Monthly Archives: November 2012

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

This day was supposed to be a relatively informal gathering of families from our homeschool group.  However, torrential rains on Sunday and the prediction of more on Monday had my phone buzzing with texts from families canceling.  After the remaining family dropped out, I sat down with the kids and explained the situation and asked if they still wanted to go.  The answer was a resounding “Yes”.  So in addition to our normal preparations of lunches & water bottles, we packed TWO changes of clothes for each, several beach towels, and double checked that the rain ponchos were still in the Suburban.

Nestled just inside West Loop 610 on Woodway Drive, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is an oasis in an area filled with high-rises, shopping, and fast paced life.  It turned out to be a blessed experience.  First, it didn’t rain. At. All. The entire time we were there.  Second, it appeared that the rain had scared everyone off.  With the exception of a few Tyke Hike participants, we had the place to ourselves.

We started in the Discovery Room which provides interactive and observational opportunities for visitors of all ages.  There are aquatic tanks at various levels and little steps to higher exhibits (great for those toddlers in the “me do it” phase), lift the flap quizes, ecosystems, skeletal remains, and the cross section of a 100-year-old tree.  Particularly engaging was the wall dedicated to the “Life and Work of Trees” explaining how they gather water, photosynthesis, protection and their service to woodland creatures.  They also had a library section.  Why read about it when you can go outside & live it?  The kids were ready to hike!

The woman at the information desk shared helpful suggestions on trails for first time visitors.  We started on the Inner Loop, but soon ventured to the South Meadow Trail and the R.A. Vines Trail.  Walking surfaces consisted of mostly gravel or foot bridges.  There were several look-out decks built along the marshy areas to allow a close-up look at the habitat.  There were a few signs labeling some plant life, but those wishing to beef up their botany should bring a field guide.

We took a break for lunch.  There were plenty of benches available, unfortunately the recent rains left everything saturated.  We opted for lowering the back seat in the Suburban & camping out there.  Even in the parking lot we watched squirrels playing, listened to birds sing, and saw the occasional dragon fly.   While not listed on the map, the woman at the information desk mentioned a playground and the kids were ready to check it out.

While not massive, the play area offered a variety of climbing, crawling, and jumping options.  There was a rope bridge ~ just high enough to scrape a knee when falling off but nothing too perilous, a crow’s nest lookout, tube to crawl through, and several balance beams.  This is where preparing allows you to “Say Yes” to fun adventures.  We watched as other kids were told by their parents that they could not fully explore enjoy this area because it was wet and muddy.  First, isn’t that the point?  Wet & Muddy are fun!  But given that perhaps they had somewhere else to go ~ towels, a package of baby wipes, and a change of clothes would have allowed the parents to embrace the opportunity to stomp in the puddles.

Recommended ages: This adventure is appropriate for all ages and you can even bring the family dog.  Families with strollers or wheelchairs can easily navigate several of the trails though the Discovery Room might prove a bit tight on a busy day.  This is nature.  Talk with children about not “collecting” souvenirs and keep an eye on adventurous ones who might be tempted to wander off trail or test the water.

Anything we wish was different?  Not that we experienced.

How do I set up a trip?  The Arboretum is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 7am to dusk.  I would recommend checking the schedule if you wish to include the Discovery Room as part of your visit.  It is often booked for classes and guided tours.  We haven’t utilized any of their offerings, but you can find out more about organized group visits by clicking the “Learn” tab from the main menu.

A note about parking.  Parking is free at the Arboretum.

What else is there to do nearby?  Just East of the Arboretum, Woodway merges into Memorial Drive and immediately thereafter is the exit for Memorial Park.

Categories: Elementary, Field Trips, Free, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | 4 Comments

Houston Gem & Mineral Show

Each year in November, the Houston Gem and Mineral Society hosts a 3-day event showcasing stones, minerals, jewelry, fossils, as well as geological fields and artistry.

This year, our family had the pleasure of going twice.  On Friday as part of an organized field trip to their “School Daze” and again on Saturday with our Webelos Patrol so the boys could earn their “Geologist Activity Badge”.

I coordinated the event on Friday.  As I had never been to the show before, it was quite the learning experience for me.  There are a few things I would do differently, but overall ~ we had an excellent time.

The show is held at the Humble Civic Center, which is on Will Clayton Parkway just East of 59N outside Beltway 8.  Homeschool groups must register in advance for 1/2 hour time slots in the afternoon.  (Public & Private schools are assigned the morning slots.)  I contacted the Field Trip coordinator for HGMS in August and secured the 1pm time spot.  Two weeks in advance I provided her with the grade level of each student attending.  While homeschoolers are allowed to bring younger children, the event is designed for students age 5+.

The show put a great deal of work into designing “Scavenger Hunts” for various grade-levels.  K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, & 8+ each have separate, age-appropriate pages with questions that can be answered at various booths & presentations throughout the show.  Each level is color-coded and has their own “course ” through the show.  Maps are provided.  Booths that are answering questions have colored balloons corresponding as well.

While this is perfect for a school group with ten 4th graders, we had 14 students spanning nearly every grade level.  At first, we tried to stay together as one single group.  We quickly found that it was often too many people to hear well and that everyone preferred to travel at their own pace.  So, we broke off and followed our own paths.  The show is open to families choosing whichever “level” they wish.  We chose to combine and work on a single-level together.

At the end, we turned in our sheets and were given a free gem or mineral.  Both our children chose quartz.

We returned on Saturday with the Webelos.  The Scouts were free, the only charge was for the adults attending.  Adults

were even allowed to utilize the $1 off coupon posted on the HGMS website.  I was incredibly impressed at how much effort volunteers had put in to the presentations.  As long as the Scout followed the sheet they were given they would leave earning their “Geologist Activity Badge”.   Unfortunately, some people who had volunteered did not show up.  However, the coordinators stepped in and managed beautifully.

The boys were treated to several interactive experiences discussing identification of minerals, rock cycle, water cycle, and volcanic activity.  We then traveled to various exhibitors to learn answers to questions about fossils and Geological careers.  Each boy went home with a bag full of at least 5 minerals to complete the requirements for a collection.

Recommended ages:  For Friday’s School day they ask that registered students be 5 years or older.  Younger siblings were allowed, but families will find that the layout and activities are not designed for pre-schoolers.  Families pushing strollers might find it difficult to navigate.  While aisles were wide, it was quite crowded on both days.  For Scouts ~ it’s obviously for those who are actually Scouts.  Other Packs/Troops brought siblings but the event was booked to capacity and it was quite difficult to squeeze everyone in with the unexpected attendees.

Anything we wish was different?  Both days were really well planned and organizers provided a significant amount of materials including maps.  The only change I’d make is to the HGMS website.  It utilizes panes and no matter what you click on ~ the web address stays the same.  This makes it impossible to share directly links to pertinent information and forces users to click around repeatedly every time they visit the site.  Which leads to difficulties with…

How do I set up a trip?  For reasons explained above, I can’t give you direct links.  Click on the “Annual Show” button, then scroll down and there’s a “Kids Day” link, the first link on that page will be “School Daze Earth Science Information”.  This page provides individual links for Public & Private Schools, Homeschools, or Scouts to register.  The coordinator for School Daze is different than for Scouts.  I found them both to be incredibly helpful.  I would recommend signing up for both at the beginning of September as spots fill up quickly in both programs.  School Daze Program is free.  On Saturday Scouts are free and Adult chaperones are $7 (a coupon for $1/off can be printed from the site).

A note about parking.  Parking is free at the Humble Civic Center.  On Friday,  the West lot is reserved for Bus loading/unloading.  It was requested we park in the East lot.  This worked well as check-in and the scavenger hunt begin at the West Entrance and end at the East Entrance.  On Saturday, everyone enters through the main doors on the South side of the building.  Again, activities began on the West side of the venue and ended on the East.

What else is there to do nearby?  This was quite enough adventure for our family for one day.  Other places in Humble to visit include KSBJ Studios and WaterWorks Education Center.  Both of these tours are free, but do require advanced registration.

Categories: $5.01-$10, Elementary, Free, High School, Humble, Middle School, November | 1 Comment

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