Cultivating curiosity, Field Trip Ideas, Nature, Writing

Summer Fun: Petite Poetry

Grand Canyon

We recently returned from a 12-day trip that took us through seven National Parks. One of our favorite activities was writing poetry about some of the places we visited.

Originally I planned to use a technique called “poem sketching” by poet Steve Kowit to help keep the kids entertained. I thought it would be fun to include their poems in a family photo book about our trip. Here’s how it works:

  • Someone looks outside and brainstorms four words, for example, canyon, sunset, vulture, joy. Typically three should be objects, the last an emotion or something that gives the word group a twist or sets it in motion.
  • Using these words, everyone writes a poem of no more than four lines. It’s doesn’t have to rhyme. Just think of it as a long sentence.

The National Park Service beat me to the punch however. My kids love earning their Junior Ranger badges by completing workbooks about each park they visit. Sure enough, the Grand Canyon book included instructions for writing a cinquain.


That’s Finley’s cinquain. He’s 7.

This activity prompted Cooper (age 9) to write a few haiku and even an acrostic poem.

Forest (Rocky Mountain National Park)

By Cooper

Super beautiful
Too much to visit in one day

I think the kids would have rebelled against Mom’s poetry workshop, but when the National Park Service requires it, who can argue?


Field Trip Ideas, Just for fun, Nature, Outside

First Fruits


Picking juicy, ripe fruit is a beloved summer and fall activity. We’ve just enjoyed our first cherries of the season from our local “u-pick” orchards. We picked at least eight and a half pounds, and I think I have a good 3 hours of pitting ahead of me. Pie and preserves are on the way. What’s your favorite summertime fruit? Do you have any recipes to share?


Field Trip Ideas, Science/Math

Welcome home, Space Shuttle Endeavour!

Space Shuttle Endeavour came home to California today, and we were able to join the festivities. Endeavour, like all the orbiters, was born in Palmdale, California. Endeavour is the “baby” of the now-retired fleet, first flying 20 years ago.

One of NASA’s specially modified 747 airliners gave Endeavour a high-speed piggyback. Amazingly, only 7 bolts hold the orbiter to the airliner. On Friday the 747 will fly Endeavour to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) where it will stay until mid October. At that point it will be towed through the streets of LA to its final home at the California Science Center.

Field Trip Ideas, Geography, Science/Math

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Cleopatra Exhibit

This weekend we took the Curious Kids to the California Science Center for the traveling Cleopatra exhibition. Although there were no mummies, the show was still a big hit, primarily because Finley got a King Tut crown.

The exhibit boasts the largest collection of artifacts from the Cleopatra era ever assembled in the U.S. Many of the pieces were recovered from the sea near Alexandria, Cleopatra’s capital city. Over hundreds of years the temples and treasures washed out to sea, a result of earthquakes, a tsunami and other natural forces. Underwater archaeology teams, led by Franck Goddio, have only discovered the ruins in the last couple of decades.

Another major portion of the exhibit discusses the search for Cleopatra’s tomb led by archaeologist Zahi Hawass. Hawass and his team now believe Cleopatra and Mark Antony may be buried in the temple of Taposiris Magna west of Alexandria. His team has not yet recovered a mummy.

If you are in the Southern California area, the exhibit runs through Dec. 31st. It’s a wonderful opportunity to inspire a budding archaeologist.

You can learn more about Cleopatra, ancient Alexandria and the temple:

Field Trip Ideas

Firehouse Field Trip

Photo credit Sarah Lewelling

Field trips remind me of the Richard Scarry book, What Do People Do All Day. I could spend hours poring over Scarry’s spreads showing how logs become paper and wheat becomes bread. The book is like “how things work” meets the high school guidance counselor, providing a behind-the-scenes peek at different careers. Our monthly field trips allow us to find out what people do all day in a hands-on way.

Last week Finley and I visited our local firehouse. First, he tried on the firefighter’s helmet, pants and boots. Then he jumped into the fire truck; they even let him drive it. He got to spray the hose, twice. That was by far his favorite part.

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Aside from all the “let’s pretend” fun, we did learn some important things during our visit. One of the firemen put on all his gear, including his “Darth Vader” oxygen mask, all of which weighs almost 50 pounds and looks pretty frightening. We talked about how if the children ever have a fire in their house, and they see firefighters in all their gear, they shouldn’t hide. Even though the firefighters may look scary, they are there to help. The scary-looking — and sounding —  masks allow the firefighters to breath, while their hoods and suits keep them from getting burned.

The firehouse clearly made an impact. Finley now wants to be an “astronaut firefighter.” Hopefully he’ll never have to fight a fire on his spaceship.

Field Trip Ideas, Nature, Science/Math

Welcome to my LAIR

Geckoes and vipers and toads. Oh my! For children fascinated by frogs or stunned by snakes, the LA Zoo’s new LAIR (Living Amphibians Invertebrates and Reptiles) exhibit is a delight. The LAIR features more than 60 species, many endangered, in two buildings.

The LAIR is home to a gray’s monitor, a rare, fruit-loving lizard who lives in the Philippine forests. Also, the brightly colored Fiji Island Iguana makes its home in the LAIR. Zoologists aren’t sure how they evolved, but believe they may have originated with green iguanas who hitched a ride on debris and floated across the Pacific from South America.

Visitors also get a behind-the-scenes view of daily reptile care. Keepers prepare food, store eggs and care for young reptiles in a glassed-in room. And in the crocodile swamp, you can watch keepers feed the false gharials, a southeast Asian crocodile. (Sadly, they are feeding him our state bird — quail!)

If you love reptiles and amphibians, check out these wallpaper images from the LA Zoo’s site.

Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas

Earth Day: Loving the Landfill

Waste Management's Julianne Haness shows us what's recyclable.

Each year, my MOMS Club tours the local landfill in honor of Earth Day. The field trip is always a big hit with kids and moms alike. What child wouldn’t enjoy meeting a garbage truck that holds 10 elephants worth of trash?

And this green gal always learns something new. Obviously your local recycling rules might be different but I realized:

  • I can get additional recycling and green waste cans for FREE! I have a second recycling can on its way.
  • Juice boxes, including orange juice cartons are recyclable.
  • Any plastic, even if it doesn’t have the recycling symbol, goes into the recycling bin.
  • But, keep the styrofoam out of the recycling, even if it has the recycling symbol on it.
  • Never throw greasy paper plates and pizza boxes into the recycling. These are broken down in the equivalent of a big blender to make new paper products. The grease can’t be removed.
  • Key takeaway: when in doubt, throw it into the recycling bin. They’ll sort it out later.
We learned a new recycling song, sung to a tune reminiscent of an Army march. I kept wanting to chant, “Sound off, 1, 2. Sound off, 3,4” each time we sang it.:

“I recycle you should too

I recycle yes I do

Don’t throw paper in the trash

Paper needs another chance

Take  your cans and give ’em a smash

Don’t throw your cans in the trash

I recycle you should too

I recycle yes I do” (courtesy of Waste Management)

Even if you can’t visit the landfill, you can create your own Earth Day fun:

  • Make recycled paper. Create a small screen by laying a rectangular piece of mesh over four popsicle sticks, one for each edge. Attach the mesh with a stapler. Have your child tear up old newspaper. Add it to your blender along with a little water. Adult, blend up your paper mush. Your child can carefully scoop out the paper mush and press it onto the screen, pressing out as much water as possible. Wait until it dries, and voila, paper.
  • Make robots out of toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners. This comes from FamilyFun (click on link for picture and details). Paint the rolls with acrylic paint. Punch two holes for arms. Cut the pipe cleaner in half and twist each half around a pen to create coiled arms. Attach them at the holes and paint on your robot design.
  • Enjoy some Earth-friendly books. We recently enjoyed Compost Stew and This Tree Counts, which were Perfect Picture Book Friday recommendations.

This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday the 22nd. How will you celebrate?

Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas, History, Travel

Art Detectives on the Loose

Though I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for almost 13 years, I’ve only been to the Getty Villa three times. I visited once in 1996 before the museum closed for a nearly 10-year renovation. I went back in 2007 with my almost-one-year-old. In fact, I have fond memories of Cooper “army crawling” on the tile around the fountain in the Outer Peristyle garden.

Then, I didn’t go back for almost five years. It probably had something to do with nap schedules, diaper changes and worries about the boys jostling ancient Greco-Roman pottery. But honestly, the biggest reason I didn’t go back was because I’d rather see a Rembrandt than a Roman drinking vessel.

I know my lack of enthusiasm is a direct result of my limited knowledge. I never studied the Greco-Roman world, and I know little about the culture and art work. One vase looked similar to all the others –until my most recent trip. The Getty has done a tremendous job of making ancient Greece and Rome accessible to children and parents as well.

Getty staff have developed three different sets of “Art Detective” cards. The front of each card directs you to a specific gallery, shows you a picture of an artwork and poses a question. For example, in Gallery 207, we were to find a statue of  a girl and figure out, “Why does this girl have a slot above her dress?” Once we found the piece, we flipped over the card to discover that coin banks were popular with Romans. The metal statue was an ancient piggy bank. Having additional information about the pieces on display made exploring the collection fascinating.

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In the Family Forum, the boys could dress up like ancient Greeks and Romans. (Note: It was hard to pull them away from the foam swords and shields.) A tactile display revealed how clay pottery was made. A collection of vessels explained the various shapes and functions of the pottery we would find in the collection. For example, drinking cups are wide, flat bowls with two handles. The boys could doodle on pottery using dry erase markers or decorate paper vases with rubbings. The Family Forum brought the collection to life through hands-on learning.

While at the Getty, we made our own perfume the ancient way during a “Spicy Scents” demonstration. We started with a base of olive oil. Then we crushed myrrh, rose, cinnamon, anise, coriander and other spices with a mortar and pestle. We mixed these with the oil to create our own ancient perfume. We learned that long ago, people would use these perfumes to beautify, worship gods, heal, work magic and show off wealth.

Finally, the Mummy of Herakleides was Finley’s favorite. We watched the mummification process video repeatedly. It showed how the Romans in Egypt removed the organs leaving the heart and lungs, salted the body for forty days, covered it in plant resin and honey and wrapped it. Finally, a they placed a portrait on top.

I would recommend the Getty Villa for anyone over the age of 3. While the Getty Center may be more well known, the Villa is original Getty museum. J. Paul Getty built the Roman-inspired villa in 1968  to display his art growing art collection. Aside from his priceless collection, visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens with views of the Pacific Ocean.

Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas

Are You My Mother?

Photo Credit: ArtsPower

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of introducing young children to performing arts. I went to the children’s symphony in Phoenix as an elementary schooler, and I still remember some of those performances to this day. Now I take my children to our local performing arts center for its “Arts for Youth Program” a few times per year. The storybook adaptations are our favorites.

Friday we saw “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. I was curious how well the play would relate to the book, considering Eastman’s classic is a scant 699 words. To create a 55-minute performance, the scriptwriters introduced new themes and additional subplots. For example, the “scary snort” is scheduled to knock down Baby Bird’s tree in the name of progress, while a tree hugger tries to save birds’ home. Baby Bird, Hen, Cat and Dog form a “mixed up family” who work together to get Baby Bird home, showing how all kinds of folks can get along. I almost thought the rag-tag group was going to give up the search and adopt Hen as the new mama.

The show was enjoyable, but it certainly was a departure from the book. In most cases I like the original book better than a screen or stage adaptation. Nothing beats my imagination when it comes to bringing characters to life. So, I have to force myself to forget the original text and approach the play or movie with fresh eyes.

I’m curious, have you ever liked a movie or play better than the original book?

Field Trip Ideas

Flower Shop Field Trip

Photo by Julie Gonzalez

Yes, I’m a big fan of field trips, even when they include everyday places like grocery stores, pet shops and libraries. To quote Richard Scarry, I always wonder, “What Do People Do All Day?” Today we visited a teeny tiny local florist, The Farmer’s Wife. Here are some fun things we learned:

  • During non-peak seasons this 3-person shop delivers 25 to 30 arrangements a day.
  • It takes each florist an average of 12 minutes to complete an arrangements. (Boy do I feel slow, considering blog posts sometimes consume the better part of an hour.)
  • Orders come in from a variety of sources, including FTD,, Teleflora, telephone and in-person orders.
  • Each order is written on a ticket and passed to the designer. It reminded me of a restaurant kitchen. Order up!
  • The refrigerator, where the flower arrangements sit ready for delivery, is about 38 degrees.
  • If you want your flowers to last longer, change the water every day. If the leaves or petals start to droop, score the stems and immediately return the flowers to the water.

The children had fun literally smelling the roses. And everybody went home with a carnation.