History, Science/Math, Travel

Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

Space Shuttle EndeavourWe finally made it to the California Science Center to view Space Shuttle Endeavour, the youngest in the Space Shuttle fleet. The boys were sick when Nils signed autographs at the Science Center Halloween weekend, when the exhibit first opened. Nils flew one of the aircraft that chased Endeavour and the 747 on its trip to LAX in September. He carried a NASA flight photographer in his back seat.

On a rainy Saturday morning, the Science Center was crowded. Endeavour was doing its job of drawing people into the museum, which made me happy. We are frequent visitors, and I’ve never seen the place so packed.

To see Endeavour, you must obtain free, timed tickets. You can get these at the museum, though you risk them selling out, or you can print them at home or a $2 per ticket fee. When we arrived at 10 a.m., the only available tickets were for 3 p.m. Because the Science Center itself is free, it’s well worth it to print your tickets at home.

Your ticket admits you first to the “California Story” exhibit, which details the Shuttle’s birth in Palmdale, California. Viewers can touch the tires Endeavour used on its last flight. They can see a real space potty and kitchen and watch videos about how they work. These two topics are always a hit with kids, and astronauts will tell you they probably answer questions about eating and going to the potty in space most often.

There is also a mock-up of Rocketdyne’s operation support facility, which looks a lot like mission control. There you can watch and hear a launch on the screens.

For me, the time-lapse video showing Endeavour’s flight into Los Angeles and 48-hour trip through town to the museum was a highlight. The number of people who turned out for this historic event is overpowering. The video also highlights the contrast between this one-of-a-kind asset and the everyday of Los Angeles with views of Endeavour through a laundromat window, shots of it driving through streets lined with houses and , images outside a donut shop.

From the exhibit, you head to the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, a temporary home for Endeavour until a new building is built. Many years ago I saw Space Shuttle Atlantis in major modifications at Palmdale, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so close. Visitors can almost touch the heat-resistant tiles. The Pavilion also is home to SPACEHAB, which the Shuttles carried to provide extra space to live and work, as well as a Space Shuttle main engine. There are video clips highlighting Endeavour’s missions. The outside wall provides details about each Space Shuttle mission.

You can stay in the exhibit as long as you like. If you can, go earlier in the day, because the line backs up and the exhibit gets crowded as the day moves on. And while you are there, don’t miss the EcoSystems exhibit and all the children’s discovery rooms.

Field Trip Ideas, History

State Park: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Crushing acorns

State Parks offer vast opportunities for children to learn and explore both indoors and outdoors. I recently took the boys to one of my favorite spots, the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park located 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the vast Mojave Desert.

It was a welcome visit. The site had been closed for four years for earthquake retrofitting, and had reopened in the Fall of 2010. Our MOMS Club had organized a field trip to the site, so our visit took place outside of normal business hours (Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Our park ranger hosts had developed an hour-long program perfectly suited to the children’s ages.

First they helped the children experience the collection by playing games with them.

“What kind of tools do you have at home?” Ranger Jean asked.

“Screwdriver! Hammer!” the children shouted in turn.

“See if you can find some examples of tools in this room that the Native Americans used,” Jean challenged them.

And so the preschoolers set off to explore. When the children had found a few tools, Jean explained how Native Americans used rocks, twine and sticks to help them do their work.

The boys also heard a Native American story about Bluejay, Crow and acorns. They learned how native people made a kind of oatmeal from crushed acorns and pine-nut butter from pulverized pine nuts. (Pine-nut butter was Cooper’s joke.) The children got to try their hand at grinding the acorns and pine nuts just as the Native Americans did. Then we took a little nature hike along the nearby trail, which typically boasts a beautiful wildflower display during the season. We wrapped up our morning with a nice picnic that allowed us to chat with ranger Deb one-one-one.

For locals: The Antelope Valley Indian Museum , a State Historic Park, is a Southern California gem. Located in the vast Mojave Desert about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the park was once home to amateur anthropologist William Arden Edwards, a set designer in Hollywood. The main portion of the museum is Edwards’s Swiss chalet-style home, which he built directly into Piute Butte. A rock outcropping serves as one wall of the home’s majestic Kachina Hall.

Edwards harbored a deep interest in Native Americans of the southwest, and his home included a room for displaying his collection of pottery, baskets and other artifacts. Years later, he sold the 160-acre property to Grace Wilcox Oliver, who turned the it into a full-fledged museum. She converted the home into exhibit galleries, added her own collections and operated the Antelope Valley Indian Museum for more than 30 years. The State of California bought the site in 1979.

Field Trip Ideas, Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Travel

Field Trip Ideas: National Parks

Inside a Coastal Redwood

The National Parks are some of our greatest national treasures. From Ellis Island to Yosemite these places of natural beauty and historic significance hold a special place in our hearts. Our family recently visited Muir Woods National Monument, a beautiful coastal redwood forest named for conservationist John Muir featuring trees two hundred feet high. It was a magical experience for our two children.

The walk to Cathedral Grove, with some of the most magnificent trees, is only a mile round trip, and the paths are stroller friendly. We transformed our visit into a learning experience by requesting a Junior Ranger Activity Book at the entry gate.  The Park Service has these guides for many (and I mean many) of their parks. The Muir Woods Book encouraged us to listen to the sounds of the forest and observe our surroundings to appreciate their beauty. We learned about tree rings, how redwoods reproduce (via burls and cones), how these trees drink 500 gallons of water a day, and how tannins in the trees’ bark protects them from fires, insects and rot.  The book also helped us identify plants and animals of Muir Woods.

At the end of the trip, we answered a few short question. I emailed them to Muir Woods, though you could leave them with a Park Ranger or mail them in, and we are now expecting a Junior Ranger Certificate. A Junior Ranger sticker badge was included with the book, which Cooper proudly wore on his shirt.

The National Park Service has a number of other resources for teachers and children:

  • WebRangers contains more than 50 games that help children learn about the National Parks.
  • Online Park Fun helps you explore the parks  in person or online.
  • Many of the parks also have curricular resources for teachers planning field trips. These are perfect for serious homeschoolers.
Field Trip Ideas, Homeschool

Field Trip – Channel 3 Newsroom

My aspiring anchors

Nothing stimulates curiosity like a good field trip. Fortunately, I’m part of a wonderful MOMS Club, and we schedule at least one field trip each month. This month, we took the kiddos to our local TV Station, Time Warner Cable’s Channel 3.

The children got to stand in front of the weatherman’s blue screen and do their own weather forecast. They got a kick out of seeing themselves on TV. They also got to see how the cameras and teleprompters worked. They visited the master control room and tried out the anchor desk. They even got to watch a local Sheriff tape a news segment.

Today's weather is partly cloudy

While I highly recommend finding a local MOMS Club or similar group, you don’t necessarily need a group to schedule a field trip. Many places are more than happy to arrange a tour for a small group of moms with toddlers and preschoolers in tow.