B is for Block Scheduling: Finding a Schedule That Works for Challenge B

October is upon us. The school year is not so shiny and new and exciting anymore. We aren’t tired and bored yet (I hope!) but we’re finding a groove and getting comfortable with what works–and identifying what does NOT work.

I am directing Classical Conversations Challenge B this year. It’s incredible, for so many reason.  I am falling in  love with Challenge B and I didn’t think anything could top Challenge A!

Much of what the kids learn in Challenge A carries over. The Latin is the same (but faster), the writing curriculum is the same (but the books they write about are different), the math presentations are done using the same methods. The research is similar–but instead of anatomy and animals, we are focused on astronomers right now and will move on to chemistry later. But there are new things. LOGIC! And current events! And the biggest NEW THING is that our Challenge A homework schedule is just NOT WORKING for Challenge B.

Practicing Latin vocabulary with alphabet pretzels in Challenge B at Classical Conversations!

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How to Help Your Students Make Connections Between Subjects

One of the core elements of the Classical Education model is subject integration, the idea that no piece of knowledge belongs by itself, unconnected to everything else. Everything is connected and knowledge is not a row of boxes, some overflowing because you are good at math and history empty because it doesn’t interest you. No. Knowledge should be a big messy, tangle of strands connecting all different points all over your brain. In classical education, when we study a scientist, we  learn what was happening in the world at the time he was alive (history), we learn about his discoveries (science and usually math), we learn where he lived and worked (geography), we read about him and probably write a paper (English grammar/exposition/language arts).  Just because he came up in SCIENCE class does not mean that you tuck Galileo neatly in the science box and your brain and move on. He connects to all the things you’ve learned in so many other subject areas.

And here’s the thing. When you connect Galileo to ALL your subject areas, he’s now tied down to your brain with five connection strands. If you just stick him in a science box, there’s a good change he will up and walk away while you are doing math!

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A Week at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Niagara Falls

This review of our week at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Niagara Falls is coming at you a bit late. We’ve been home for two months now and I haven’t had much time to write since getting home due to the craziness we’ve been through with our little guy’s health.  I’ve got some quiet time this afternoon and decided it was time to write this review, before I forget everything about our experience!

First, a little back story. We have previously stayed at Jellystone in Fremont, IN. This particular campground wins awards year after year and sets the bar incredibly high for what a family campground should be. Last February, we tried to book a return trip for a week in a cabin for July. They were already fully booked FOR THE ENTIRE MONTH. And so, we had to come up with a Plan B. That ended up being our trip to Niagara Falls. We decided to give the Jellystone Campground at Niagara Falls a try, since that had been part of our Plan A.

Obviously, it wasn’t as good as the campground in Fremont–if it were, it would win all the awards. But it was a nice little campground with a lot going for it and a few things that could use some improvement.

Lodging

We stayed in a Ranger Smith Cabin. Yes, my boys are all in Boy Scouts and my kids know how to do real camping. But that’s not a vacation in my eyes. GIVE ME ALL THE AIR CONDITIONING.

The cabins were cute and had just about everything we could possibly need. The kitchen was fully stocked with pots and pans and dishes. It had a full bathroom, and two bedrooms–one with a queen sized bed, and one with two sets of bunk beds. There was also a pull out sofa bed. So all in all, the cabin could sleep eight. The air conditioning worked extremely well. So did the smoke detectors–they went off every time I opened the oven, haha! The front porch was great for reading and chatting with our “neighbors” (my aunt and uncle and some of their kids came along on the trip).

Double Bunk Bed Room in Ranger Smith’s Cabin at Jellystone Niagara.

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The Kindergarten Blues

I’ve got the Kindergarten Blues. See, the big kids are 11 and 13 and we are studying Logic and Latin and writing persuasive essays and learning to use a microscope and all sorts of exciting things. I have been waiting and waiting and WAITING for this stage of life! I’m good at paper writing and editing and I’ve been dreaming for years of studying Latin along with my kids. This is the life I’ve always wanted…

And then there’s the little guy. He’s five and he’s living in a different world than his older siblings. And me? I am struggling big time to change gears and find things to do with him that are age appropriate and FUN. Because if we don’t establish in Kindergarten that learning can be fun, his entire educational journey could be a disaster (am I being too dramatic here? Probably.)

Math U See Primer!

He sits in on morning time with us each day, so he’s listening in on the things we do together, and I’ve scaled some of it to his level to make it work for him. He’s doing Math U See Primer and rocking it. And we are doing A Reason For Handwriting. He’s not ready for phonics. He had a fairly traumatic summer with all his medical stuff and he seems to have regressed a bit in letter recognition since then. So I am leaving that alone and we will try again after Christmas.  We try to go to as many local events as we can, because they cover all kinds of different learning experiences. We recently rode a historic steam engine and when to a motorcycle stunt show. And of course, we have Classical Conversations, which starts for us in a couple weeks (we start later than most).

Motorcycle Stunt Show

But he needs more FUN in his kindergarten life and I’m struggling to change gears and get back to that age level mindset again. I’m trying to come up with a list of ways to infuse more FUN into his school day and here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Spend more time at the library picking out books that are on topics that interest him (mostly numbers, cats, and dinosaurs!)
  • Actually read those books together when we get home (yes, this is a struggle in our house sometimes!)
  • Play card games. He’s really into War and I think it’s a great game for reinforcing greater than and less than concepts.
  • Kumon Workbooks. They were a huge hit when the big kids were small and I forgot all about them. They aren’t typical workbooks, they have a lot of tracing and cutting and gluing worksheets that are really fun.
  • Cooking together. He always wants to cook and I tend to tell him no because it’s faster and less messy if he doesn’t help. But I am working on being better about that.

As a Challenge Director, I am constantly telling Foundations families, “The memory work is enough!” And it is. It really is enough to form the foundations for junior high and high school. But it’s not enough to make them fall in love with learning, not on its own.  This has always been a struggle for me. I remember when my older son was five, he asked me, “When is school going to be fun?” Sigh. I’m not good at Kindergarten. I can rock eighth grade like you would not BELIEVE, but I stink at Kindergarten.

Not every phase and stage of home schooling is our best or favorite. But all of it is important and I think the best thing we can do is recognize the areas where we struggle and reach out and ask for help. It’s ok to ask for help–I’m so glad that the home school community is thriving and so helpful. We can get each other through the rough times and cheer each other on when life gets hard.

Kindergarten needs to be more than workbook pages (but some workbook pages are worthwhile!)

Do you have awesome Kindergarten ideas? Share links to your favorite blog posts in the commends, because this momma NEEDS them to cure her Kindergarten Blues!

A Summer of Medical Mystery

It’s been quiet around here. I’m sorry for that. I had fully intended to spend my summer building this blog and was looking forward to having time to really focus on it. But plans? They don’t always work out, do they?

Fun at the white water rapids of Niagara.

We returned home from our Niagara Falls adventure on Saturday, July 14. On Monday, a friend invited us to go on an adventure to the nearest “big city” that has a LEGO Store and Disney store, which we don’t have here at home. We thought it sounded fun so we all jumped in the car with her and off we went! However, my youngest was super cranky that morning. He had a bad cough and I had actually taken him to the walk in clinic when it opened at 7am to get a chest x-ray to make sure he didn’t have fluid in his lungs from swimming. His chest was clear so I figured we were fine to head off on adventure.

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Five Affordable Ways to Make Your Disney Trip Extra Magical

Whether you are planning your fifth trip this year or a once in a lifetime experience, you want your Disney trip to be as magical as possible. While Disney does a tremendous job sprinkling pixie dust on everyone but if you’d like to take the magic into your own hands, here are five affordable ways to make your Disney trip extra magical.

First time seeing the castle, so magical!

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How to Make the Most of the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass

One of the best parts of our recent trip to Niagara Falls was our purchase of the Adventure Pass–it’s a single pass that includes top attractions on the Canadian side of the Falls for a discounted price (on the U.S. side, the pass is called the Discovery Pass and includes different attractions. We did not try the Discovery Pass). The Adventure Pass includes the White Water Walk, the Hornblower Cruise, Journey Behind the Falls, and Niagara’s Fury. It also includes two days of using the public transportation system, WEGO.

Is the Pass a good deal?

Here’s my breakdown of the pricing. You definitely save money buying the pass if you plan to do all four things. And even if you weren’t planning to do the White Water Walk, you still save money with the Adventure Pass.

There are other perks to buying the pass:

  • You get your pass as a plastic card rather than a paper ticket you get for individual attractions. With all the time you spend getting wet, this is a major perk!
  • You get a lanyard to wear your card so you have easy access to all your tickets. However, I would say if you own a lanyard, bring it. In our group of eleven people, I think at least three people ended up with a broken lanyard by the end of day one. They will replace it for you but if you aren’t near the welcome center, that becomes a bit challenging!
  • The Niagara Parks staff will schedule times for all your attractions for you in one place. And since they are knowledgeable about how long each thing takes and how far apart they are, they can help you make a reasonable schedule for your day.
  • You get a bunch of coupons for other attractions, although I have to admit that I didn’t remember to use any of them!
The view of horseshoe falls from Table Rock.

Can I do it all in one day?

No. I mean, sure, you probably could, but I strongly recommend planning to split your adventures over two days. They are NOT all side by side. Two of the attractions are inside the Table Rock Welcome Center (Niagara’s Fury and Journey Behind the Falls). To get to the cruise, you can either walk or take WEGO down the main stretch from Horseshoe Falls to American Falls. It doesn’t look like that long of a walk, but with kids, it is! My biggest regret on the trip was not taking the bus down that stretch. It was really hot that day and there wasn’t much shade along the walk. Anyway… From there, the White Water Walk is about five miles down the river. So everything is not just RIGHT there. This is not like going from ride to ride at Disney World.

We split our adventures over two days. We did Journey Behind the Falls and the Hornblower Cruise on day one, and on our second day, we did Niagara’s Fury and the White Water Walk. This made it a lot less overwhelming. The White Water Walk and Niagara’s Fury don’t take much time, so we were able to spend a good chunk of that day at Clifton Hill seeing all the touristy sites.

What else should I know?

I always find there are so many things I wish I knew about a place before I visit for the first time. Here’s a few things to know about the Adventure Pass:

  • You do not have to use your attraction tickets on consecutive days. We used half on Tuesday and half on Friday.
  • Your WEGO pass lasts for 48 hours from the first time you scan it on the bus. For whatever reason, we never had to scan ours on Tuesday, they just told us to get on and find a seat. So we were able to use ours on Friday, when they were asking us to scan our cards.  But you should plan and expect to only have the pass for 48 hours. I would recommend that if you won’t do it all in 48 hours, that you spend one day doing the attractions inside Table Rock Welcome Center (Niagara’s Fury and Journey Behind the Falls) and do the two that need the bus pass (the cruise and the white water walk) on the same day to combine it all and make use of the bus.
  • Parking is expensive! Parking across from Table Rock was $25 for the day. Parking overnight at our hotel was $60. Gulp. You will want to park once and walk/use WEGO for the rest of the day. If you try to drive everywhere, you will spend obscene amounts of money parking over and over.
  • They give you a new poncho at each attraction, and they do a great job of keeping you dry. My purse over my shoulder wasn’t even damp after our cruise and we got EXTREMELY wet on that.
  • You will have to go in many elevators that have a lot of people crammed in them. Some people have issues with that sort of thing so it’s something to keep in mind.
  • The line for Journey Behind the Falls gets really long in the afternoon–do that early in the day to avoid lines.
  • Keep in mind that all prices are in Canadian dollars. That means if you are from the U.S., everything costs a little less than what the listed price is. If it’s $60 Canadian, it’s probably about $47 in US Dollars. But remember–they don’t take U.S. Money! You have to exchange it for Canadian money somewhere–or get cash from an ATM after crossing the border.
  • Your debit card might not work properly in Canada. Mine didn’t. I could only use it in the ATM so I had to go get cash all the time to pay for things.

Is the Adventure Pass worth it?

YES! We had so much fun! Here’s an overview of our experience!

We started our first day with Journey Behind the Falls. What is it? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You take an elevator down and you enter the cave BEHIND Horseshoe Falls. You are able to walk about 2/3 of the way around the Horseshoe while you are under and behind the falls. The ground shakes and the rumbling sound is LOUD. It was a tiny bit scary to me but it was incredible at the same time. There is also a lookout point where you can go outside and be almost close enough to touch the water.

The entrance for Journey Behind the Falls is right inside Table Rock. So easy!
Who wouldn’t want to wear this super flattering yellow poncho?!?
Elevator selfie! You go way way down to the bottom of the falls.
And then you get to see Horseshoe Falls from the back side! You are looking out from under ground at the water falling. It made me think of the Disney’s Jungle Cruise “backside of water” joke.
And there was a lookout point where we could go outside and be so incredibly close to the edge of the falls that you could practically touch it.

Next up, we headed to the Hornblower Cruise. Honestly after watching the boats come and go, I didn’t expect it to be that great. I know it’s one of those iconic things that you just HAVE to do, but I had low expectations.

I was wrong. It was amazing! We got so close to the water. The wind was whipping and we were drenched. It felt like standing on the beach during a hurricane, only the weather that day was still, calm, and sunny. We were up on the top deck and loved every second of it. The only negative thing I can say is that it’s such a quick ride–only about twenty minutes total. It’s really hard to describe the overall experience. Just do it. It’s completely worth it!

Ready to get wet!

Eventually we were so close to the water that I stopped taking pictures because you couldn’t see anything in the mist. Incredible.

On our second day of the Adventure Pass, we started off early with a viewing of Niagara’s Fury. This is a 360 degree movie experience. You stand in the center of the room wearing a poncho. There are handles to hold onto. Then it begins to rain on you INSIDE.  The floor shakes and the rains pour down. It can be a little intense for younger kids but overall it’s neat. I don’t have any pictures inside the theater because they were strictly forbidden.

After the movie, we headed over to Clifton Hill to check out the touristy area. This is where you will find go karts, mini golf, the giant ferris wheel, arcades, museums, and on and on and on. It’s overwhelming. I’ve never been to Vegas but that’s the closest I could compare it to. Lots going on and so much to see you almost don’t know where to look. There were so many food choices that we literally couldn’t take it all in and ended up eating at Papa John’s. I wish I were kidding. We just got overwhelmed and went with what was familiar.

Our group split up for that part of the day. Some of them went to the butterfly garden and the rest did the new Niagara Speedway Go Karts. A lot of people refer to them as the Mario Kart go karts. They all had a blast doing that! I chose to sit and rest a bit rather than ride but everyone that did it had rave reviews. And it was reasonably priced as far as Go Karts go, at $12 to drive and $4 to be a passenger.

We walked around a bit more and then hopped on a bus to get to the White Water Walk. Clifton Hill is on a different line than the White Water Walk, so we had to transfer at Table Rock. Unfortunately, it took nearly an hour to get from Clifton Hill back to Table Rock. That particular line on the bus covers a huge distance with tons of stops. Oops.

The path to the white water walk involves a crowded elevator and a tunnel. Be aware if those things cause you any anxiety.

The good news is that although we were an hour late for our scheduled time for the White Water attraction, we were able to go right in. They aren’t super strict about it. hooray!

So what is the White Water Walk? You take an elevator way down into the Niagara gorge and get to walk a length of the river to see the class 6 rapids. It is possibly more powerful than the falls themselves and was a little scary to see. At least, it was for me. The walk is about ten minutes each way and it’s shady and cool, even on a hot day. At the end of the path, there are benches. You are not timed in any way–you can stay as long as you’d like. Walk slow, take pictures, read the signs, take it all in. There are vending machines as well, which is good to know in case you do get hot down there. We went in the late afternoon and it was shaded well. It could be hotter at other times of day, I’m not sure.

Kids at the white water walk. This is also a good shot of their lanyards and tickets so you can see what those look like.
I was pretty nervous having the little guy so close to the rapids but the railings and such appeared to be safe. I was still nervous!

Overall, we found the Adventure Pass to be well worth it. It saved us money, it saved us time, it saved our feet from walking everywhere and it got us to do some things we may not have bothered with if it hadn’t been a package deal.

 

Why We Switched to Teaching Textbooks (and why we love it!)

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I take on too much! I just… have lots of interests and lots of things that are important to me and sometimes I overload myself. For example, right at this very moment I am planning three different vacations, directing a challenge class at my Classical Conversations community, learning all about blogging and writing this blog, running an etsy shop, and teaching kids in China ESL through Skype. Oh yeah, and home schooling my own kids and carting them to all their activities.

Sometimes I have to look at my schedule and decide what to cut and what I can make easier for myself. Where am I not giving 100%? Why am I not giving 100%? What could I do to make it better?

This past year it became glowingly obvious that one of the areas where I was faltering was working on math with the two older kids. Sometimes with everything else on my plate, I would just not have time to correct their lessons. And here’s what would happen, in a vicious loop:

  • They’d complete a lesson and ask me to grade it.
  • I would MEAN to get it done but eight other things would pile up on my desk on top of the math book and it wouldn’t get done.
  • They’d come back for their math book and do the next lesson, never even knowing if they made mistakes in the previous lesson.
  • They’d complete the next lesson and ask me to grade it.

Sigh.  Sometimes they’d get to the end of the book and I’d have to start them at the beginning again because I’d realize they hadn’t really grasped any of the concepts. And it’s not their fault at all–it was completely, totally, all on me. I needed to fix this problem but wasn’t sure how.

Enter Teaching Textbooks. Last year, directing Challenge A, ALL my students (other than my child!) used Teaching Textbooks. That so many mommas who obviously had similar educational goals as me were using it caught my attention. My kids finished up the books they were working through and we dove into Teaching Textbooks for the first time.

Getting cozy to do math with just a computer and a white board. Doesn’t get any easier than that!

So how does it work? It’s like magic. OK, maybe it’s not MAGIC, but it’s as close to magic as you can get when discussing math curriculum. Depending on which version you are using, the child either logs onto the website or loads up a disc on the computer. They watch a lesson, and then they do the problems and enter the answers into the computer. The computer tells them which ones they did correctly and which ones were wrong. I am able to go in and delete wrong answers so that they can try, try again. And again. And again if necessary. We don’t move on from a lesson until they can get 100% on the current one. Math is marathon, not a sprint.

Doing Algebra on her iPhone. Algebra on her iPhone. Let that sink in. AMAZING!

At the time we first switched, someone offered me Pre-Algebra for my daughter, so she used the disc version. But my son finished his other book up right as Teaching Textbooks released their newest version, 3.0. Teaching Textbooks 3.0 is all online! What?!? No discs! No books (unless you want the book–it’s still available but you can absolutely work without it.) If you hate clutter like I do, you will LOVE not having a book or discs to drag around the house. Also, there’s no “I can’t do math, I can’t find my book.” Math is available from any computer, phone, or tablet at any time. *Insert evil mom laughter.*. And we have a MacBook–no disc drive. So we had to use an external one to load the discs. One more thing to have to find before doing math. But no more! Teaching Textbooks 3.0 is saving my butt in more ways than one!

When you log into TT3.0, you can log in as a parent or as a student. Now, my computer will only save the password for ONE, not both. Hmm. Obviously, I have mommy brain so I had it save the password for ME and not my child. I just told him what his password was and to remember it.

Big Mistake.

Middle Child is pretty smart. And he realized quickly that my password was saved in the computer. I caught him logging into the parent side and erasing wrong answers on quizzes. B-U-S-T-E-D, you are busted! (Are we the only family that sings that song on a daily basis? Anyway…). So the moral of that story is don’t save your password. Learn from my mistakes!

You can log into the parent or student side from the same home page.

Here are some cool features of the new 3.0 version (you know, besides the clutter free miracle that we already discussed).

  • You can access the e-book on the website so that you can still read the lessons with your child or if they learn better from reading rather than through the lecture format. I love that it’s flexible to different learning styles! (And it’s the same textbook from the previous version, so if you already have it and decide to switch to 3.0, you can still use the book you have!)

    E-book version of the text book.
  • You can easily change your “buddy”. Now to be honest, my daughter used the 2.0 version on her own and I never looked at it very closely. But apparently being able to change your buddy easily is a big deal for kids who are used to the old format. If that’s you, you’ll love this! My football obsessed son was happy to switch to a football player! And you can also switch the wallpaper, there’s a lot to choose from. When you are staring at the screen doing math it’s nice to be able to adjust it to look different now and then!

  • You can go into the grade book and delete individual wrong answers so that the child can go back and do JUST the problems missed over again. We use this feature all the time and I love it.
You can check the score on each lesson and delete incorrect answers to have your student try again.
  • And you can use it on an iPhone or iPad or any other phone or tablet that allows you to download the Puffin Browser.

Take that in, mommas. If you are on a road trip and your kids are fighting in the back seat, you can hand one of them your phone and make them do a math lesson. See if they ever argue again about who actually crossed the state line into Ohio first!

This. Is. Groundbreaking.

I also need to say that the customer service is phenomenal. When I first purchased the subscription to 3.0 for my middle child, something went wrong somewhere and I never received the email confirmation that it went through (I blame my email service, honestly). I got in touch with customer service and they fixed the situation in probably under a minute. I was so impressed!

Why else do I love Teaching Textbooks (and especially Teaching Textbooks 3.0)? My goal is to work myself right out of a job. That is, my goal is to raise independent learners who love seeking knowledge. I am not force feeding them information anymore–the big kids are 13 and almost 11 now and it’s time for them to be taking on more and more of their education themselves. Teaching Textbooks has given them both the independence to learn math without needing me there right beside them. I mean, of course if a lesson is hard (middle child  still cries over fractions, to be honest), I CAN and I WILL sit next to him and help him any way I can. But since about 85% of the time he can work through it alone now, he is free to learn math on his own and he is not stuck waiting on me to be ready. He can work faster, or slower, or whatever he needs to do to understand a lesson. He is in complete control of his math education now. That is amazing freedom for him and a huge part of growing up and maturing. I don’t know too many 11 year olds who get to take that much control of their own education. It’s kind of… beautiful. OK, now I’m getting all teary eyed over MATH. Honestly, who am I?!? 😉

Middle Child working on his math snuggled up on the couch.

When I first heard of Teaching Textbooks, I hesitated. It sounded too good to be true, for one thing. For another, I had jumped math curriculum several times and was afraid of doing it again. But luckily there are great placement tests available to help you put your child in the right level–and I’ll be honest, it didn’t match up exactly with what they’d just completed in different curriculum. Definitely use the placement test to make sure you are in the right level! (I recommend starting at your guess of the correct level and do one placement test a day in place of a math lesson until you figure it out. If you make your child do multiple placement tests in one day, they will get frustrated and make sloppy mistakes… Not that I know from experience or anything…OK, I do know from experience.)

A subscription gives your student a full year to finish the curriculum–and you can pause it for summer break or vacation and it won’t count against your time. It’s super flexible and works with your family’s schedule, as any good home school curriculum should. And if you have a large family, guess what? They offer a multiple student discount for families with four or more kids so you don’t go broke on math curriculum. Score!

Teaching Textbooks has really taken a lot off my plate. Not just the to do list item of correcting their math lessons, but the guilt and worry, too. I know they are getting their math done, it’s easy to go in and check their progress and see what lesson they are working on, and they have more control over their learning. Everybody wins.

GREAT NEWS! You can get a FREE TRIAL of Teaching Textbooks 3.0 to see if it’s a good fit for your family.  Better news? When you sign up for the free trial, you can also enter to win a full year subscription! Plus, you can get more entires in my rafflecopter drawing by following Teaching Textbooks and The Places We Learn on social media. Do as many or as few as you want, each option has a listed number of entries you will get in the drawing. Must be 18 to enter. Contest will end Friday, August 4, 2018.

Free Trial and a Giveaway!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!!!!

***Disclosure: Teaching Textbooks has provided me with a year subscription to their curriculum for writing this review. However, we were already using and LOVING Teaching Textbooks before they contacted me about writing a review.  All opinions are my own.***

 

 

Eleven Tips for Exploring Niagara Falls, U.S. with Children

We had an amazing week at Niagara Falls!

We just returned from an absolutely fabulous vacation to Niagara Falls. We spent time on both the U.S. and Canadian sides and I have so much to say about all of it but I am going to try to break it down into less overwhelming bits and pieces.

First of all, for today’s post,  let’s talk about the U.S. side of the falls. I have heard nothing good about it, ever.  I’ve heard that the city isn’t that great, that the views of the falls aren’t that great, that there’s nothing worthwhile at all about the New York side. So honestly, it was a last minute decision to stop in New York at all.

All those claims about Niagara Falls, NY? FALSE. I can’t believe we almost missed out on that experience. What fools we would’ve been to skip it completely!

Overall, my top tip for Niagara Falls New York State Park is to understand that you are going to be out in nature. This park is not heavily commercialized. There is not a restaurant or an arcade or a gift shop every ten feet like on the Canadian side (the U.S. side does have all that, but it’s further back from the falls, not right up on it). This is more like going out for a hike. I was caught off guard by that!  Past that, here are eleven tips to help you plan your trip to Niagara Falls, New York.

  1. Park at the Niagara Falls New York State Park. The lot isn’t huge but it also seems to be somewhat overlooked. We had no problem pulling in and getting a great spot on a weekend in July. It costs $10 to park there and you can use cash or your debit card–but you’ll need exact change with cash. The lot is right by the welcome center and right across the street from lots of food options–and you know the kids are going to be asking for food! (Also note: there are bathrooms in the welcome center!)You can rent a stroller at the park. If you just don’t have room in your car for a stroller and all your luggage, know that if your little one needs a stroller, rentals are available. It’s $20 for four hours and that’s likely plenty of time to see the park, especially with stroller-aged children
  2. Dress appropriately. You will want to be wearing comfortable clothes for a long day of walking. It can get hot, and there are hills and stairs. If you go in the summer, you will sweat.  Wear supportive shoes. I wore athletic pants with a moisture wicking material and Under Armour Sandals.
  3. Expect to be underwhelmed by your first view you get of the falls. When you enter the park and come around the side of the welcome center, you will glimpse the American Falls. I’ve got to be honest, my first thought was, “We drove all that way for… this?” It’s not the best spot to get a good view and unfortunately it’s the first glimpse you get. Keep on walking through the park and you’ll get to better views!

    The first view of the falls.
  4. Follow the signs to cross the bridges to Luna and Goat Islands. You will walk across two bridges (they are walking bridges, no cars will be on them, but staff on golf carts will drive over them a bit). The bridges are a bit slick–hold hands with younger kids! When you get to Goat Island, follow the signs for American Falls and then Horseshoe Falls. You will be able to get incredibly close to the water.
    Checking out the view from one of the islands. I think this was Luna Island.
    American Falls
    American Falls
    We called this the selfie capital of the world. 😉

    And all the way over at Horseshoe Falls!
  5. Pay the small fee to go down an elevator to the dock of the famous Maid of the Mist boat–even if you don’t plan to ride the boat, you can go down and enjoy the view.
  6. Have change on you to put in the view finders! Kids love those things, so be prepared for the constant begging for change!

    Bring change! Kids love these things!
  7. Pack a cooler of bottled water. You will get thirsty walking through the islands and the little carts and stands charge a whopping $3.50 per twenty ounce bottle of water. For the record, that is more than Disney World charges.
  8. Ride the boat. Whether you ride the Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side or the Hornblower on the Canadian side, it is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. (We actually took the boat from the Canadian side but the price is about the same and the experience identical). You get so close to the Falls, and the mist is in your face and the wind is whipping and you just feel its power. It made me really realize how little control we humans have over nature. We live in a world with so much technology that we think we can control every little thing but getting up close and personal with Horseshoe Falls makes you realize what a lie that all is. (It doesn’t help that I read The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, during this trip. The theme of that book is also that humans have very little control over nature!).

    A view of Horseshoe Falls from the boat.
  9. Get some kind of device to keep you from dropping your phone. Seriously, you are chasing kids around and taking pictures with thousands of gallons of gushing water. What could possibly go wrong? I have a Loopy Case but I also have a universal waterproof case that I can wear on a lanyard and fits any phone and I also love this little gadget for wearing my phone on a lanyard without being in the waterproof case–but on the boat, you will want waterproof! I was so nervous watching people hang over the side of the boat just holding their phones with no backup plan for dropping it. Eek!
  10. Eat some place local. There are so many chains in the area but skip that stuff. You can eat at Rain Forest Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, etc, anytime and practically any place.  Personally, we enjoyed Mario’s Pizza and Flip Burger.  They were a short walk past Hard Rock Cafe. Prices were not outrageous for a tourist town and the quality was excellent. Mario’s serves real New York pizza. I live in the midwest now and I’m sorry to say, they don’t really understand what pizza should be. New York gets it right! Flip Burgers has fresh cut fries–you can watch them chop the potatoes. And they were sooooo good we wished we had bought more. Also, they are right next door to each other so if two kids are begging for pizza and one kid wants a hot dog and fries, you are in luck! You can grab food from both places and sit at the outdoor tables and enjoy it all!

    New York Style Pizza at Mario’s.
  11. Plan to spend the whole day. Don’t rush. Don’t have a schedule or an itinerary–especially if you also plan to go to the Canadian side. Over there, with the adventure pass, you have to book times for all your experiences. Enjoy the unhurried, unscheduled experience of seeing the falls at a slower pace, out in nature. Walk everywhere–every time you move your car, you’ll pay to park. So take your time and walk. It’s a very walking-friendly area, with wide sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks.

 

I hope you enjoy your time in Niagara Falls, New York as much as I did. Do you have tips for things to do or how to prepare? Share them in the comments!

Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume II: Jurassic Week

I feel like the title of this blog post is misleading because we didn’t actual integrate any schoolwork into our week. We took a brain break. But this is still a week in our lives so I’m keeping it under that blog series. 🙂

It’s summer.  I was really looking forward to this summer. But so far? I’m hating it. Everyone is scattered. Every week someone is at some camp somewhere. We are never all home. I hate it. I absolutely, positively hate it. This is the worst summer ever. This growing up stuff? It stinks.

I’ve tried to fill my time with my own growth–learning to blog, learning a new job that is way outside my comfort zone, etc. But the reality is I just want my kids at home and life to be normal. It’s only June and I am longing for the school year. And I usually love summer, so this is a weird thing for me, to wish it away. Continue reading “Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume II: Jurassic Week”