Day Trips

We’re Moving!

moving box

We’ve Moved! 

Our family has moved on to a new season in life and away from regularly taking field trips. We’re no longer regularly monitoring this blog or updating/adding information.

I’m excited to announce that Texas Unschoolers will now be home to all these resources. Not only does this allow me to preserve all the information I’ve gathered over the years, but I will be periodically blogging for them in the future on a variety of topics of interest to our family.

Thank you for all of your support and I hope you’ll join us over there!

Please note: Someone else purchased the .com domain that we used to own.  We are not affiliated with that site.

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Categories: Announcements, By Age, By City, By Cost, By Month, City Parks, Day Trips, Events, Factory, Field Trips, Grab Your Calendar, Museums, State Parks, Theater, Tours, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Memberships & Reciprocity

Memberships
Houston Memberships and Reciprocity

A great way to save money throughout the year is with a membership to your favorite Museum, Zoo, or Aquarium.  Not only is your admission covered for the entire year ~ most memberships entitle your family to discounts on gift shop merchandise, parking, special events, classes, lectures, parties, and more.  Some venues even offer “members-only” hours where you are allowed to beat the crowds (and heat!) with early admission and special previews of exhibits.   If you regularly visit your favorite places with family and friends ~ consider upgrading your membership to one that allows you to bring in extra people.  Often, for a minimal extra cost, you can save significantly over purchasing extra admission for additional visitors.

Reciprocity

If your family regularly travels, be sure to check out the reciprocity agreements that Museums & Zoos/Aquariums share with each other across the country.  Even within the state, you can save big on your “day trip” adventures.  Keep in mind that there are some restrictions as to residency and local venues.  Generally, museums in the same city (or even within 90 miles) will not honor reciprocity agreements.  Be sure to read each museum’s membership page carefully to determine the right fit for your family.   Here are two major organizations that offer reciprocity within their museums/zoos/aquariums and a quick list of their local attractions. (info accurate as of August 2014)

Association of Science-Technology Centers

Children’s Museum of Houston
The Health Museum

Association of Zoos & Aquariums

Houston Zoo

Even if a museum/zoo is a member of the organization ~ they may not honor reciprocity agreements or may only offer discounted admission.  Additionally, the out-of-town attraction may have limits to the number of admissions they allow.  For example, if you have a “Supporting” membership to the Houston Zoo that allows you to bring in 10 people, the Dallas Zoo may only allow you to purchase 4 discounted tickets.   When visiting out-of-town attractions, be sure to inquire as to how they handle reciprocity memberships.

Presidential Museums

Texas is home to three Presidential Libraries and Museums: LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, George Bush Presidential Library & Museum on the Texas A&M Campus in College Station, and George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum on the SMU Campus in Dallas.  A membership to any of these museums grants you admission to all 15 Presidential Libraries across the United States.   (Please note: the LBJ Presidential Library is completely separate from the LBJ Ranch.)

Texas State Parks Pass

The Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife cares for nearly 100 State Parks & Historic Sites. Purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass gives you and everyone in your (non-commercial) vehicle free admission to every one of them.  You also receive discounts on camping fees, park store rental & retail items, special programs, and events.  There are many parks within a 2 hour drive of Houston making a pass a great investment.

 Be sure to bring proper/current identification with you.  Most organizations require a valid ID for admission.  Do not loan your membership card to someone other than the named members.  This can result in canceling of membership.  While we all appreciate a good deal, please remember that these funds go to support the various venues and they rely on this revenue to maintain their exhibits, animals, & staff.  

Categories: Bryan / College Station, Day Trips, Houston, Museums, State Parks | Leave a comment

Grab Your Calendar ~ July 2013

IMG_0871Looking for something interesting to do this July?  Here are a few events, field trips, and concerts in the greater Houston area that would be of interest to homeschool/unschool families.  (In date order.  Events that run for the entirety or majority of the month are listed at the bottom.)

2nd ~ Hear Ye! Hear Ye! at Miller Outdoor Theatre.  11am.  Experience the artists of tomorrow as musical prodigies ages 4 – 18 perform.  Produced by Houston Young Artist’s Concert.  All Miller Outdoor Theatre Children’s Performances are free.

3rd & 4th ~ Waller Freedom Fest 2013 is sure to be a fun celebration for the whole family! Co-sponsored by the City of Waller and the Waller Ministerial Alliance, our purpose is to celebrate the freedom we enjoy as citizens of the U.S.A., as well as the freedom that is made possible for all through Christ Jesus. Freedom Fest is a completely family friendly event, and we hope you’ll choose to celebrate the 4th of July with us this year.  Festival is Free, but there are paid activities.

4th ~ The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is proud to host the College Station Noon Lions Club’s Fourth of July “I Love America” Celebration.  9:30 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. with FREE admission for everyone all day; building closes at 8:30 p.m.  Concessions and games for children begin at 5 p.m., and live music entertainment at 6 p.m. including The Docs and Clayton Gardner.  The evening will culminate with a performance by the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra, presented by HEB and Wells Fargo.

23rd-26th ~ Express Children’s Theatre and Miller Outdoor Theatre present the Children’s Hilltop Festival.  All performances begin at 11am and are free.

23rd ~ Dream of Doors ~ This new production focuses on the struggle of several iconic figures from the Civil Rights era who are engaged in the movement to open doors of human opportunity for everyone.   Four doors on stage symbolize equality, justice, education, and jobs.  The story is the journey to open each door, which will test the endurance and self-determination of those involved.   A musical odyssey written by Thomas Meloncon.

24th ~ Three Billy Goats Gruff ~ All the three billy goats want to do is get across the bridge so they can eat the grass on the other side, but there’s a grumbly, grouchy, bully of a Troll under the bridge who is determined not to let them pass.  They do finally get across, and even make a new friend in the process.   A rollicking musical production by Kevin M. Reese.

25th ~ Legends of Wind & Fire ~ The Quest for Fire, How Winter Was Born, Tring-Tring & Kai-Kai and Why Penguins Can’t Fly are the myths and legends of the native American people from Argentina to Brazil.  Told by a Mapuche Indian and her cousin and brought to life by a cast of animal characters, these tales are rich with music, culture and lore.  A bi-lingual English/Spanish production written by Edith Pross.

26th ~ The Ransom of Red Chief ~ O’Henry’s literary classic comes to life with this hilarious musical adaptation.  This is the story of two crooks who plan a get-rich quick scheme to kidnap the very energetic son of a local banker. But, the kidnappers get much more than they bargained for with the rambunctious Red Chief.  Written by Patricia Barry Rumble.

Through Labor Day, see  “Animals Assembled” at the Houston Zoo.  Constructed by LEGO Certified Master Builders, each animal in this special limited-time exhibit is life-size and made up of thousands of LEGO bricks.  There are more than two dozen LEGO brick animal sculptures, representing more than ten species. Once you’ve seen the LEGO brick animals, make sure to check out their real-life counterparts throughout the Zoo.

Enter the world of CHOMP! where you can stand eye to eye with some of nature’s creepiest, most dangerous creatures. All Summer, Space Center Houston will be hosting live animal shows every day, free with admission! Learn how NASA scientists are mimicking the traits of alligators, poison dart frogs, and other animals on display to help astronauts live in space. Kids can test their survival skills by weaving through spider webs and balancing on platforms as they navigate their way through an obstacle course.  You’ll find Texas Snakes & More out there every weekend doing shows.

Speaking of Texas Snakes & More ~ check out their calendar of public events to find something happening near you.

Want to get out of the heat?  Don’t forget that many movie theaters are offering free and reduced admission all Summer long.

If you have any events you’d like to recommend, please contact us.

Categories: Day Trips, Events, July | Leave a comment

Planning Awesome Family Day Trips

This post appears in the Natural Family Today e-book “Natural Family Guide to Summer” which you can download for FREE when you subscribe to their newsletter.  

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Day trips are a great option during the Summer months. They are an economical way for your family to explore an area outside of your everyday perimeter without a huge financial or time investment. From a day on the beach to an all day adventure at a nearby amusement park there are a variety of options to meet the needs of families no matter what your ages and stages. 

Where to Go?

A variety of factors come in to play here. The ages of your children, how far you are willing to travel, your budget, and what interests your family. Be sure you are taking your children’s “car tolerance” into consideration. Some families can handle a day trip that is 3 hours each way, while others may need to limit themselves to an hour round trip. You are  probably already familiar with the closest amusement park, so I wanted to share some ideas that may bring your family closer to nature.  (As this post was written for a broad audience, links provided are for national organizations and are not specific to the Houston area.)

Aquarium
• ArboretumIMG_1305
Audubon Preserve
• Beach
• Boat Tour
• Botanical Garden
Bureau of Land Management
• City/County Park
• Environmental Learning Center
• Japanese Gardens
• Lake
National Park Service
• Nature Preserve
• State Park
US Forest Service
Zoo

Our family has been traveling, camping, and enjoying field trips with our children for 10 years. We’ve found two things significantly contribute to the “success” of a trip:

1. Being Prepared
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff & just enjoy the adventure.

Be Prepared

Know all you can about the location. Where is it located? This may seem simple, but many families rely on their GPS only to end up milesfrom their desired destination or stuck on a street that hasn’t been completed yet. Venues with websites usually offer directions & maps ~ use them. Where is the parking? Are there bathrooms? (Yes, we went to a park once to find they had locked all the bathrooms on weekdays.) What is the appropriate age for visitors? Do they have any special events/programs that day? Is there a place inside or nearby to picnic? Are they busier on certain days of the week or certain weeks of the Summer? Can they accommodate any special needs you have? Can you bring outside food? Is it appropriate for strollers or wheelchairs? Is there an area for diaper changing or nursing?

Invite your children to help prepare. Have conversations with children about the plans for the day. Discuss any family rules about distance from the parent (holding hands, arms reach, line of sight, etc.) Plan where they should go or who they should talk to if you’re separated.  Until they memorized our cell numbers, we used a Sharpie to write it on the inside of our children’s shoes. If applicable, let them know of any specific times for presentations, snacks/lunch, exploring or at least the order of events. Ask them which ones are important to them and make those a priority. If there will be “extra costs” once inside that you’ve decided to skip (like the midway games at the fair), be clear with your children that it isn’t in the budget this time around. Oh, and our kids’ favorite, “How long is the drive?” We like to print an
extra copy of our directions from Google maps so they can help navigate.

Stock the car. Nothing dampens a trip (and everyone’s mood) like having to leave because you ran out of diapers or the 4-year-old spilled his drink & doesn’t have another shirt. If you’re tight on trunk space, prioritize on what is most important (or most likely to be needed) and be sure to bring it along. We regularly bring: prescription medication, first aid kit, sunscreen, change of clothes (even an extra shirt for Dad & Mom), extra snacks, water, picnic blanket, rain ponchos, camping chairs, Kleenex, a roll of paper towels, beach towels, and a collapsible wagon. Also be sure to include activities to keep all the passengers busy. While iPads and DVD players can be nice ~ we’ve been pleasantly surprised how much our children enjoy games like Car Bingo, mazes, connect-the-dots, tic-tac-toe, and other printable car games. Audio Books make a great selection for the car. Borrow from your local library or you can make your own CD’s for
only the cost of the disk. 

Set a budget. Planning for all the expenses helps avoid any fretting or family strife in the middle of the trip. Consider things like: fuel, tolls, admission, and parking fees. Do they accept cash, checks, &/or credit cards? Are there any additional costs for extra activities/experiences once there? Will you be bringing or buying snacks & meals? How
much do you have to spend on souvenirs? Are the kids allowed to spend their own money?

Enjoy the Adventure

At some point, decide that you are as prepared as possible and you are just going to enjoy yourselves. Don’t stress over small hiccups, be flexible, and keep the attitude that everything is a learning experience ~ even if it doesn’t go as planned.

Categories: Announcements, Day Trips, Events, Field Trips, Free, September | Leave a comment

Bear Creek Park Zoo

IMG_1043For families living on the West Side of Houston (areas like Spring Branch, Memorial, Copperfield, Cypress, Katy, & Jersey Village) ~ this is quite the treasure.  In the middle of Bear Creek Pioneers Park is a small wildlife habitat and aviary containing rescued and rehabilitating animals.  Many have been injured and are not capable of surviving in the wild.   Locals just call it “Bear Creek Park Zoo”.

While not as expansive as the Houston Zoo located in Hermann Park, we thoroughly enjoy a closer view, slower pace, and the fact that it’s FREE.   The zoo is situated along War Memorial Drive on the end closest to Eldgridge.  Visitors find a walking, stroller, and wheelchair friendly path leading to an aviary and a string of fenced areas.

The aviary contains various birds like owls, macaws, peafowl, doves, pigeons, and parrots.  If you are fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate!) you’ll be able to witness the aviary keepers feeding the birds of prey.  It’s an interesting opportunity to witness how these birds dismember rodents to eat.  Our children enjoy talking to the macaw that often mimics their words.  It’s a terrific opportunity to listen to the various calls each bird makes.

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For about 1/3 of a mile, you’ll find a row of fenced enclosures.  We enjoy watching bison, pot-bellied pigs, goats, emus, donkeys, sheep, and deer.  Over several of the enclosures are signs giving details of the history of the animal, feeding preferences, and scientific facts.  Built into the fences are “camera ports” where you can take up-close pictures of the animals.  Like the larger zoos ~ the animals are more likely to be active on days where the temperature is moderate.

Recommended ages:  All.  This is the perfect visit for all ages.  Those with small children will enjoy the fact that they can get a closer view than at larger zoos.

How do I set up a trip?  The zoo is FREE and open to the public 7 days a week from 7am to 10pm.  Our Cub Scout Den enjoyed a specific program regarding the aviary.  E-mail the park to coordinate staff directed events.

A note about parking.  There is plenty of parking all along the zoo.  Feel free to start at any point and meander around.

What else is there to do nearby?  Explore Bear Creek Pioneers Park!  Really, the park offers so much that it’s easy to make an entire day of it.  Playgrounds, War Memorial, Tennis Courts, Walking Trails, and more.

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Categories: City Parks, Day Trips, Elementary, Free, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | Leave a comment

Blue Bell Creamery

Texans have been enjoying Blue Bell’s creations for over a century.  Blue Bell ice creams and novelties have been a dessert staple in the South since the 50’s and their territory continues to grow.  Despite their expansion and much to the chagrin to those on the West Coast and far North ~ it’s only available in 20 states.  They offer tours in Brenham, Texas as well as Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama.

We recently enjoyed our second visit to the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham.  Both times we’ve toured with our homeschool group and been pleased to receive a significant discount over the “walk-in” rates.  We were impressed both times and will continue to recommend this tour, both for it’s educational value and high “fun” factor.

Tours run Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 3pm.  The guided part last about 45 minutes, however, I would plan on at least 90 to allow plenty of time to explore the Tour Center, Country Store, and Baseball Museum.  Be sure to call ahead to reduce wait time as reservations take precedence over walk-in guests.  Also, during the winter months ~ the factory is often closed one or two days a week due to decreased production.

The learning begins even before the tour starts.  The tour center is filled with video presentations about Blue Bell, how certain products are manufactured, and the history of their products.  There is a large “timeline” that covers 20 linear feet of wall space.  Cameras are not permitted on the tour to protect the privacy of the employees, but don’t leave your camera in the car.  There are tons of “photo ops” in the tour center and after the guided portion through the factory.

On both visits we have been impressed with the personality and knowledge of the tour guide.  They convey of deep level of respect for Blue Bell and their fellow employees.  Both women were also quick to encourage the children to ask questions and give plenty of time for observation.  Utilizing either stairs or an elevator large enough to accommodate several strollers/wheelchairs, our party headed up a level and meandered along several corridors.  Before arriving at the factory portion, the walls were covered in posters of nostalgic and current flavors of ice cream as well as many novelty items.  Our guide covered some history of both the owner and the creamery and provided stats pertaining to the manufacturing process.  After a short walk, we arrived to a series of windows overlooking how ingredients are stored, mixed, and packaged.  Employees working down below often smiled and waved much to the delight of the kids on our tour.  This last visit, we had the honor of watching the first batch of their newest Christmas flavor “Gingerbread House” ~ gingerbread, sprinkles, and marshmallows blended together with vanilla icing ice cream.  Our children also enjoyed watching how ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, and Rocky Road were made.

We learned what the different “rims” mean to shoppers ~ Gold, Brown, & Blue.  We also learned how the company decides which flavors are year-round, which are seasonal, and which are temporary.  And yes, they really do “eat all they can and sell the rest.”

The tour ends at an ice cream parlor where all guests are treated to a free (and generous!) scoop of ice cream.  Any extra scoops are $1 each.  There’s a “Country Store” adjacent where you can select from a variety of Blue Bell Merchandise for sale.   There are plenty of tables & chairs to share flavors and talk of the favorite parts of the factory.  After wiping your face & washing your hands (yes, sinks right there in the parlor) it’s another flight of stairs down to the baseball museum.

There’s additional picture opportunities outside with several statues and an antique ice cream delivery truck.

Recommended Ages: Any.  We found the staff and the experience to be positive for any age.  Everyone from toddlers to teens had a great time.

Anything we wish was different?  That there were TWO free scoops of ice cream! 😉  Really, this is a great tour.  As a field trip coordinator, I wish they communicated via e-mail.  Everything is via phone and a confirmation comes in the mail.  However, they are incredibly flexible when it comes to enrollment changes and it is truly a “homeschool friendly” facility and tour.

How do I set up a trip? You need to call them.  You can find more information about tours and contact information on their website.  The cost varies depending on the time of year and whether it is a group or individual tour.  Our tour as a homeschool group in the Fall was free.

What else is there to do nearby?  Both times our tour was earlier in the day and we enjoyed picnicking at nearby Fireman’s Park.

Categories: $5.00 or less, Brenham, By City, By Cost, Day Trips, Factory, Free, Tours | Leave a comment

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