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”

How We Conquered Clutter in Our Home School

We conquered clutter in our home. We didn’t just tackle it and we didn’t just declutter for the eleventh time. We conquered clutter. It is not a battle we face anymore. I mean, sure the kids grow and we have to sort through clothes to see what fits and what doesn’t. That doesn’t go away as long as you have children! But we conquered the need for so much stuff, we found a system that worked for us, and we’ve stuck with it for three years now and it has yet to let us down.

So what sort of magic did we use to conquer clutter? The KonMari method. You’ve probably heard of it, it’s the method from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The book gets a lot of hate on the internet but it also has loyal, passionate followers. I definitely fall in the loyal follower category!  Continue reading “How We Conquered Clutter in Our Home School”

How We Use “Addition Facts That Stick”

If you missed it, I wrote an overview of the Math Facts That Stick series over here, including an interview with the author, Kate Snow. I definitely love the program and was so excited to get started using it at  home.

To start at the first lesson in Addition Facts That Stick, you need two sets of 8 to 10 “pieces” of something (I used small legos but you could use buttons or coins, or just about anything you have around the house)  in two different colors and a penny. If you have a hard copy of the book, you will need to tear out the “ten frame” in the back of the book. If you have a digital version, you can print this out. I highly recommend laminating it so that it lasts!

What you need to get started with Addition Facts That Stick

Continue reading “How We Use “Addition Facts That Stick””

Why We Home School All Summer Long

Summer vacation at the beach.

 

Ah, summer. Beautiful weather, long days at the pool (or the beach if you’re lucky!), and long sunny days filled with relaxation and restoration after a long school year. Well, it is for about five minutes, until the kids either start whining that they are bored or start fighting. Then what? I understand why some people completely take the summer off. They just need the break to unwind and step back from it all. I get that. Completely. We’ve even had a few summers when we had to do that. But personally, typically we home school straight through the summer for several reasons. I’ve worked really hard to create a learning environment in our home and prefer to keep it alive. I have found that a little bit of schoolwork in the morning fosters creativity all day. And finally, it’s a chance to study things that don’t fit into our school year curriculum.

Continue reading “Why We Home School All Summer Long”

Math Facts That Stick: An Interview with author Kate Snow

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of The Well Trained Mind Press. We use many of their resources as part of our school day, including Writing With Ease, First Language Lessons, and Story of the World. So when I found out they were releasing a math series, I was downright giddy!  At the moment, addition and subtraction are available but very, very soon multiplication and division will be available as well. Woohoo!!!!!

Addition Facts that Stick by Kate Snow

The series is called Math Facts That Stick and it is written by Kate Snow. It is not a complete math curriculum, it is strictly about fact mastery–so it won’t replace your Saxon or your A Beka or whatever else you choose to use. However, fact mastery is incredibly important and most math curriculum does not set aside time to really focus on it so this is a great complement to any math curriculum. Without it, children are stuck relying on calculators or working painfully slowly through their math exercises. With mastery,  a student achieves confidence and self-reliance. And, it doesn’t hurt that mastery saves a whole lot of time when it’s time to break out the math book! There are four parts to the series: Addition Facts That Stick, Subtraction Facts That Stick, Multiplication Facts That Stick, and Division Facts That Stick.

But it’s not all flashcards and drills. Instead of strict memorization of facts, Kate teaches kids to master facts using strategies and visualizations so that they don’t just recite “2+1=3”, they actually understand what it means from the start. You’ll need a few basic items to get started–a deck of cards, counters for the game boards (we are using small legos), a penny for coin tosses, game tokens of some kind (buttons work!), and blank paper and a pencil.

And if you don’t feel you are well equipped to teach your kids math, I have great news for you! Like most of the other Well Trained Mind Press publications, these books spell out exactly what you should say. It’s like having a “How to Teach Math” cheat sheet in front of you as you work through the strategies and games.

I had the chance to interview the author, Kate Snow, about her awesome books. Here’s what she had to say:

Me: Beginning with Addition Facts that Stick, what ages do you recommend for each book?
Kate: I recommend that parents do one volume per year: Addition Facts That Stick in first grade, Subtraction Facts That Stick in second grade, Multiplication Facts That Stick in third grade, and Division Facts That Stick in fourth grade. However, if your curriculum expects mastery at a different pace, it’s fine to follow your curriculum’s schedule. (For example, Singapore Math expects division fact mastery in third grade, so I’d suggest that Singapore Math families work through both multiplication and division with their third graders.)
Me:  Why are your methods more successful than traditional flashcards?
Kate: Since traditional flashcards rely on rote memorization, it can take hours and hours of tedious drill for children to memorize one set of facts. My approach is to use simple strategies and visual models to help children master the facts much faster. For example, with the addition facts, children only need to learn 6 strategies to master all of the addition facts from 1+1 up to 9+9. They still need practice to become automatic with the facts, but mental strategies and visual models help children become fluent much more quickly (and with less tedium).
Me:. The series is being sold by The Well Trained Mind Press, which is a publisher of Classical Education curriculum. What makes your methods for learning math facts classical?
Kate: In math, classical education focuses on making sure that young children master the essential foundations of arithmetic in the early years of elementary school so that they’re well-prepared for more advanced coursework later. The math facts are a vital part of laying this foundation.
Me:. Which of the math games or strategies is your favorite?
Kate: I heart ten-frames! They’re just a simple grid of 10 boxes, with a line between the two groups of 5, but they’re extremely powerful for helping children master addition and subtraction. Ten-frames allow kids to “see” quantities and manipulative them mentally, and they help kids escape the trap of always counting on their fingers to find answers.
Me:  I have the PDF version of the series, making it easy to print the game boards and practice sheets for use with my child. What is the format for the hard copies of the books? Do parents and teachers have permission to make copies of these pages as needed?
Kate: The printed books have perforated pages for all the games and worksheets, so they’re easy to pull out and use. Families may make as many photocopies as they’d like for use within their own families, and the Well-Trained Mind Press offers schools and co-ops licenses to make photocopies at a very reasonable cost.
Me:. As a fellow lover of math, I have to ask. What’s your favorite number and why?
Kate: 360. I find it fascinating that even with all of our calculators and computers, our GPS coordinates still use a system invented by the Babylonians.
***
You can purchase Addition Facts that Stick and the rest of the series from the Well Trained Mind Press or from Amazon (Amazon even has a Kindle version!). Check out how it’s going with my four year old in this post!

10 Reasons to Go on a Disney Cruise (Without Your Kids!)

Disney Dream at Castaway Cay

Two years ago, my husband made me go on a Disney cruise without my children. Guys, I was MAD at him. I honest and truly got on that airplane and said, “Do NOT even talk to me until we land. I can’t even LOOK at you right now.” I had never been on a cruise before and I had never left the country, either. To do both of those things while the kids were back home completely freaked me out. Plus, we weren’t just going on any cruise. We were going on a DISNEY cruise. Without our kids? It just felt so… wrong. I was certain it would be miserable, that the ship would be overrun with children, and we’d have a terrible time.

Continue reading “10 Reasons to Go on a Disney Cruise (Without Your Kids!)”

How to Prevent Stroller Theft at Walt Disney World

In a previous blog post, I shared with you the horrible experience we had with stroller theft at Walt Disney World. We felt so violated and just so broken-hearted to have something so cruel happen to us in a place that is always supposed to be HAPPY!

Keep your stroller safe and happy at the most magical place on earth!

After the stolen stroller incident, I was very anxious as we planned our next Disney trip. I ended up deciding to re-purchase the same stroller that was stolen because quite frankly, I loved that stroller and wanted it back.  I was so scared of dealing with it being stolen again but we really still needed a stroller–my four year old could simply not walk 10-12 miles a day in the September heat of Orlando. And so, I scoured the internet for all the ideas I could find to protect my stroller. Here’s the best tips I’ve found. Continue reading “How to Prevent Stroller Theft at Walt Disney World”

Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume I

I decided I should start a blog series on what life really looks like in our house over the course of a week. I certainly will not be doing this EVERY week but I want to at least do it once a month. If my promise on this site is to show how Classical Education is still a relevant model of education that can absolutely THRIVE in the modern world, I figure I should share what it looks like in our daily lives and what our daily lives look like. So here it is, Volume I of Classical Education Meets the Real World!

We actually managed to sit down and do morning basket time together on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday last week. That is the bulk of our schooling for the summer (and yes, we are already on summer break, but we never stop doing school around here, we just lighten the load when it’s nice out). The big kids also have a goal for finishing their current math books this summer, so they typically do two math lessons a day.

Art Appreciation During Morning Basket Time. Don’t they look thrilled?!?

Continue reading “Classical Education Meets the Real World, Volume I”

How to Create–and Use!–a Loop Schedule

Loop scheduling has saved the day for us. Seriously, it has taken away all my mom guilt, all my frustration, and all my OCD issues with getting everything done on time. Because nothing ever got done on time and then I’d feel so discouraged and overwhelmed that it was easier to quit than keep going. Loop scheduling erases all those issues. Really, it’s like a magic cure. And it’s SO SIMPLE. I had read about the concept for a couple of years and I don’t know why I was so stubborn about piecing it all together and actually doing it. It’s working. It’s changing everything about our home school day but most importantly, it’s changing my attitude and mindset.

See back in the beginning of our home school journey, I would plan the entire year out before we began. I even typed it. I had what we were going to do every single day for all the 180 days of school we needed to complete. It was a disaster. By about two months in, I’d feel behind and rushed and overwhelmed and always trying to catch up. There is no joy in learning when there’s that much stress. Loop scheduling has fixed that for us.

What is loop scheduling? Well, you can read more about it here, but essentially, it’s just making a whole year of lesson plans for each subject and putting them in a list format. And then you don’t assign the lessons to a date. On the first day of your school year, you start at Day one of history, then day one of science, and so on. If you get through all your subjects, you stop. If you have a busy afternoon and only get through two subjects, that’s OK! You just pick up where you left off the next day. You are never behind because you just keep looping through the subjects.

Continue reading “How to Create–and Use!–a Loop Schedule”