Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sutter’s Mill in Coloma – Outside the Bay

Sutter’s Mill in Coloma – Outside the Bay

We have a 4th grader in our family this year, and in our adventures to explore the traditional 4th grade topic of California History we have wandered to areas that extend beyond the Bay Area. Still I wanted to share the places we visited for anyone who may want to make similar trips.

A big part of California history is the Gold Rush. We visited the site of Sutter’s Mill, in Marshall Gold Discovery Park, where gold was first discovered in California. Many of the buildings are reproductions, but I think the kids got more out of that than they would have by looking at ruins or something they couldn’t tell what it once was.

They have a small museum that didn’t take us more than 20 to 30 minutes to walk through, and that was at a dawdling pace, but the kids enjoyed much more than I expected them to. We went into the museum right after we finished panning for gold at the shack just across the road from the museum. The gold panning was more difficult than the kids had expected, although the instructor was very helpful and patient in helping everyone perfect their technique. Perhaps their own gold panning experience helped them appreciate the replicas of some of the gold nuggets retrieved from the river in the early days of the gold rush.

Beyond the museum and reconstructed mill and surrounding buildings, Marshall Gold Discovery Park also has hiking trails. We happened to visit on an unusually hot day, so we didn’t wander far from the historical displays, but it is an option during your trip. There were also many picnic tables available for a nice picnic lunch.

The Marshall Gold Discovery Park website mentions there being folks dressed up in period outfits there as well. We didn’t see anything like that on our visit, so perhaps they aren’t there every day. The volunteers and rangers we met were all a wealth of information and friendly, but were all dressed in uniforms or regular modern clothes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Plant Seeds Inside – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Plant Seeds Inside – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

This is a good time of year here in Northern California to start some seeds indoor for your spring garden. We are still having frequent frosts overnight in many places around the Bay Area, but when you start your seeds indoors, they can germinate in the indoor protected environment, and you will have nice big seedlings ready to go into the garden later in the spring.

Kids love planting seeds too, and watching them grow. There are lots of inexpensive kits you can find for starting seeds indoors: small seed cups or plastic trays for miniature indoor greenhouses. If you don’t want to mess with getting a kit, just use a regular pot that fits on a sunny window in your home, and cover it with saran wrap until your seeds sprout.

For indoor seed starting, you want to plant things that can be transplanted outdoors later on. We like to start tomatoes, bell peppers, peas and beans, squash, and melons inside. Smaller vegetables that don’t transplant well, like green onions, radishes, and carrots we will wait and plant directly into the garden later in the spring. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in San Francisco

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in San Francisco

The Visitor Center for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is located in Crissy Field in San Francisco. It isn’t a large marine museum, but there are still some very neat things to see. The Farallones Sanctuary visitor center is open Wednesdays thru Sundays from 10 to 4, and is free of charge to visit.

The Marine Sanctuary also offers several public and school programs. Although we have never attended a program our homeschool program offered an in school program a couple of years ago that we really enjoyed. It appears that the main Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary website, linked above, is not up to date for their current program offerings. However there is another website, for the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association that is where you would find the best information about their programs and how to schedule your own or attend one they are putting on.

Our visits to the center took us less than an hour, but since it is located in Crissy Field in the Presidio, and right on the beach, our family had even more fun walking along the waves and watching the beach wildlife. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Introduce Your Kids to Your Favorite Childhood Show – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Introduce Your Kids to Your Favorite Childhood Show – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

TV watching is never my first choice for spending quality time with my kids, but with icky weather outside, or when we were recently stuck at home with the flu together, sometimes TV can be great. 
With the help of youtube, Netflix, or your local library, it can be surprisingly easy to get your hands on a video or DVD of your favorite childhood shows.

It can be a strange experience though. Some of my very favorites did not translate from my childhood self to my adult self very well, leaving me wondering what I’d liked about them in the first place. Also, it can be a little hit and miss with what will translate to today’s child audiences. I successfully turned my girls into little Thundercats fans, and they adored E.T. almost as much as I did at their age, but the Robin Williams movie version of Popeye bored them so much they wandered away after the first 30 min. They seem interested in Star Trek and Doctor Who, and willing to stick with it, but I sometimes end up spending more time answering questions than watching.

Some of the disconnect is age since I know I was more into my early teens when I became a Trekie and Whovian. These aren’t shows I intentionally set out to show them, but that they have joined me as I was watching for my own pleasure. So try to think about what you loved when you were the same age as your child is now. Then the next time you need some snuggle time on the couch due to illness or some other factors, pull it out to share.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose

We visited the Tech Museum in San Jose in early January when most schools were still on winter break, yet not all were. So there were still some school groups there during our visit.

I have very mixed feelings about the Tech. We primarily went to see the special Myth Busters exhibit before it ended. I don’t want to go into a review of that too much since it is now ended (but it was wonderful!) but the Tech does offer other special exhibits for limited amounts of time. It’s worth it to check out their website to see what special shows they have going, and what others might be coming up so that you can plan your trip for something that would be of the most interest to your family. The downside is that the special exhibits have an additional charge above the general admissions cost. We were lucky enough to go as part of a group, which offered us a wonderfully discounted rate for both the special exhibit and the rest of the museum.  If you think you can get a group together, it would be a significant savings to everyone.

Also, for homeschoolers, or other groups, the Tech offers many workshops and classes at good rates, and I believe these also include admission to the museum as well. I have not attended such a class, but I have heard from friends that the ones they attended were fun and successful.

Aside from the Myth Busters exhibit, I found myself a little disappointed in the rest of the museum. There were certainly lots of interesting and hands on things to see and do, but I often felt like there was little to no explanation of the science involved. Those exhibits that did have useful signs explaining the science were not explanations that were accessible to children.

However, the very few exhibits that had a docent or museum volunteer stationed with it were wonderful. They were very accessible. They wouldn’t wait only for questions, but would jump in to demonstrate or ask questions to the children to encourage them to try different things. Those exhibits are the only ones that I felt my kids walked away from having learned something, instead of just playing with pretty lights that they didn’t understand.

One interesting feature that I don’t think we used to its best benefit is a ticket tracking program. Each entry ticket has a bar code that can be scanned at numerous (almost all) exhibits throughout the museum. Some just take a photo of you at the exhibit. Not a great photo, sort of a security camera grainy photo, but still neat. Some record your activity for that project. Then you can use the number on your ticket to access online all the things you recorded during your visit. Pretty darn cool.

A personal pet peeve of mine was partly to blame with my lack of enjoyment, and that’s poorly supervised school groups. There were enough of these kids all over the place to really make it difficult to enjoy each exhibit. It was not unusual for my youngest to be pushed (or edged) off a station she was working at, or for kids to shove ahead of us as we waited for a turn at something. Enough that I had to scold other’s children more than once as they were rude of mean to my small child as their chaperone stood on watching.  A friend told me that they have enjoyed the museum more when they go in the later afternoon instead of right at opening, because the school groups are starting to leave by that time of day. I think if we ever return, we will go on a weekend or in the afternoon as well.

If you plan to be at the museum at lunch time, I strongly recommend bringing a packed lunch, or preparing to leave to eat at on outside restaurant. The in house restaurant was packed with long lines and no seating at lunch time so that we ended up leaving all together when we were too hungry to keep exploring. The website says they don’t allow food in the exhibits, but I believe as long as you keep your food packed away, and only eat in the eating area (or outside if you can’t find a spot to sit) all should be fine.

Despite all the little annoyances that pushed my personal buttons, my kids had a fabulous time at The Tech, and have asked many times since to go back. I am certainly happy we went, and loved the Myth Buster exhibit, but I know when we make another trip down to San Jose, there are some things I’ll do differently.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Photography - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Photography - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

My kids always like it when I let them have my camera to take pictures of whatever they like. That's part of the beauty of the digital age. I was never allowed to take photos as a child because I would 'waste' film. You don't need a fancy camera to call it 'photography'. Even a camera on a cell phone will make the kids happy.

To go a step further, you might print out their favorite photos and make a scrapbook, or even frame one for their room. You can take a hike or just let them pose their toys at home for a snapshot. Most county fair offer a photography category for kids if they want a chance to see their pictures displayed, and maybe have the chance to win a couple bucks.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - A Book Review

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - A Book Review

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is one of my favorite books I read in 2012. Actually, it probably will make it onto my list of favorite books of all time.

It is the story of a girl who has a personal secret that could be very dangerous to herself and her family. She also has dreams and goals for herself that make keeping her secret more difficult. The story takes place in a world where dragons are real, and they can even take human form if they choose. Still, dragons and humans often do not understand one another, and maintaining a peaceful treaty between the two species is something that some folks on both sides may no longer want.

This was a world I didn’t want to leave when the story ended. I enjoyed spending time with the characters and was sad to leave them. If you’ve already read the book and felt the same way, there is a free, very short prequel called “The Audition” that you can read on Scribd. It may also be a good read if you want a feel for the style of the novel before you read it.

I was a little wary of the premise about dragons morphing into human form. That didn’t sound like something I’d enjoy. While the physics of that (not to mention the biology) still bug me a little, the story carried well enough that It ended up working. I was interested enough in the characters, and the shape shifting was integral enough to the plot that I was able to accept it while reading.

I don’t have any comments from my kids on this one because they are a little young for it, but I look forward to sharing it with them when they can appreciate it. I didn’t feel they are too young for it because of the romance and sex of the “Twilight” series. The romance in Saraphina is sweet, and full of character. Nor am I wary about the level of violence like the over-the-top relentless violence of the “Hunger Games” books. Each instance of violence in Seraphina is important to the story, and appears in small doses.  As such their impact, I believe, is intensified. The reason I will wait to give it to my own children to read it that the vocabulary might be tricky, and there are a lot of deep messages about self confidence, racism, becoming independent, and love that I think would be lost on them at this age. I want to wait until they can really appreciate this.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Let Your Kids Teach You Something - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Let Your Kids Teach You Something - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Your kids know stuff that you don't. Let them teach you something. Let them explain the difference between a ground type pokemon and a grass type. Let them teach you how to play their favorite video game, or listen to a song by their favorite band. Getting to know your child's interests  also lets you know more about your child. And while you may not always share the same taste as your children, you do want to let them know that you find them interesting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Happy New Year 2013

2012 is over. I had my ups and downs last year, as you did too I'd guess. I learned a few tings, and hope I'm a better person now than I was a year ago. I hope to continue to grow in 2013 as well.

What lessons or memories are you taking away from 2012?