Co-written with my mother, Corin Goodwin, Executive Director of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.
Corin: When my kids were young, we didn’t have a lot of money for activities. We lived in the Silicon Valley, where the cost of living is high and the return on investment in activities for twice-exceptional kids is relatively low. I could sign my kids up for a class and they’d love it… for the first three weeks. Then they’d get bored. Or they would struggle with executive function or auditory processing issues or asynchronous social skills. Or their food allergies would become a problem for the other adults. After a while, I knew I needed to try something different. That’s when I learned about Junior Ranger programs and state and national parks.
Madeline: I remember taking science classes at the Tech Museum, and being part of a writing group. After a while, I just lost interest. I wanted to get ahead, learn more, or sink really deeply into something. They also often took place in small or echo-y locations, so they tended to be really loud. I was young and didn’t know how to ask for help, so I would act out. Those experiences tended to become part of a pattern.
Corin: Madeline in particular got overwhelmed by noise very easily. Even in a quiet, largely suburban neighborhood, she would be bothered by outdoor announcements from the middle school around the corner, and she complained that traffic kept her up at night! At some point, we went to meet a friend at Joshua Tree to scramble and camp for a few days, and the kids’ behavior was totally different. They didn’t have a lot of external noise. No one was judging them on their behavior. They could scramble on the rocks, visit historical sites, or explore the plant life. They participated in ranger-led classes, hikes and other activities, and even made friends with other campers. My kids were happy, not frustrated, and a big ol’ lightbulb went off in my head.
Madeline: I’ve always been happiest outdoors. I loved riding my bike, walking to the pool or the park, or playing in our backyard. Our trips to national parks were a refuge from the chaos of the city, and I remember being eager to leave and wanting to stay “just one more night!” Out of everything in my childhood, those adventures stand out as the happiest memories I have.
Corin: And so it went. Back in the days when gas wasn’t too horribly expensive, we’d drive all over the country visiting national (and state) parks. We camped out pretty much all the time. (When the kids were VERY little, we took the back row out of the minivan and fit all three of us in there when the mosquitos were bad!) We shopped at grocery stores just like we would have at home. The kids did park programs at 59 National Parks and several state parks.We traveled all over the country learning about astronomy, the physical and natural sciences, history (including live reenactments!), and civics. We met people from all over the world. We visited bigger cities… but then left before they overwhelmed us. We made friends and visited back and forth with them and with our scattered family members. No curriculum, no school supplies, and our public library at home allowed us to take out piles of books and audiobooks to bring with us for weeks at a time!
Madeline: Most of my memories of my childhood are of our family road trips. We went to Yosemite several times when I was very little, because it was close to the SF Bay Area where I grew up. As my younger brother and I got older, we traveled further and further afield. Sometimes it was just the three of us; sometimes we went camping with friends. One trip we took was to John Day Fossil Beds. My brother loved digging his own fossils nearby, and we all had to listen to him sing “I am a Paleontologist” for the next several weeks, over and over again!
Another time we went to Lava Beds National Monument. We had planned to stay a few days, but as we were unloading our camping gear we noticed a rattlesnake right in the middle of the campsite in broad daylight! We took that as a sign and kept Lava Beds to a day trip. 🙂
We went to Joshua Tree in southern California several more times, scrambling on the rocks and, once, making cornbread in a dutch oven. We also put a jar of cream in the back of a friend’s pickup truck and went off-roading, hoping to make butter. (It didn’t work, but saw some amazing scenery!) Another time we went to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, stopping to see Old Faithful erupt – staying for a second eruption at my brother’s insistence – and driving past nearly half a dozen black bears, including several cubs. One bear decided to eat our campground neighbor’s dinner as we were setting up our tent; we decided to go to a different campsite. I also remember swimming in a lake with my brother while Mom was on her cell phone running a business meeting. Her ability to work remotely was a lot of what enabled us to pick up and go as often as we did.
We visited sites outside of the park system, too. When I was seven and obsessed with the pioneer days, we went to all the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. I remember standing on the banks of Plum Creek, “driving” a cart and petting newborn kittens in De Smet, SD, and exploring the Wilder homestead in Missouri. Back at home I had been taking sewing lessons, and we have a picture of me with my “Samantha” American Girl doll, both wearing the pioneer style dresses I had made for us! On the way back from the Wilder homestead we detoured to Fort Scott National Historic Site where my brother got to see cannon placements from the U.S. Civil War and I got to use a spinning wheel for the first time.
Perhaps the most impactful trip was one of the later ones. I was between my first and second years of college, and we decided to go to some Pacific Northwest parks. One of those was Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had done Junior Ranger programs at most of the parks we’d been to, so I had learned a fair amount about the sciences, but something in my brain had clicked and I couldn’t stop wondering what was going on around me – why did these trees grow? Where did the wolves go? How did the mountains form? What enabled these lakes to form in one place and not another? All these questions prompted me to take an environmental science class that fall – and I haven’t stopped studying them since.
Corin: Once Madeline started college, we were much more pinned down. There was a lot to explore in southern Oregon, where we were then living, but it was never the same. We still like to travel and to camp, however. We went on a ‘family honeymoon’ to Olympic National Park just last month.
Madeline: I’m in grad school now, finishing my Master’s degree
in environmental studies. Once that’s done, I hope to be able to resume traveling, camping, and exploring the world’s natural treasures. I’m not sure what I’ll do after that, but it’s entirely possible that someday I’ll end up for the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service!
This post is part of GHF’s September Blog Hop: Parenting Gifted/2e Kids on a Shoestring. To check out more posts like this, click on the image below: