By Mimi Mason
In our homeschooling journey, winter is a tricky time of year. The excitement of the first days of school are behind us, long days of frigid temperatures loom before us, and cabin fever creeps in when we least expect it.
Field trip time!
Winter is one of the best times to take a field trip. Or two. Or twelve. Not only does your family get out and about, they get the chance to learn and explore. One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is the ability to interact with entire communities, rather than just a handful of peers who happen to share the same birth date range. Winter is a wonderful time to immerse in local culture, cultivating relationships with fellow community members, and becoming inspired by hands-on experiences. Nothing takes the bite out of a cold day like the excitement of a new discovery.
Art museums, state museums, science museums, and even small local museums dedicated to famous authors and musicians are fantastic places to visit in winter, so are wide open spaces and loads of interesting little facts to learn. Science museums often hold programs for homeschoolers, and larger museums may even boast planetariums and dome shows. In some states, libraries have free passes to museums and state parks, so be sure to check before you plan your trip.
Some of our favorite farm visits have been during the winter months. Farmers aren’t as busy, barns are warm, and kids get a more hands-on, one-on-one experience with animals and farming practices. Our local dairy holds mini sessions on cheese making, while the local produce farm treats kids to food storage and seed-saving talks, tying everything back to the way produce was managed during the pioneer era. A nearby creamery gives demonstrations in ice cream making, while a small Amish farm teaches tips on caring for poultry. Each farm has its specialty, and each provides a new way of interacting with food in a different farm-to-table fashion.
Winter is of course the perfect time to take advantage of skiing, snow shoeing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snow sculpting. Many state parks have trails open for cross country skiing and snow shoeing, and host crafting and holiday events. Our closest state park also teaches winter survival and orienteering during these frosty months. The major skiing mountains in our area also teach dog sledding.
Indoor swimming pools are a truly wonderful way to keep kids active, practice the very important life skill of swimming, and have a little summer time fun in spite of the temperatures outdoors. Look for swimming lessons, water polo classes, and swim team sign ups. Indoor pools are perfect for taking a much needed break from the doldrums of winter. There is just something extra fun and exciting about swimming during the coldest part of the year.
Local Civil Services
Take a trip to your local post office, police station, animal shelter, and fire house. These indoor field trips are perfect for winter, and give kids an inside view of how their community serves them. Animal shelters, in particular, enjoy having volunteers come in during the winter months. Visits to these civil services also completes a homeschooling requirement in some states, so make sure these are on your list.
Bakeries, pizzerias, craft shops, and pottery painting are great stops for winter field trips. Kids can learn a bit of entrepreneurship along with enjoying a hands-on experience while supporting their local community.
During the school year our theaters hold plays, ballets, and events for children and school groups. I discovered that homeschoolers were not only welcome to attend but were also given a discounted school rate. We enjoyed “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” and “Cinderella” the ballet. During the holiday season, the theaters also host Christmas concerts.
Pack a lunch, and head to the local train station. Kids get to watch trains arrive and depart, and learn about the mechanics of mass transit and cargo. Many train stations have ambassadors who will give your family a tour and history talk of the station. You can also schedule a short ride on the local train to learn about the routes that trains follow, as well as practice how to use the train system.
Libraries and Book Stores
The bigger, the better for stretching legs. These cold months lend themselves to curling up with a good book, and these locations give the gift that keeps on giving. Spend a day browsing and learning about the Dewey decimal system and the rest of the week pouring over the pages of a new book.
Stave off cabin fever and use winter to your advantage. Get out into the community, into nature, and explore what your city has to offer. Use field trips as inspiration for units of study and theme weeks. Winter doesn’t have to halt your momentum; it can propel your students into new areas of study and interest. Enjoy this wonderful season of field trips.
Mimi Mason is a homemaker, homeschooler, and micro homesteader. She chronicles her family’s experiences with sustainable living on her blog, The Simple Survivalist. When she’s not elbow deep in garden soil and bread dough, she can be found hidden behind the pages of a good book.