Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trailer Camping: Learning and Exploration

We have a Texas State Park Pass which enables us to visit more than 90 Texas state parks without entry fees and we receive discounts on camping.  My husband made a statement about visiting as many state parks as possible this year.  I have some plans up my sleeve if he follows through with that plan.  Be careful what you say honey. We decided to take a field trip with Alyssa to McKinney Falls State Park near Austin, Texas a couple weeks ago.  This is a park we once explored and camped 10 + years ago, so it was a very memorable occasion for us both.  We wanted Alyssa to see all the beautiful things we saw and to experience nature once again. Unfortunately, the park was not as well maintained or preserved as we remember due to lack of state resources and funds.  The grasses were long and litter was throughout the park.    

The Campsite
This was actually taken during clean up right before we left the campgrounds.  The campsite gave us enough space to spread out our belongings while keeping us at a distance from our neighbors for more privacy.  The walk to the restroom always turned into a conversation about God's creations and things to be thankful for - thanks to my lovely daughter.  She really helped me focus on the environment around me and I enjoyed our daily walks together.

Things to Do While Camping
Walking Stick Encounters
One of the greatest things about camping is having the ability to study nature and the insects surrounding you.  God has created so many insects for us to learn about and observe in nature.  We felt like there was an invasion of walking sticks at this park.  They were EVERYWHERE ... really I mean it!  We looked at walking sticks up close and held them.  Alyssa said, "Mommy they look like sticks ... see (as she showed me a stick compared to the insect).  I asked her why he was created to look like a twig or stick?  She told me, "So that he can blend in."  We discussed the anatomy of insects and read about insects in our Handbook of Nature Studies written by Anna Botsford Comstock.  I packed her nature backpack with sketch paper, writing utensils of all sorts, and a magnifying glass.  She spent an hour or so the first day walking around looking at walking sticks up close.  She was fascinated by them!  She rescued a few with missing legs and offered them food to eat.  Luckily, we brought our Christian Liberty Nature Reader (Book 1) with us on the camping trip.  We were able to read about walking sticks on pages 107-108.
Please comment below with a link if you have walking stick photos you took posted on your blog.  We'd love to see them.    
Alyssa took great care of these walking sticks.  
I thought she was going to bug out.  She is not too fond of insects especially ones on her. 
Hitching a ride into town.
He freaks me out!  Looks too much like a scorpion with that back side up.

Outside the bathroom door hanging with three others.

This walking stick wanted to play the bean bag game with us.  
Raccoon Thieves! 
One night Jeff was sitting outside and a raccoon walked right by him like he owned the campsite.  He opened our mini fridge and started removing items he wanted to devour.  Jeff and I woke up two nights in a row by raccoons stealing camping groceries.  He ran them off only to find tortillas and butter missing.  How did they know the two taste GREAT together?  We always add a little sugar or honey to make them sweet.  The next day they opened our cooler that was supposedly blocked and ate two raw eggs - leaving their mess behind.  Gee ... at least clean up after yourselves.  Alyssa was able to observe raccoon tracks in the dirt the next morning.  We told Alyssa about the raccoons the next morning and she researched them in the Handbook of Nature Studies.  She said, "Mommy the book says raccoons seek their food at night ... that's why he stole our food while I was sleeping."
Do you have any funny raccoon stories to share?  

Campfires and Solar Oven S'mores
Daddy taught Alyssa how to build a campfire and how to stay safe near one.  A fellow blogger reminded of an activity I used to do in the classroom during science lessons.  It was a last minute decision but during our camping trip, we not only made s'mores over the campfire ... we also made them in a solar oven. We gathered the supplies and Alyssa quickly put together the oven. The s'mores were placed in direct sunlight.  We ate them before we drove into town to see Madagascar 3.  She has a blast!  We talked about how the sun is a star that gives off heat and light.  We also read about the sun in our nature handbook.  We extended the lesson by making sun tea.
Have you ever made s'mores in a solar oven?  If not, give it a try this summer!  
She never eats s'mores but I guess this activity changes her mind.
Camping Books
I found several camping books at the library to bring along.  Our choices were limited since camping is such a popular summer theme and it was the weekend for the great campout.  I did the search late the night before and was able to find a few to read.  I am usually more organized for trips like this but since we were in a rush to get out after the professional photographs of the house - I grabbed what I could and made the most out of it.  We took turns reading the camping books aloud in the car, in the camper, outside, etc.
Four nature study books that I own and will always bring with us when camping are:
What are your favorite camping or nature study books?

Camping Games
We brought five board games for the evening time.  We also played games during the day.  Jeffry received outdoor games for Father's Day (his choice).  We set the games up and played at the campsite. The set included included Ladderball, Washers, a Bean Bag game, and Croquet.  We had loads of fun!

Book Sale Deals
We also came across a cheap book sale during our travels and I bought three great books for $1.50.  Alyssa couldn't put Teddy's Button down.  We already read the illustrated version from Lamplighter but this was the actual chapter book.  She started reading it in the vehicle.  The dinosaur research guide will be used with dinosaurs themed activities later in the year.  The math book was hardcover and looked brand new.  Couldn't resist daddy - what's a couple more books gonna hurt?    
Other Nature Observations
There were amazing trees hovering over us.  I photographed many for her nature journal.  We also did bark rubbings and identified the trees in the area.  We spotted several cardinals but were unable to photograph them so she drew one for me and we read about them. We read the bulletins near the bathrooms posted about litter and taking care of the environment.  Alyssa wanted to clean up all the litter in the area.  We did not have bags and other materials necessary for a clean up so we did the best we could do with what we had available.  Take the time to identify and study different animals, plants, and insects while camping.  Your children will learn so much! She also observed the white-tailed deer, spiders, butterflies, flowers, and fire ants.  She saw a baby fawn as the sun was setting running up to her mother.  She listened to the surrounding sounds and talked about the moon while walking to the restroom.  She loved the morning walk to the restroom - she always started a conversation about things that God made for us - "Mommy, look around you and tell me what you see that God made."  I love how connected she is with the world around her and with God.  The magnifying glass was also used to look at tree barks.  We found a spider web when packing up to leave early Saturday morning.
Hiking Trails and on Rock
We wanted to go on a park ranger-led hike.  However, sadly we found out that the tours only occurred on particular weekends during the month and it was not the week we were visiting.  We didn't actually didn't get to go on a interpretive hiking trail walk like we wanted but we still did a lot of rock walking.  We walked down a trail and across a large slate of rock to get to the waterfalls.  It was great exercise for us all. Alyssa acted as if she were jumping craters and walking on the moon.

Bike Riding
While I worked in the trailer, Jeff took Alyssa on a bike ride. Unfortunately her pedal fell off and we didn't have the tools to fix it. Needless to say, that activity lasted less than a half an hour.

Swimming and Waterfalls
Alyssa and Jeff took many swimming breaks throughout the day.  I was able to capture several of those moments on camera.  They played in the pools beneath and near the waterfalls (water was low so not as rapid).  She recently learned how to use her noodle so she practiced swimming with it.  Alyssa build mud pies, mud houses, and mud hills in the water.  She watched the water erode the houses. She skipped rocks and collected shells as usual.  Waterfall aren't as full as they used to be due to the lack of rain.

If he let go of her, the current would take her down the waterfall.
My camera took the photo like this using forgotten features. 

Rock Throwing

Playing in the mud!
Stay Protected
Alyssa can't stay out in the heat for too long.  Her face turns red and she gets overheated easy.  No matter how much sunscreen we put on Alyssa or how much water she drinks this always happens.  We took many breaks and headed inside for the comfort and convenience of the camper to cool off.  She also gets cold easy so she would wear a jacket or get inside her sleeping bag.
Rosy red cheeks as she cools down - watching Mathtacular video during free time.
Check Out the Visitor Center
The small, quaint visitor center had several educational activities and exhibits for children to view and touch.  Alyssa completed a life cycle of a frog puzzle and did several stencil crayon rubbings.  She observed and touched bones, fossils, and rocks from the area.  She felt a rattlesnake skin.  She also saw an exhibit of the park and how it has changed over the years.  The exhibit contained artifacts and fossils - she was drawn to the black and white photographs from the past.  She was able to view a mini replica of the rock overhangs that mommy used to explore when she was a teenager and college student.  I wanted to hike it with Alyssa but the trail was blocked for some reason and we couldn't access the grounds.  Native Americans also used to use the rock overhangs in the area for shelters.  One of my vivid memories was of seeing hundreds of daddy longs legs bouncing against the rock.  
This is the replica of the rock overhanging shelters.  It is hard to see because it was encased.
Ancient Oyster
A sample of animal tracks in the area.
Viewing a bug
Insect Rubbings
Ammonite from Cretaceous Sea - We just read about this in our History curriculum.
Camping Meals
Many beautiful and interesting meal prayers this week.  Alyssa loves praying and I think it is a gift to hear the words spoken from such a young advocator of prayer and love for God.  I look forward to prayer time because I never know what to expect.  She never ceases to amaze me.  We were very lucky this week.  Daddy insisted on making the meals this trip.  God blessed us with a yummy diverse meal plan.  Alyssa and I helped prep and she set the table ... yes she did color-coordinate the settings using a pattern of course.  We ate well this week.  I loved our breakfast choices.  However, our favorite camping trip meal for the week was for sure steaks, grilled corn and zucchini, veggie salad, and rolls ... and of course s'mores for dessert.
What's your favorite camping trip meal?         

School was more relaxed that week.  Although it seemed that our schedule was better and we accomplished more.  School started earlier than we were used to but we adjusted well.  I think I may create a new schedule for us for the upcoming year.  We used several items that we are currently reviewing.  Our Map Trek Map collection was put to good use.  Be sure to check back soon for the upcoming review and to see how we used our map collection.  I am excited about sharing teaching ideas.  We managed to use the maps 4 times ... and that was just that week!  The Child Training Bible was assembled and used throughout our vacation for both devotion time, character trait study, and for any disciplinary issues that happened to come up.  We also worked through Diana Waring's lessons in the Ancient Civilizations and the Bible curriculum.  Alyssa completed several of her Horizons Reading lessons.  We found an old book called Mathematical Reasoning through Verbal Analysis at a reasonable price at Half Price Books a few days before leaving and she completed several pages while camping.  She worked on an art matching activity and sequenced her Bible timeline.  She completed most of her lessons in the morning while waiting for breakfast, during the hot afternoons, or late in the evenings.  We did do school in pajamas a couple of times!  On our way home we stopped at Target and found camping stickers.  Alyssa used them as we unpacked to make mathematical patterns on paper.

Matching Art Works
Bible timeline
Skip Counting Tiles by 5 (her idea).  She told me each tile was 5.
Mathematical Reasoning Through Verbal Analysis

Are Interested in Camping Printables?
Be sure to check out the following blogs and websites for more camping printables before the summer ends.
  • Camping Bingo can be found at Making Friends.
  • Spell Out Loud has wonderful printable "I Spy" cards that can be used during your camping trip or nature walk studies. She has more subscriber-only printables you might be interested in using.
  • The Creative Homemaker created a Happy Camper Scavenger Hunt that can easily be recreated to suit your needs and area - create your own family nature hunt.
  • Homeschool Share has a "My Camping Adventure" lapbook unit created by Tammy Maddox on their website definitely worth printing.  We printed and completed several activities while camping.  She includes lessons and recommends books for your camping adventure.
  • Homeschool Creations1+1+1=1, and 2 Teaching Mommies have camping materials and printables for young children.  The resources can also be used in a lapbook.
  • Daily Thought On My Tots has a great camping adventure post.  She invited several friends over to camp in the backyard.  Check out the fun they had while camping!
  • The Nature of Grace has some cute camping activities to try.  I REALLY like the play dough animal track idea!!!  I actually have the cards in my files.  
  • Kinder Korner has a great camping theme or unit containing teaching ideas for math, reading, songs, crafts, and resources.
  • Handbook of Nature Study Outdoors has a nature photo challenge that you may want to participate in this summer. 
Please feel free to comment below if you have or found great camping printables you are willing to share with us all.  We'd love to see them!  

We Are Thankful For Our Recent Blessings 
  • We received lots of good news while we were gone.  As many of you know, our house went on the market a couple weeks ago.  There have been six showings in three weeks and one offer.  We sent a counter offer and it was accepted. Paperwork has been signed acknowledging their offer. Looks like God answered another one of our prayers - we will be moving and closing mid September if everything works out. Please pray for a smooth transaction and move for us.  
  • On the way home Saturday, Jeff's brother called and said his sister-n-law was delivering her baby.  She had a baby boy and named him Patrick.  
  • We were also blessed and won $100 from All About Spelling to purchase our favorite spelling curriculum so it looks like we will be able to continue using All About Spelling this year and for several more years to come.  I am super excited about that!  We LOVE All About Spelling.  My order was placed and already arrived.  We have the next two levels and the two All About Reading readers that correspond with Level 2 All About Spelling.  I am looking forward to continuing this curriculum and can't wait to use their readers.  Merry from All About Learning graciously sent me the correlations to All About Spelling since the manual is not ready.       
  • I have enjoyed being a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew tremendously.  We have had the opportunity to review products we've never even heard of and they have been a blessing in this house.  I just love the supportive women on this team!!!! 
  • I was worrying and wondering about where we would live when the house sold.  The apartment at my in-laws just became available so it looks like we have a place that will save us money while my husband builds the next house.  
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  1. AWESOME~!! I love our Texas Park Pass. We haven't been to McKinney Falls. We like Palmetto State Park in Gonzales area. I am hoping to go to Dinosaur Valley in the fall.

    Great post!!!

  2. Wow! What great camping adventures! And learning! Camping is so awesome! This post has inspired me to think more on state park camping here in Maine. The kids and I were just talking about doing 2 weeks of camping and exploring....and getting a bunch of visitor stamps on our state park passport. Woo!

  3. It looks like you guys had a great time! Your pictures are awesome.

    We love to go camping too. I am hoping that we will be able to go really soon. Last year we only went once, I think. We love it too much to only go once a year!

  4. That sounds like an amazing camping trip Mom! I love the walking stick pictures. I've seen one of those only one time. Love nature studies, and the Handbook of Nature Studies is wonderful. Thanks for sharing :). I'm hoping we can rent a camper trailer soon and head to the Grand Canyon.

  5. So jealous of the camping. I haven't been able to manage it since we have five kids and only one tent. Hubby will take the boys, though!

    Love your good news. Babies always make me smile and free awesome curriculum is the BEST!