I remember those who said “But how will the children learn while they are away? Won’t they go backwards in their education?” I really do think we’re covering a huge amount of the curriculum through what we’re doing with them – both now and in the future.
Today’s schedule is a good case in point:
8:00-10:00 Shower and breakfast
10:00 Bus to Nature Centre
10:30-11:30 Nature Centre
– looking at the animal exhibits, and information about their habitats
11:30-12:30 Outside with the birds activity backpack
– looking for birds, calling birds, and whistling at squirrels
12:30-1:00 Bus to back to Curry Village
1:00-2:00 Sandwiches for lunch
– watching the squirrels
2:00-2:15 Bus to Yosemite Lodge
2:15-3:00 Wilderness Centre and Ansel Adams Art Gallery
– what do you need to take when you go hiking and why?
– the nature and splendour of Yosemite
4:00-5:00 Indian Village and Museum
– how they used to live and cook
– through the woods and meadows, deer spotting
6:00-6:15 Bus to Yosemite Lodge
6:15-7:00 Owl talk
7:00-7:15 Bus back to Curry Village
7:15- 8:15 Pizza
8:15-9:00 Film and talk
– Yosemite in the winter
9:30 Teeth, milk and bed (for everybody)
(Gosh, reading this makes me feel like a bad dad. How on earth can a three year old keep up this pace for a year? This was a bit of an unusual day because Emily didn’t sleep during the day, which she does when we’re in the car – probably because of days like this. It’s also why we build in days where the girls get the chance to just play – in the room, round the pool – and rest. On days like today’s though, the challenge tends to be to get the girls to stop somewhere long enough to take it in, rather than rush off to the next thing straight away).