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A huge advantage to homeschooling is the ability to take a vacation when deals arise.  Thus, a fall trip to the mountains in Colorado is perfect for our family.  Another advantage is that these vacations are great learning opportunities.  Vacationing in the mountains is truly a great learning opportunity when you are coming from sea level.  The following are just a few of the things our son is learning:

Training.  This trip is including a 14,000+ peak for our son to hike up (Mount Democrat).  He has been on numerous mountain vacations and hiking adventures. He also is very aware of the peaks his daddy and I have climbed. Now, it is his turn to get his first.  And, he took his training seriously.  He actually pushed me as he upped the number of steps every day and he always did at least one extra.  See, we live in flat, hot, coastal TX and we are headed to a CO area which is above 10,000 feet and then hiking up a peak to over 14,000 feet.  So, we hit the pool for swimming almost daily and did flights of steps daily.  Seriously, we were doing 60+ flights of stairs a day the final week of training.  He understands it is not a race in speed but it is endurance to get up a mountain.

Altitude Sickness. Due to coming from sea level it is a drastic altitude change.  Our son is learning about the importance of acclimatization and taking it easy the first couple days.  He is learning what the symptoms are to look for in himself and to tell us immediately.  He has been at altitude with us numerous times, but this is the first time hiking to over 14,000 feet.  Thus, he needs to be prepared.

Geography/Geology. A trip to the mountains from coastal TX is a perfect geography and geology lesson.  Now, he has done this numerous times before.  But, it truly is a great way to learn geography and geology concepts first hand.  He is witnessing the differences in climate, culture, topography, habitat, erosion, and weather (and much more).  He has been learning about “tree line” and understanding what can and can’t grow at altitude.  In fact, he is packing a little scope specifically for looking at rocks, plants, and bugs at altitude.  He is hoping to see first-hand non-vascular plants on the rocks at altitude that he has learned about in his mobymax science.  He also is excited to see the different kinds of rocks he’ll find.  He even has a few cloud types he hopes to see.

Map reading.  Yes, reading maps is technically part of geography, but there is so much learning in this that I put it by itself.  Our son has been looking at topographical maps, google maps, google earth images, city maps, trail maps, and the state map.  He has been calculating how far of a drive it is from our home city to our destination city and comparing the mileage of driving versus flying.  He knows the driving route we are taking from the airport to our destination.  He knows the driving route from where we are staying to the trailhead.  He knows which route we are taking up Mount Democrat and the route his daddy is doing.  He has seen the trail map, topographical map, and google earth view of the peak he is doing as well as other hikes we might do.  All of this map reading is to help him become a better navigator and understand trail following.  These are critical survival skills for when he is older.  GPS is handy, but good map reading skills are still essential.

Mining History. When traveling to the mountains of CO it is hard to escape the mining past.  On many of the 4×4 roads, you will drive by old mine relics (buildings, equipment, etc.).  On many trails, you will hike by old mine tailing piles or even old mine shafts with their clearly marked danger signs.  In addition, you will find mining museums or historical sites in many of the small towns.  There are even historical villages and ghost mining towns to visit.  Much of the mining history focuses on gold mining.  However, lots more than gold was mined from CO.  And seeing the mines, relics, and museums first hand is a great way to learn the history of mining, the engineering of mining, and the environmental impact of mining.  Our son is often fascinated by the tools that were used and he is often disgruntled about how the miners (some were children) were treated.  He is of course blown away by the living conditions from that time period.  He also gets upset about the pollution and complete destruction of the landscape.  Thus, it is important to see such sites first-hand to see the bigger picture of mining history than what is lightly covered in traditional school books.  Sometimes, it is easier to understand or get excited about history when you are at actual historical sites and living history exhibits.

Nature Appreciation.  We live in the 4th largest city of the US which means there is a disconnect from nature due to city living.  There are lots of studies documenting the importance of outdoor natural play.  Thus, we do our best to help our son experience nature in as many parks in our area as well as trips to state parks, national parks, and other states.  This trip to CO is to a very remote area within a national forest.  It truly is a perfect place for nature therapy, play, and observation.  In addition, our son really does enjoy the beauty in nature as well taking his own pictures.  And, we all tend to feel better after spending extended time in nature.

So, as can be seen, a lot can be learned from the mountains!  Experiential learning is the best form of education.  And, even a mountain vacation can be a wonderful learning experience.  Go explore as it is a great way to learn!

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