Part One: Choosing a Location
All Photos Copyright Kristie Burns
When we first started Earthschooling we chose the name “Earthschooling” because we wanted to emphasize that education does not just happen at home. In fact, one of our favorite ways to learn has always been to be outdoors or to take what I call “Earthschooling Excursions”.
Earthschooling excursions can be as simple as a one-day visit to a farm or they can be as complex as planning a trip to another location. But will all your planning result in a successful earth-inspired educational experience?
Over the years we have come up with some tips to help us make the best choices for our excursions and we want to share them with you using the example of one of our most recent educational adventures.
This December we visited Sanibel Island. I have outlined my decision making process below.
The location must not have chain stores, advertising & billboards: We want to make sure we are focusing on nature, the outdoors and wildlife. We don’t want to be distracted by modern “McLife” (which is so convenient sometimes but not what we want during our excursion). Sanibel Island fulfills this. They do not allow fast food restaurants or chain stores on the Island.
The location should be focused on nature in some way: More than half of Sanibel Island is preserved as an official wildlife refuge so this was a good sign.
The location should respect nature in its natural state: I can’t tell you how tempting it was to go to somewhere like Orlando and do a “dolphin experience” for a half hour in a pool. Who wouldn’t want to touch a dolphin? But our desires are not always what is best for nature.
What appealed to use about Sanibel was that there were plenty of chances to interact with nature, but none of them were captive. In fact they have strict laws on how close you can get to the animals. Touching a dolphin gets you a $500.00 fine and the fine is even the same for cutting down a mangrove tree. By law you can’t get within 50 feet of the native gopher tortoises. The island even has a law about street lights. Because they look so much like “tiny moons” street lights are not allowed at night because the sea tortoises use the moon to navigate and residents don’t want to interfere with that process.
Opportunities should be easy to navigate: Depending on the age of your children, your skill level and/or your patience you may want to think twice about investing time in an educational excursion that involves hours of driving or climbing in risky terrain. The easier the experience is, the more learning opportunities you will be able to enjoy instead of spending time waiting for buses, waiting in line or driving hours to different locations. Sanibel fit that requirement because the entire island can be accessed easily by bicycle and is only 12 miles long. Every opportunity was within a short bike ride.
Health Matters: For a longer excursion you want to make sure you are not exposing your family to smog, water pollution or other factors. We have taken excursions to other locations where this was not possible (this is notable when volunteering in some areas of the world as an educational experience). However, if you can make this an “educational excursion” as well as a “health retreat” you will see long lasting positive benefits on the rest of your Earthschooling year. When students come back “home” filled with sunshine, fresh air and healthy food they will be able to function more effectively for weeks to come.
In fact, in many cases, parents (including me) have reported “behavior modification miracles” taking place after these trips. Our most recent trip was a good example of this. My 20-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter who had been close when they were younger had been “at odds” for the past year no matter what I did to try to help. After this trip they became best friends and this bond has lasted even after we came home. It was a “miracle” I never thought I would see.
The basics should be taken care of: I have taken a lot of trips with my kids over the years. In fact they all started travelling when I was pregnant with each of them. Over time I have discovered that a trip can quickly become all about “managing life”. Where will we eat? What will we do? Who is tired? Who is hungry now? Can everyone handle that bike ride we want to take? Sanibel Island offered us the ease of having a “home” to live in so we could keep food at home. All of the experiences were either out the front door or easy to reach so everyone could participate at their own level. Additionally, the island offered many services to make our lives easier such as grocery and bicycle delivery.
Cost: Planning ahead goes a long way here. We purchased our tickets months ahead of time when the cost was half price. We rented a condo instead of a hotel room, which was more affordable and allowed us to also save money on meals. In the case of Sanibel the most affordable places are snatched up early in the year so you need to make your reservations months ahead of time. This is the case with many beach locations as well as “cabin in the wood” locations. Do not underestimate the financial savings you can enjoy by planning ahead and don’t miss out because you didn’t book 6-9 months ahead of time like everyone else.