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Outside of Home Activities

by Sandra Holland

New home-educating families sometimes are at a loss as to how to prepare activities for their children. Other than the usual support group, field trips and piano lessons, how does a class of one, or a class of multiple ages, find things to do?
You just about can't get around the fact that children of different ages like and have the aptitude for different activities. So, it is best to break down the activities into pre-school, elementary, junior high and high school, just the way the institutional schools do. This does not mean that they are hard and fast divisions, but they help. It is possible for a first-grader to go on a field trip with a seventh-grader and for a 15-year-old to enjoy a presentation intended for adults.
Toddlers will enjoy story time at libraries and books stores. Museums, particularly children's museums, have activities for very young children. The age group that the public school calls "preschooler" can also be taken on simple field trips such as to the zoo, a dairy farm or other site devoted to nature explorations.
Sports available to very young children include swimming, gymnastics, soccer and T-ball, depending upon what is available in your community and how far you want to drive. These activities may spark an interest that the child develops throughout life. Some of these programs may have homeschool rates. The reasoning for this is that we can show up during "drive time" - the time that either parents or the school bus are carting the school kids off during the afternoon.
It is often difficult to get a music teacher to take little kids. Check with music stores about programs for the little ones, such as Suzuki.
By the time a child reaches elementary age, opportunities increase. The home educator can search these out in the local community by reading bulletin boards, magazines devoted to children or tourists, neighborhood calendars printed in weekly papers, and the weekend edition of municipal papers. There are also special editions such as summer camp guides or museum and other tourist attractions.
Elementary aged children are also targeted by contest makers. Chain restaurants and department stores often sponsor contests. Look for seasonal events, such as "Paint the Easter Bunny/Pumpkin/Santa." Art contests abound and some of them have cash prizes. As you shop in children's stores, look for hand-outs and posters.
Children can join Scouts as early as age six (Brownies or Tiger Cubs). Those aged nine can join 4-H clubs. Some counties encourage 4-H members to join Clover Kids earlier than that age. Scouts and 4-H are both programs that a child can start with while little and keep going until graduation, learning and developing many skills along the way.
Museums, art schools, historic sites and botanical gardens sometimes have Winter Camp, Spring Break Camp, and Summer Camp programs. During the rest of the year, they often have Saturday Morning Discovery (names vary) or various workshops and seminars. The latter may be intended for adults, but a child interested in the subject is sometimes welcome.
More inexpensive summer camps may be located through insurance company programs or service clubs.
Some communities have drama clubs for children. Children who excel in the performing arts may be kept very busy. Those who don't get picked during auditions will have to look elsewhere. In larger cities, drama clubs are everywhere - in colleges, private schools, parks programs and with ethnic, religious and museum programs. A child who just wants to participate but isn't very good may have to look farther to find someone to spend the time working with him/her. There are also companies that put on plays without exclusion, but there is probably a charge for the child to participate.
Entire families can participate in drama by joining a living history program. Some clubs are very well known and others don't advertise much. These clubs are very exacting as to uniform requirements and each family member will have to have a persona (a historic identity). While a little costly, considering all of the accouterments that have to be purchased, especially when children are growing, these clubs can provide a creative outlet for entire families. The interested family will probably find such clubs that don't require auditions.
Except for the activities already mentioned, the number of programs for tweens seems to drop dramatically. Apparently, these activities don't get good attendance from older children who aren't driving yet. In addition, some service clubs for teens will not admit younger brothers and sisters. This is the time to look for special-interest clubs. Some of these clubs, such as alternative medicine, aquarium or bird-watching clubs, are ideal for children who are building on their knowledge of the world.
These children can also volunteer at the local nursing home, museum or library. Some institutions of these kinds will admit younger children. Children who are good at music will find an outlet by performing regularly at the nursing home. Each community also has unique outlets for volunteering.
In high school, there are many opportunities that are mostly outgrowths of the child's personal interests and what has been done in previous years. Each child is different and each accomplishment is different. At this time, the young person is also looking at activities that will enhance a college resume. These would include group activities and leadership in clubs, since non-homeschooling adults sometimes feel that homeschoolers aren't socialized. Once again, museums, the Red Cross, zoos, botanical gardens and other organizations devoted to educating the general public often have youth groups.
If an individual tries to participate in an activity and finds that there is a problem, look for similar programs. Often the problem is with a particular leader, who may be rude or inconsistent, for example. Sometimes a group will die out for lack of participation. The meeting schedule may conflict with something more interesting or more necessary. I see too many people just give up and go back to sitting around at home when those things happen. Don't give up!
Organizations provide many worthwhile and interesting hours. In addition, many of them offer chances to serve others while having fun.
Sandra Holland and her husband have driven their children all over the State of Texas in pursuit of learning and fun.

Fire Station Mania: Beth's Big Adventure

by Timothy J. Hosek (Fairfax, VA)
Driving home one day (January, 1999), we passed a local county fire company. "Daddy, is there a Company 4?" asked my five-year-old daughter, Beth.
"Yes, honey, there's a Company 4."
"And a Company 5?"
"Yes. There are even more than that. Near our new house is Company 32 and Company 24 is near where we used to live."
"How many are there? Where are they? Can we visit them?"
"Sure we can." By then we arrived home and the questions were quickly forgotten as Beth dashed off to play with her brother, Ben.
Thinking about it, I felt it might be a great opportunity for Beth to practice a variety of things - research, handwriting, maps, art, interviewing and social skills.
A few days later I reminded Beth of her request. She was still interested so I suggested we make an adventure out of it. I told her we should devise some way of recording this adventure. Beth suggested we come up with a journal. What followed was an afternoon of designing the journal. We came up with the cover, which would be made on our home computer. We decided that each company should have its own page in the journal. Next, what to include about each company? We decided to include the number, address and local telephone number for each one. Beth also wanted to include a picture of each company; eager to use the new camera she received for Christmas. I asked her if she thought there was anything else she or any of her friends would like to know about the fire companies. What followed were a series of questions to be asked of one of the fire fighters: (1) How many fire fighters work here? (2) How many fire trucks are here? (3) What types are they? (4) What is your favorite truck? (5) What is your name? The last two came later as we realized we wanted to remember who we talked to and give him/her a chance for input after all their help. The page design was now set - basic information on the top, picture in the middle and questions on the bottom.
Once we had the cover and journal pages created, it was on to the research. Fairfax County has a fire-rescue system that as organized in 1949. At that time, many hometown volunteer fire departments became county fire companies with full-time county staffs augmented by the local volunteers. Although there is no Company 6 in the county and Company 7 is the Fire and Rescue Academy, Fairfax County lists a total of 38 companies. This made the research a real challenge. We looked at telephone books, road maps of the county, did research on the Internet and contacted the Public Information and Community Relations Office of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. With the raw data in hand, Beth transferred it all to her journal. She created a page for each company on the computer, printed it out and filled in all the basic data (number, address, telephone number) by hand. Now it was time to visit the fire companies.
In writing to the Public Information and Community Relations Office of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, we came to the attention of Lt. Mark Stone, an 18-year fire fighter assigned to the Office. He had great interest and enthusiasm for Beth's project because, as he put it, it represented some good news the department could share. Once we had the journal ready, he was our eager tour guide on our first outing in March, 1999. We visited six companies that Saturday morning, all relatively close to home. At each company, Beth and I were warmly welcomed. With me as her scribe, it was not time for Beth to conduct her interviews and get her questions answered. At first, she was so nervous she rushed through her questions with the speed of a Long Island car salesman. We learned in time that the term "fire truck" does not include every vehicle in the company. It really just covers what we have always called "pumpers". Besides pumpers, there are ambulances and medics, ladder and tower trucks, chief's buggies, utility vehicles, foam units, brush trucks, light and air units, boats (yes, boats!), tankers, canteens, rescue units, hazardous materials units and cave-in units. We also learned each company has three shifts that allow them to provide 24-hours-per-day, seven-days-per-week coverage. By the end, Beth's questions became: "How many fire trucks of all types are here?" and "How many fire fighters are here on a shift?"
After that first trip, Lt. Stone let us make the visits ourselves - but keeping tabs on us all the time. We gradually covered the county, as each weekend we would plot a route that would take us to six or seven fire stations in one part of the county. Many times there was no one 'home' and we would have to revisit them. Other times we arrived only to see the company turn out on an emergency call - another revisit. At Company 29, the alarm sounded just as Beth began her interview. Lt. Edmunson quickly answered her questions and invited us to watch their departure. What a great thrill it was as they roared past us from behind the fire station with lights blazing and sirens blaring. We arrived at Company 26 just in time to catch their return from a call. One of the fire fighters postponed his lunch to graciously answer Beth's questions. No sooner had we finished than the alarm sounded and they were off again. Beth's worry for several days afterward was if that fire fighter, and the others in the company who had just returned, finally had lunch that day.
Beth's mom also got into the act, making stops during the week at several fire companies near home. She also got to take Beth to the Fire and Rescue Academy. As Beth tells it, the Academy is an incredible place. There are pieces of equipment for crew training and numerous things for them to train on; buses, airplane fuselages, train cars, even duplicate building fronts set up inside the huge training building. There were classrooms, a library and a gym. There was also a huge training tower outside.
At the beginning of June, we finally had to address our revisit list. Beth decided she wanted to do all 12 companies, scattered at all ends of the county, in one trip. So, we packed snacks and a lunch and left early that Saturday morning. What a great day we had! She would read the address of the next station to visit and often remembered how to get there from our previous visit. By the end of the day, Beth's journal, and our adventure, was done. Well, for me, anyway. Beth still had a bit of celebrity recognition coming.
During the summer, Beth, her mom, Ben, cousins and aunt got a private tour of the Safe Center - the new county Fire Safety Center for children. Beth showed the completed journal to Lt. Stone who immediately asked for a copy to be put on display at the Safe Center. She was recognized for her efforts during her next visit to the Safe Center and received numerous mementos from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

It is amazing how a basic question can generate such a great adventure. In preparing for this journey, Beth got to work on her handwriting, research skills and art. During the adventure she worked on her interviewing and social skills. She also worked on her handwriting, as she often "fired" her scribe and wrote the interview answers in herself. She made sure the vehicle counts matched what we saw and the vehicle types fire fighters told us their company had. Every member of every fire company we encountered was nothing less than enthusiastic about Beth's project. To his or her knowledge, no one had ever done anything like this before. They were extremely gracious, professional, courteous and proud of their work. We received tours of every station we visited (when possible). No matter how much company stations or vehicles seemed the same, we always learned something new about the stations and the vehicles. We are very indebted to the entire Fire and Rescue Department for their efforts. As a father, the time I spent with Beth on this project was some of the greatest. I look forward to more questions leading to even greater adventures.

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