The Art of the Field Trip

It’s Throwback Thursday, so I thought I’d bring out this blog I wrote in 2012.  Note: This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I found it in the Drafts folder and realized I never actually hit the “Publish” button.  I’m just being cool and retro here.

I’m a Field Trip Wimp.   I would say field trips stress me out even more than glitter glue and Play Doh.   So while my kids have attended field trips over the years, they have been few, far between and inevitably planned by Someone Else.  I am not an event planner.  Just don’t have that gene.  Eight months as the Event Coordinator for a small church 25 years ago convinced me of that fact.  It wasn’t pretty.

At some point, however, I became determined to break the Field Trip Barrier, conquer the art of the educational excursion and get the kids as far away from that blasted X Box as possible.  I forced myself to do a few outings, and then a few more, and along the way I learned a few things.  And since I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in my peregrinandaphobia, I thought I would share:

Steps To The No Fail Successful Field Trip

1) Consider your kids first. The field trip is about them, not about you and your event planning abilities, nor is it even about the photos you can brag-post on social media after the fact.  Small children have short attention spans, need naps and frequent food breaks and will not actually remember the details of the trip when they get older.  They will remember if they had a good time and if Mom and/or Dad were happy.  So set your expectations at reasonable levels for the age and temperament of your kids.  The trip doesn’t have to last all day.  A couple of hours is fine.  If they are older, you can be more lavish.  But a 3 year old will enjoy the play structure at McDonalds about the same as any other place you take them, cost notwithstanding.  So save your money and your lengthy trips until they are old enough to appreciate them.

2) Check the weather before you go. Dress in layers, and bring a jacket no matter what the weatherman says.  You can always leave it in the car or in a locker.

3) Read up before you go.  Just a brief perusal of the website for the place you are visiting may provide a wealth of information that will help you feel more prepared, such as what kinds of bags or backpacks are allowable, what the weather is usually like, as well as directions.

4) Pack your lunch.  As a 15-year homeschooling veteran, this is actually the hardest part for me, because lunch-packing is not something I have a lot of practice with.  I get lunch-packing stage fright. What if I pack something that will get squished?  What if it’s inedible by the time it’s time to eat it?  Will I carry it around with me or leave it in the car?  What if I pack too little and everyone’s still hungry?  What if I pack too much and end up schlepping extra weight around all day, only to throw the wilted remains out when I get home?  The guilt!  The shame!  Seriously, the lunch-packing thing has actually talked me out of field trips a couple of times. More than a couple of times. But packing your lunch will save  you a lot of money, and seriously, it’s one meal.  You can eat a PBJ for one meal.  The point is the field trip, not the food.

Having driven in circles a few times around this road construction site en route to a field trip, we tried to convince the kids this was the Getty Museum.  They didn’t fall for it.

5) Sunscreen.  Do I need to be any clearer about that?  Even if it’s overcast.  Sunscreen.

6) Check a traffic website for any road closures that may occur.  This is not a must-do, but we have arrived at destinations a couple of times, only to find that the road we needed to turn on was closed for construction.  It’s usually not that hard to follow a detour, but it does take extra time and your stress level will be less if you know it’s coming.

Now that I have given you all kinds of boxes to check off and stress over, keep uppermost in your mind the thought that even if you fail in ALL of these areas, you can still have fun.  It may be more expensive that you wished (if you forgot the food and have to buy some), and you may do some unexpected exploring (if you forgot the directions), but honestly, even the worst disasters can be salvaged with the right attitude, which makes this point THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT TO A SUCCESSFUL FIELD TRIP.

Bringing An Adventurous Attitude:

When our oldest kids were 2 and 3, we decided to take a family outing to the L.A. Zoo on a Saturday.  By the time naps were done and diaper bags were packed, the afternoon was getting on, but it’s a quick jaunt up the freeway away from where we live, so we figured we could still have a good hour or two at the zoo, which was more than enough time for kids that age to visit.  We hopped in the car, buzzed down the freeway… and came to a standstill about 15 minutes away from our house.  Traffic jam on a Saturday?  Who knew?   It took us an hour and a half to do what should have been a 30 minute trip, and by the time we got to the zoo and saw that it closed in 45 minutes, it just didn’t seem worth it.  So we got back in the car, and my husband, who at that point had very little experience with spontaneity and had yet to be trained by my British sense of Making The Best Of Things, was intending to drive straight back home.  With some quick talking, I convinced him that we could still make it into an adventure, and the kids would never know it wasn’t according to plan.   So we drove west instead of south,  found ourselves in Santa Monica, bought some ice cream and found a park, and the kids had a great time.  They never knew what they had missed, and we both learned how easy it is to turn a day around with the right attitude.

The point is, the trip is about enjoying time together and having an adventure.  It doesn’t matter if the adventure varies a bit from the one you had in mind. Buying shoes in a drug store because a child forgot to put any on can be an adventure (yep, we did that.  She was so excited to go somewhere, she didn’t notice that her feet were bare).  Eating a burger in an old, local-landmark burger joint while Dad walks back to the side of the freeway and tries to recover the items that flew out of the trailer can be an adventure (the 10 year old is still talking about that one… and asking if we can go back there).  Packing up a campsite in one hour flat and racing home just ahead of a snowstorm in June can be an adventure.  In fact, all our best excursion stories come from the things that went wrong.

In the end, it all comes down to refusing to let a change in plans be considered a problem.  Flat tire? That’s an opportunity to meet new people.  Forgotten item?  A chance to explore a local shop.  It’s not a problem.  It’s simply a change in schedule.

Success on a field trip is not measured in adherence to a schedule you arbitrarily set from the comfort of your home before actually BEING in the location.  Success is measured by smiles, discoveries, and happy memories.

And after that’s covered, sure, by photos posted on social media.

kids at lego land 2004ish


Categories: Family, Field Trips, Homeschooling, Kids, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Stumbling Upon the Unexpected

FFWelcomeSignThis week we took a day trip to Forest Falls, CA, so that our 18 year old daughter could check out a camp where she was considering a summer job. Once that was accomplished, we set out to make the most of the destination; a two hour drive seemed a little much if the only result was a 30 minute visit to the camp. There wasn’t much to the town itself – other than the camp, there were just a lot of charming mountain-cabin type residences, a Mexican restaurant, a post office and a few other businesses.

Had we considered the name of the town, we might have had an inkling of what we would eventually find, but as so often happens, the meaning of the name had become eclipsed by its functionality as a label for the town, and we missed the clue right in front of us. And so it was tempting, after a cursory glance around, to give up and drive back down the hill to the nearest mall and simply take the kids to a movie.

All that promising snow... there had to be a way to get to it.

All that promising snow… there had to be a way to get to it.

But we had driven for two hours. Through L.A. traffic. We were not going to give up so easily, and the scenery around us was so beautiful, we weren’t ready to leave it.  Besides, as a family, we have a history of discovering delightful places and meeting interesting people at the very point where our trip appears to be derailing.

Curious 13 year old wanting to see snow up close + zoom lens = discovery of creepy face on mountainside.

Curious 13 year old wanting to see snow up close + zoom lens = discovery of creepy face on mountainside.

And we couldn’t help but notice that the hills that rose steeply on either side of the town were covered in snow, almost close enough to touch, so we followed the main road, hoping it might lead us up past the snowline.

It ended a disappointing half a mile after the town, but there we discovered a park.

And better yet, actual patches of snow!

No, really, actual SNOW!

No, really, actual SNOW!

You have to understand that my kids have never lived anywhere but Los Angeles. This was only the second time any of them had been able to touch snow, and the first time the younger two were 2 and 4 years old and don’t remember it. So this was road-trip heaven.


After a snowball fight or two, and the discovery on the part of the younger two that snow really is freezing cold and there is only so much snow play one can indulge in with bare hands, my husband discovered a sign that said “Waterfall Trail.”

Again we hesitated, debating whether the trail, which at first glance seemed to lead only through flat, high desert terrain, was named accurately.  Again, the name of the town escaped us.

On top of that, we reasoned, there didn’t seem to be enough water in the creek beside the trail for there to be an actual waterfall at any point downstream.  In true L.A. fashion, we suspected that the whole thing was going to turn out to be false advertising.

0403141546But the last decision to press on had paid off, so we walked a few steps down the trail, and then a few more.

0403141539aThe scenery was breathtaking, and with each bend we rounded it got even better. The kids insisted that that roaring noise in the distance had to be more than just the wind in the trees, so we persevered.


“…with each bend we rounded it got even better.”

The trail was well-marked at some points, lined either side with rocks. At other points it was not so clear, seeing as it led through areas completely covered with the same kind of rocks interspersed with sandy patches that might or might not actually be the trail.  We eventually decided that the trail crossed the creek beside which we had been hiking and ascended the opposite bank.

Since the creek had dwindled to a trickle at this point, we had no problem crossing it. Mounting the bank on the other side and rounding a hill, we discovered that there was indeed a waterfall, and that it had nothing to do with the tiny creek we had been hiking beside.


The lower falls

Further hiking up a steep hill revealed that there was actually a series of waterfalls, with the top one being the most spectacular in height.


The upper falls.

190We found some rocks and sat for a while, taking in the roar of the water and the silence around it. The 13 year old pulled out her journal and spent a good 15 minutes of bliss drinking in the surroundings and writing her thoughts.

212The 12 year old hid under fallen trees and jumped from rock to rock.  The 18 year old tested the temperature of the water and filled a bottle with it, reasoning that the 100 foot drop it had just traversed would have filtered it, and we all tried a sip.

(She later told us she had climbed further up and discovered a half-decomposed dead bird floating in a pool upstream, which gave us pause for a few, heart-stopping moments, until my husband noticed the twinkle in her eye. But that’s a story for another post.  Perhaps one about “why my children are so mean and I’m sure I don’t know where they get it from.”)

0403141611aAnd then it was time to reluctantly retrace our steps back to the van, carrying a camera full of images and refreshed and rejuvenated hearts. I think it was on this part of the trip that one of us said, ‘Ohhhhh, right, Forest FALLS!”  We climbed wearily into the van and wound our way down the mountain road, blasting Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” since we felt like we had been on an unexpected journey worthy of Bilbo Baggins and wanted to squeeze the last moments of adventure out of the day.

Categories: Family, Field Trips, Homeschooling, Kids, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

A museum trip. What better way to start the school year than with a field trip to a museum? Our timing was a little off, since we don’t technically start our school year until September, but homeschooling is never easily put in the box of calendars and “school hours” anyway, so off we went to the Getty in the middle of August.

Free, but parking costs $15.
You can pay the parking fee with cash or a debit or credit card.

Hours (Summer 2012)
Monday           CLOSED
Tuesday         10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Wednesday    10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Thursday        10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Friday            10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Saturday        10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday          10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Our Experience

The first thing we discovered was that there was some major construction happening on the freeway and side streets right at the entrance to the Getty, and try as we might to avoid it, we realized that there was no way around but through and got in line with the rest of the cars.  This construction is continuing through 2013, so until then, it’s a good idea to check the Metro website for updates, as well as adding 10-15 minutes to your expected drive time.

Eventually we arrived at the Center, only 15 minutes after it opened, crowded into the standing-room-only tram and rode it to the top.  It was a good chance to meet some new friends.  We didn’t, but it was a good chance to do it.  I actually spent most of the ride trying not to laugh at the women across from me, whose entire conversation went something like this:

Blond lady, holding up printout of website map: “Now here are the exhibits I definitely want to see, this one here, this one over here and this other one here.”

Dark-haired lady, glancing at map: “Oh, and the restaurant we’re eating at is right there, so that will be convenient.”

Blond lady: “Okay.  There are a lot of restaurants…”

Dark-haired lady: “Yes, but we want to eat at that restaurant, right?  That’s the one we’re eating at.

Blond lady: “Yes, that’s fine, we’ll eat there.  But first we’ll go to this exhibit here and maybe the gardens.”

Dark-haired lady: “And after that we’ll eat at that restaurant.”

<pause to look out window at view>

Blond lady: “Now, do you want to go to the modern art exhibit?”

Dark-haird lady: “Oh, I don’t know.  How far is it from the restaurant?”

<Tram comes to a stop and everyone begins to exit.  I follow the ladies out the doors, and as they walk away from me, I hear one last exchange>

Blond lady: “Oh look, they even have a cafe on the Garden Terrace level!”

Dark-haired lady: “Yes, but we’re not eating at that one.  We’re eating at the other restaurant.”

Entering the cool, air-conditioned, light-filled and airy lobby (did I mention it was air-conditioned?  It was 93°F outside.  We really, really liked the lobby), we made a bee-line for the free maps and huddled to formulate a Plan of Attack. We even found a scale model of the Center, and the 10 year old delighted in pointing out exactly where we were standing.  I was impressed with him until he confessed that there was a sign on the model right there that said “You Are Here.”

The thing about the Getty is, it’s so big, you really can’t see it all in one visit.  Especially not with a couple of pre-teens along.  We knew that the tolerance of our two for Viewing Serious Art would peter out somewhere around an hour and a half, so we had until lunchtime to go through the galleries before they were going to be ready to do something else.

The Getty knows this about kids, however, and has a variety of activities that appeal to them and allow them to enjoy the museum in their own special kid way.  The Family Events and Activities section of The Getty’s website gives details on all sorts of things, such as a family room of hands-on activities, family art labs and free Art Detective Cards, which give the kids something to focus on in the art galleries, which might otherwise be overwhelming to young visitors.

We picked up a couple of Art Detective cards, which had closeup shots of details of different works of art, along with a map showing in which rooms these works could be found.  With a 10 year old and a 12 year old, you run the risk of this kind of thing being met with eye-rolls, but these cards were so well designed that the kids actually got into it and started to compete to see who could find the four mystery works of art first.  All of them were in the “Before 1600” art galleries, and since this was their first trip to The Getty, it made sense to start with the oldest works anyway, so we headed over to the North Pavilion.  The 17 year old was more interested in modern art, however, so she headed off in that direction by herself, art supplies in hand, happily looking forward to finding a quiet corner to sketch something that caught her eye.

We started on the top floor of the North Pavilion, where the paintings are displayed in order to make the most of indirect, natural light that filters down through skylights.  The kids found the art interesting, especially as we pointed out features described on the placards next to the pieces.  We were careful to tell them not to touch anything, because most of the pieces were not behind glass and were actually well within reach of curious fingers.  There were plenty of museum workers on hand to keep an eye on things as well.

Guard watching boy watching bust

I found it mind-stretching to stand right in front of a piece of art that was 650 years old, with nothing but my respect for its preservation stopping me from reaching out and touching it.  I don’t know why things are more real when we touch them, but that is just how the human mind seems to work.  So even though I didn’t touch anything, the knowledge that I technically COULD touch it made me feel that much more connected to it.

Eventually we found ourselves in one of the rooms highlighted on the Art Detective Cards, and the kids set out in search of a painting containing the  bird detailed on the card.  The 12 year old found it first, but the 10 year old was having trouble.  A museum worker sauntered over and gave him a pep talk, pointing him in the right direction, but before he could find the painting, the 12 year old called something out to him that distracted him and caused him to change his direction.  The worker marched over to the 12 year old and chided, in a thick accent, “You have interrupted him!  Now he will not find it!”  He then gazed piercingly at her, with a twinkle in his eye, and asked, “Are you his older sister?” When she replied that she was he encouraged her to leave her little brother alone and let him discover things for himself.  A few minutes later he sidled up to my husband and said, “I have talked to his sister.  She will never interrupt him again.”

When we reached the ground floor, the kids were fascinated by the many different sculptures and pieces of furniture, especially a four-sided carved display cabinet with many drawers on each side.  The display for this piece included three augmented reality (AR) touch-screen pads that enable the viewer to explore the cabinet without actually touching it.  This same AR presentation is also available on The Getty’s website, much to the delight of my 10 year old, who just didn’t get enough of it on site.

Italian Filigrana Bottle, late 1500’s or early 1600’s

By the time we reached the display of European Glass and Ceramics from 1400-1700, our feet were tired and our stomachs were telling us it was time to eat lunch, but not until the 12 year old, who was struck by the beauty of these pieces, took photos of every last one of them.  We made sure she knew not to use the flash, and she snapped happily away at the pieces while I stood back and tried to understand how it was possible, considering that glass objects have an expected life-span of 3 months to 2 years in our household, that these pieces had survived upwards of 600 years without being dropped.

After a restful lunch, during which the 17 year old grabbed the camera and took photos of everything she had noticed earlier but hadn’t had a camera to photograph, we made our way to the gardens.  The only other time I had been to the Getty was right after it opened, and the gardens had filled in and grown a lot since then.  As it was the first time I went, the gardens were one of my favorite parts of the Center, as from there I could appreciate not just the imaginative landscaping but also get a good look at the architecture of the buildings.  The 17 year old commented that she could easily spend a day at the Center just exploring, sketching and photographing the gardens and the cityscape views they afforded.






The gardens are so beautiful, in fact, the 12 year old asked for the camera and took her own set of shots:





As I mentioned earlier, however, it was 93°F, so our tour of the gardens was cut short as we surrendered to the heat.  The sculpture garden was quite interesting and offered some unmatched views, but with not one tree, overhang or water feature in the vicinity, it maintained the approximate temperature of an oven prepped for baking cookies. Even the sun umbrella provided by the Center was little help in that area, and we vowed to come back again another time, preferably on a rainy day.

As we made our way out of the gardens, we passed the Getty’s trademark tree-shaped bougainvillea trellises. The middle-aged woman in front of me marveled to her husband about how beautiful they were, to which he paused, and then replied, “Yep, that’s some fine-lookin’ rebar there.”  You could take that as sarcasm or an honest opinion, and I’m not entirely sure which one is funnier.

Insider Tip: We discovered this too late for it to be of use to us, but keep in mind that should you visit the Getty on a blisteringly hot day, the coolest outdoor seating is not down on the Garden Terrance level, as most people seemed to suppose.  There was a breeze coming up the hillside, but it blew right over that level and hit the next level up.  The placement of clear wind-break panels on the edge of the Museum Courtyard confirmed my theory, as the wind is apparently a problem on cooler days.  In 93 degree heat, however, the breeze was wonderful, making the best outdoor seats in the Center that day the ones between the long, thin fountain in the courtyard and the Exhibitions Pavilion.

By the time we arrived at the end of the tram ride down the hill, we noticed that as hot as it had been at the top, it was a good 10 degrees hotter at the bottom.  This didn’t stop the 17 year old from appreciating the architecture of the parking garage, and she paused for a picture in the stairwell.

Whatever your interest in visiting the Getty, be it art appreciation, people-watching, garden-browsing, architecture-studying or restaurant-sampling, the Center has plenty to offer.  The beauty of the grounds makes it possible for even the most amateur of photographers to capture some stunning shots, the collection is beautifully displayed with plenty of information at hand to widen the knowledge base of the viewer, the people who work there are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to help and the whole experience is an incredible deal at $15 per car-load.  This is definitely a place I will return to with my kids; the size of the collection, as well as its constantly changing nature, insures that no two visits to the Getty will be the same.

Categories: Family, Field Trips, Homeschooling, Kids, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

The Wonder Of It All

It seems a little strange to start with a re-blogged entry, but since this comes from my other blog, it’s okay. In fact, this is the post that started the thought of writing another blog. The beginning of the spin-off, if you will.

Julia's Inner Monologue

It was not turning out to be a good day.

The day before, I had high hopes that I would Make The Most Of A Beautiful Summer Day and had even rearranged a piano lesson so that I would have the afternoon off.  Seeing as it was August and the school year was looming ever larger on the horizon, I was feeling the pressure of the whole Make the Most thing.  And I was determined to get the kids away from computer games for at least ONE afternoon this month.  High hopes.

However, by the time the morning lessons were finished, I found myself in a funk, paralyzed by the very pressure that was telling me to perform.  It was too late to call any of my friends to make plans, and besides, I was in too much of a funk to even make the call.  Gritting my teeth, I…

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