Colonial Williamsburg with the kids: the best living history museum for homeschoolers

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Earlier this year we traveled to Washington DC, where my oldest son participated in the National MathCounts middle school math competition. While DC has plenty of sights and museums to visit on its own (it’s a treasure trove for homeschoolers, especially) we couldn’t imagine not renting a car and driving down to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Williamsburg is home to one of the largest living history museums in the US, Colonial Williamsburg. While we’ve been to quite a few living history museums in the US (from theΒ Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts to the small Tinsley House homestead right here in Montana) Colonial Williamsburg has been on our radar for a long time.

We spent parts of three days there (and I say parts, because in those three days that we were down in that area, we also visited original Jamestown settlement, and Yorktown battlefield), which completely didn’t feel like enough time for any of us.

Living history museums are quite different from your regular run-of-the mill museums, because instead of looking at the artifacts and reading little signs that go with them (and we’ve done plenty of that too!) you are immersed into the time period almost entirely. The houses and buildings are preserved in the same manner they looked over 200 years ago, all of the workers there wear historically accurate clothing, they demonstrate essential life crafts that were popular in the day. Our kids loved visiting and didn’t want to leave any of the three days! The especially enjoyed watching and trying their hand at weaving and book binding.

Here are our top 10 tips for visiting Colonial Williamsburg when you decide to go:

  1. Study the time period before you go! All 3 of our older kids had a blast researching Colonial times extensively, reading on the subject, and getting excited about our visit.
  2. Plan to arrive early! You will want to spend as long as possible there. Obtain a schedule of all the live demonstrations, talks, or parades when you are purchasing the admission tickets or download their app in advance and plan out your visit that way. The app has handy maps, hours that various shops and merchants are open, etc.
  3. If you are a homeschooling family, be sure to ask about Educator discounts. When we were buying our tickets the lady informed us that buying teacher annual pass for both my husband and myself was cheaper than just buying the regular 3-day adult pass (that we were planning to purchase)! All I had to show was my educator ID from the local superintendent of schools.
  4. Wear comfortable shoes! You will be doing a lot of walking (and the town is not super compact) so you’ll want to make sure you are prepared.
  5. Dress up in period clothing, if that’s something that appeals to you. It definitely adds to the experience and it was one of the favorite parts of the visit for my daughter.
  6. Don’t forget to prompt kids to ask questions of the cast who work there! They are very knowledgeable. A lot of them are historians by trade and volunteer at the museum. They can share little tidbits of information that definitely enhance your visit. If your kids are timid (mine aren’t but they did need to be reminded to ask the cast when they would try to ask me to the side), think about preparing a little “conversation script” for them beforehand.
  7. Bring water and snacks with you to spend more time visiting various live demonstrations rather than waiting in lines for food. There are plenty of historical taverns right there on the premises where you can eat lunch or dinner, but especially kids sometimes get hungry in between meal times, too. Some of taverns there are only open certain hours and require reservations, so plan accordingly.
  8. If the timing of your visit is flexible, plan to visit during their homeschool days. Our visit time was fixed, so unfortunately we weren’t able to take advantage of that. During those days they offer discounted admission tickets to homeschooling families and a lot more of the hands-on demonstrations that make history come alive in unforgettable ways.
  9. Have your children prepare some sort of presentation after the visit! It helps them remember the most special parts of the visit as well as enhances their presentation skills.
  10. And the last tip is very applicable if you have a daughter (or several) who love American Girl dolls as much as mine does! Have your daughter read all of Felicity Merriman’s books beforehand. They are set in Colonial Williamsburg (which was Felicity’s hometown). If she has a Felicity, allow your girl to bring her special friend with her on this visit! Everyone in Williamsburg recognizes Felicity and my daughter just loved carrying hers around and “showing Felicity her hometown”. It was so sweet to watch her!

Have you ever been to Colonial Williamsburg? What did you like/not like? What were your favorite live demonstration? Please let us know in the comments!

 

 

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Posted in children, enjoying the lovely, homeschooling, Living history, tips and tricks, travel, travel with kids, US travel | 2 Comments

Our Top 10 favorite travel products for family trips

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With all the traveling we do, we have our favorite products that we keep going back to time and time again. Today, I wanted to share our list of favorites with you, my readers, to perhaps give you some Christmas gift ideas for a favorite traveler in your life, or a necessary nudge to indulge yourself before your next trip (wink, wink).

  1. Packing cubes. We usually try to have everyone pack their own carry-on bag, but when that is not feasible and we have to check luggage, packing cubes come to our rescue! These things are so super useful when traveling as a family. Each person gets a cube or two for their clothes, so things are easier to find while traveling with multiple children. We own several sets, so we are able to color code the cubes for boys/girls.
  2. Organizing pouches. These come in handy while trying to keep a printed version of our travel itineraries, confirmations, and tickets handy, since electronic versions aren’t always easily accessible while traveling internationally. I also carry one for receipts, one for small local coins and bills, and one for small brochures, memorabilia, etc. we might pick up while walking around a destination.
  3. Electronic accessory organizer. I like to keep all the chargers and cords organized. With 6 people’s devices on a long trip, cords and chargers would otherwise just end up mangled somewhere in a backpack. This thing keeps everything nice and neat.
  4. Lightweight backpack. We like this specific one that folds up into a small pouch. On the way to a destination we can just throw it into our suitcase, and it comes incredibly handy for carrying around snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, and souvenirs purchased during a day of sightseeing.
  5. Multi-device charger and a multi charging cable. When everyone brings their kindle (for reading) and a tablet (for playing on the planes) and cellphones for parents, and various cameras, this definitely becomes necessary. We like to bring a charger with us with at least 4 USB charging ports, and we rotate which devices get charged when. Also, bringing just one or two of these on the trip, rather than individual chargers and cables for everything cuts down not only on the forgotten chargers at the hotel rooms, but also on the necessary number of outlets in said hotel rooms, which are quite often lacking in number.
  6. Noise-canceling headphones. My husband swears by these (not only do they look cool, but supposedly quality compares even to Bose), I just stick with my regular Apple air buds. And for the kids we bring simpler over-the-ear style headphones, as they are smaller and lighter.
  7. Sunglasses and compact folding umbrella. Rain or shine, you’ll be prepared.
  8. Portable car booster seat for children. While traveling with the small ones, you have to remember to follow the car seat rules of the countries you are in either for riding in a rental car or even a taxi. This traveling booster is so small and light, it can fold up and fit into the outside pocket of a child’s carry-on suitcase. The mechanism on this seat allows the seat belt to be lowered for the child (instead of raising the child up as is usaully the case with regular booster seats). This is what keeps it so small and portable.
  9. Underwater camera. In addition to our DSLR camera and cell phones, we always take our underwater camera. It works beautifully not only under water, but also by the pool, on the beach, in the rain or snow, or anywhere else where you might not want to expose your DSLR to weather elements. The quality of the photos is very nice for a compact camera even after several years of active use.
  10. Travel electronics plug adapter/converter. With this product you’ll always be prepared to charge up your favorite devices no matter what style plug the county you are visiting has.

Do you like to travel as a family? What are your favorite products? Be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Posted in tips and tricks, travel, travel with kids | Leave a comment

Drive Through Zion National Park

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Earlier this year, on our drive to California we decided to make a small detour to Zion National Park. We were going through Saint George anyway, so Zion wasn’t too far out of the way for us. Plus, we always enjoy visiting National Parks to soak in the beauty of God’s creation. Our schedule only allowed us a brief drive through the park and we were able to squeeze in a quick hike, but we definitely enjoyed our time there! I didn’t bring my big DSLR on that trip, so these are just my iPhone photos, but I hope they will give you a glimpse of how beautiful Zion really is and inspire you to make even a quick stop in a national park during your travels.

Quick tip: if you have a 4th grader (including a home-schooled one), be sure to get the 4th-grader in the park National Parks pass that is valid for up to a year and allows your family admission into any of the national parks in the US. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures and let us know in the comments what your favorite national park is!

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This was baby Richard’s first hike, he was only 2 months old!

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Posted in children, enjoying the lovely, travel, travel with kids, trip itineraries, US travel | Leave a comment

Homeschooling for a traveling family: why it works for us

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We love traveling. Ever since Stan and I got married, we were traveling. Internationally, domestically, without the kids, with the kids… We’ve done it all.

If our kids would have been attending a traditional school, traveling wouldn’t have been completely impossible, but it would be quite a bit harder to arrange with only school vacation times to work with. Not to mention that traveling during school breaks is usually quite a bit more expensive since that’s the time when so many families choose to travel.

With 4 kids in tow, we try to save on travel wherever and whenever we can. And if that means traveling off season to the places where we can find the cheapest tickets, then so be it. My husband’s work schedule is also very travel-heavy and so a few of the family trips we’ve taken revolved around the destinations necessary for his work, but we’ve made it into family vacations as well.

Homeschooling not only gives us flexibility in choosing our travel dates, but also allows us to choose what and when to study. We always try to do a unit study on the destinations we are going to be visiting. Kids read extensively on the subject before the trip, map things out. Not only do they learn a lot about history, geography, and culture of the places we’d be visiting, it creates excitement in them and helps them to look forward to the trip. We usually allow them to choose 2-3 attractions each (museum, cultural sight, park, castle, etc), depending on how long we would be at each destination. During our trips they keep travel journals, chronicling their adventures from their own perspective.

We have done 3-8 big trips (international and domestic) each year that we’ve been homeschooling (the past 10 years), plus multiple smaller, more local trips. Each of those trips helped us create memories as a family while allowing all of us to expand our worldview.Β  It exposed all of us to other cultures, allowing us to learn something from the locals at every place we visited.

Do you homeschool? Does your family travel? What are your favorite destinations that you’ve done as a family?

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Kopi Luwak Tasting in Ubud, Bali

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On our recent trip to Bali, one of the things my husband was really looking forward to was the volcano hike in Kintamani. While I was looking forward to relaxing for a couple of days at the luxurious villa, as well as spending some time by the ocean, one thing I really wanted to do was a coffee plantation tour. When we visited Costa Rica ten years ago, we went on a coffee plantation tour there, and it was very memorable for us, so I wanted to visit one in Bali. Plus, Kopi Luwak was calling my name again πŸ™‚

Oh and by the way, what is Kopi Luwak you ask? Why, it’s THE most expensive coffee in the world! Due to its “delicate” processing nature and relative rarity (it’s only produced in certain parts of Indonesia), it usually sells for anywhere between $100-$500/lb! In Indonesia itself, of course, it’s somewhat cheaper, so we thought we would indulge again. We first tried Kopi Luwak when we visited Jakarta in 2016 with our three older kids (we let them try it too πŸ™‚ We didn’t dislike it then, but certainly couldn’t figure out what the buzz was about around its very special taste.

To give you a bit of background, kopi luwak is made from 100% arabica coffee beans. Coffee cherries are eaten by civet cats (small nocturnal animals that live in Indonesia, scroll down this post to see a picture of one!) While the flesh of the coffee cherry is consumed by these animals, the seed (coffee bean) passes through their digestive system intact and somewhat ferments in the process. Their “scat” is then collected, washed in hot water, the beans are roasted and ground. Supposedly, these civet cats pick the best and ripest coffee cherries, which affects the quality of the coffee beans, and the fermentation of the coffee beans during the passing through their digestive system gives them that much milder, flavorful taste.

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Our guide took us to OKA agriculture Bali north of Ubud. While it’s not a real coffee plantation (their plantations are further up north in Bali, towards Kintamani), it was a great place for a coffee, tea, and cocoa tasting, as well as for trying out Kopi Luwak again. And this place actually gets great reviews on TripAdvisor as well!

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They have a couple of civet cats there for people to actually see what these animals look like, at least. Richard loved watching them for a while, but after they fell asleep, he quickly lost interest too.

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The guides explain the process of collecting coffee beans and roasting

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They also have several cocoa trees right there on the premises, and they do roast cocoa beans. Since Stan loves extra-extra dark chocolate, straight cocoa beans were right up his alley! He loved it and ended up buying half a kilogram of those to take home with us.

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This lady was roasting coffee and cocoa beans right there in a heavy cast iron skillet to demonstrate the process of color change in the coffee beans from when they are first collected to what they look like once they are roasted.

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Unroasted coffee beans are very light in color

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Some of the spices that they grow and sell there as well

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“Scat” of the civet cats, that later is washed and roasted for kopi luwak

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Everything is so beautifully green there!

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Our tea/coffee/cocoa tasting is ready πŸ™‚

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They gave us 12 tiny cups of various concoctions (lemongrass tea, coffee, cocoa, ginger tea, and various other kinds) so we could try everything they grow and sell there.

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Watching our Kopi Luwak being prepared right in front of us

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Our Kopi Luwak tasking came with these little banana-coconut pastries, that were actually quite good!

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There are a lot of photo op places around the property

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Green mandarin oranges

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Green cocoa pods with lots of yummy cocoa beans inside

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Have you been to Bali before? What were the highlights of your trip? Please share with us in the comments.

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7 favorite geography/history/strategy games for homeschoolers

 

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Our family loves to play games.

A lot of games…

Especially on the cold winter days when it’s fun to just snuggle by the fireplace around a great game. We own dozens and dozens of games, but some of them we keep going back to over and over, more so than the others. It’s also fun when these games are educational and help kids learn useful facts!

With Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to share with you just 7 of our favorite board games that we love to play often. Maybe some of them will make it under your tree as a family present as well πŸ™‚ And here is a little secret I wanted to share with all of you: you don’t actually have to be a homeschooler to love board games. Make time to play with your children on the long cold weekends. It will help create special memories for sure!

Without further ado, I bring you 7 of our favorite history/geography games:

  1. Settlers of Catan

With so much strategy and replay value as well as extensions and expansions available, you’ll never want to stop playing! Our two most favorite expansions are “Seafarers” and “Cities and Knights.”

2. Splendor

Collecting gems and enticing nobles has never been this historically fun! The game is designed for up to 4 people, although we’ve played with 5 quite a few times, with just a few slight rule modifications.

3. Tsuro: the game of the path

Follow winding pathways of the game while building your own unique Asian-style labyrinth, and try to stay on the board without anyone else bumping you off! This is a great game for a larger crowd, as it can accommodate up to 8 players.

4. Ticket to ride and expansions




I have also posted links above to our favorite expansions. This game is great at teaching geography and has tons of replay value. In fact, the more you play, the better your kids will know all the different cities in all the different countries. It is also a great strategy game.

5. Empire express and Eurorails

Empire express is great for younger kids. It teaches strategy, geographical locations of cities and states, as well as where the various natural resources are located. Eurorails is aimed at the older crowd, with game generally taking longer and focusing on European geography, cities, countries, resources and trade routes. All in all, both are wonderful in you can find them!

6. Carcassonne

A game of medieval castle-building, monastery supplying and road developing kind. Wonderful game for all ages!

7. Lost cities

Fairly fast paced game for just 2 players. Build and fund expeditions from the deserts to the arctic. Great either for one-on-one parent-child play or even a quick date night game for parents πŸ™‚

What games does your family like to play? Which of these games are on your Christmas list this year? Be sure to let us know in the comments! Happy Shopping!

Posted in children, homeschooling, reviews | 2 Comments

Throwback Thursday: Happy Thanksgiving from warm, sunny countries!

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving holiday with the extended family and friends this year here in Montana, I couldn’t help but look back on where we’ve celebrated a couple of years back. We love our time with the family, but with several day off work, sometimes we try to squeeze in a trip right around thanksgiving.

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3 years ago at Thanksgiving we were in Panama, celebrating with my mother-in-law and father-in-law and our then 3 kids at the Intercontinental Resort, eating ceviche instead of the very traditional turkey and trimmings.

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2 years ago we were on the Asia-trotting trip with the children, visiting Jakarta (Indonesia), Singapore, and Phuket (Thailand). Some of the photos from that epic trip can be found in this post.Β Thanksgiving put us in the midst of the Mai Khao Beach at the Holiday Inn Resort in Phuket, where we enjoyed the most succulent mangoes ever that the kids still remember and talk about often.

Where do you all like to celebrate Thanksgiving? With it being the family holiday, do you prefer to travel to see family, stay local, or visit exotic countries?

And Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Posted in asia, central america, holidays, travel, travel with kids | Leave a comment