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School Away from School

Blowing bubbles all over the room. Parading across a stage in an elaborate costume. Scaling the side of a mountain. Driving a fire truck. The things I remember most vividly about being a homeschool student—the things I enjoyed most (and, I think, learned the most from)—were field trips.

One of my fondest childhood memories comes from a field trip with my homeschool support group to the Children’s Museum of Maine. This place seemed to me a fantastical world of amazing things. And the best part—you could touch everything!

The museum aims to teach children about science and daily life while making it fun to learn. Each of its rooms focuses on activities that enhance the lessons school children are regularly learning, particularly in earth and life sciences. At this museum children also learn about occupational roles such as fireman and farmer.

A miniature town on the first floor of the museum allows children to visit the supermarket and lobster boat, take care of toy animals in a veterinary clinic, milk an imaginary cow at Oakie’s Acre Farm, and run the siren while driving a fire truck. The second floor—the explore floor—features a large hollow tree, a climbing wall, a stream for floating boats, and even a submarine.

My favorite room was the bubble room. It amazed me that it was okay to do some things that were normally against the rules. Here was a whole room dedicated to bubble soap! And if you spilled on the floor, it didn’t matter.

Going to a game park or an aquarium is a wonderful way to learn about the animals featured in science textbooks. At a game park, I learned that moose like to play with toys. The moose that was kept at the game park in Gray, Maine, had a tractor tire that he enjoyed rolling around and picking up with his antlers. It looked kind of awkward to me, but he seemed to enjoy it. (And there’s no sense in arguing with a seven-foot, 1,500-pound creature.)

If your children have a bent toward music or theatre, attending plays and concerts will give them exposure that may spark their interest and encourage them to want to learn more. When I saw the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the Robinson Ballet Company perform the Nutcracker Suite, one of my favorite storybooks came to life before my eyes. I finally understoodwhy Marie was scared of the mice—they really were bigger than she was, and quite frightening. I have no doubt that attending performances such as this encouraged me to write my own stories and helped me later on as a teenager to organize amateur productions for my homeschool fine arts festival.

Touring a police station or a National Guard base is a great way to teach your children about some of our country’s internal and external defense institutions. Children generally enjoy learning about what our officials are doing to keep our country safe and to preserve peace internationally.

My homeschool group toured a police station where we were briefed on a routine work day and shown how some of the special equipment worked. One of the officers did a few checks on some of our parents’ driving records. (Thankfully, everyone had a clean record.) We all had our fingerprints taken and visited the empty holding cell where prisoners are sometimes kept until they can be transferred to a penitentiary.

All of these activities were a lot of fun for me. Because we tend to remember what we’ve seen and touched, what your children learn from field trips reinforces what they’ve read. Combining field trips with classroom lessons will help your children to retain knowledge for years to come.

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