October 12, 2013

Homeschool Field Trips

We've been on a few cool field trips lately and I've completely neglected to share them because of a short little bout with what I'm calling blogger psychosis, which I will certainly write about in a separate post because it kind of cracks me up, but it's completely unrelated to these great outings we've been on so I'll save it.

Last Friday we went with a group of friends to the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City and it was not at all what I was expecting, but totally cool.  The building is completely unique in that it has large rooms decorated to the nines in different time period styles.  I thought we were going to learn a lot about Masonic tradition and about the time periods and what stylistic elements were in each and why.  And I guess we got a bit of that.  Mostly, though, I think we got a feeling of being in a different world.  A world with secret, but seemingly noble ideals and a world suspended in time.  

We started in a room that looked like maybe it could have been in the White House with all of the stuffy paintings of people who apparently did something important enough to be immortalized in oils.  I think you have to be a Mason to appreciate the full significance there.  Anyway, it was pretty fancy shmancy.  That formal feel didn't stop these boys from a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors while they waited for our guide to arrive on scene.

The Egyptian room is what prompted this entire field trip.  While we were studying ancient Egypt, we saw the 2 sphinxes out front of the building and pulled over to have a little photo session with them.  When I mentioned that to our friend who is currently becoming a Mason, he said that he thought there was a room inside that was Egyptian themed and that maybe we could go in.  I looked online and lo and behold,  there was all kinds of neat historical stuff in there!

This was my favorite thing.  Every room that is an official Masonic meeting room in the building has one of these staircases, each with three sections.  The bottom three steps have symbols for stages of life, then there are steps for the senses, and finally for each of the liberal arts.  Each step is associated with a lecture that they memorize as they become a Mason - at least this is my understanding after listening to our guide explain it.  

If you're a classical education kind of parent, you'll recognize grammar, logic, and rhetoric which comprise the stages of the trivium and are in the upper set, along with arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy which are the 4 branches of the quadrivium and together make up the  7 liberal arts as set out during the Renaissance.  The kids recognized those from the trivium as relating to what we do at home, and then were surprised to see that the quadrivium, originally meant to be a sort of graduate level type of educational framework were also all part of our school works with the exception of astronomy (which it just so happens that we covered last night with a different field trip)!   I didn't realize that I had never really familiarized them with the concept of the quadrivium before.  It's so funny to think of things that we now teach in elementary school as having been the big classes of the elite thinkers during the time that we romanticize as one of the greatest intellectual booms of human history.  Ahhh...perspective.  

To go into a building that felt so special and find words from our everyday education printed beautifully on staircases in each room really gave a sort of gravity to the work we do in the kids' minds.  I had no idea that was going to be in there, so score!

There was also a Gothic room and a colonial room, and a spectacular auditorium, but I won't bore you with the details of everything.  You should totally visit if your town has anything like it.  There were also dead mice, which was apparently the most memorable part of the trip if you ask Hunter.  It was good.  We learned a lot and came home with more to research.

Last night we finally covered that last, long-neglected branch of the quadrivium, astronomy, with a visit to the observatory on the roof of the physics building up on the university campus.  Joe's foundation and its associated departments had the chance to bring family members for "an Evening Under the Stars."  There were space themed crafts and a visit to the rooftop observatory to look through their big telescope at the Dumbbell Nebula (which, through their telescope looked nothing like any of the awesome images on google.  Dang, I'm hard to impress) and other specks of light through less powerful telescopes set up around the roof.  

I suppose any time, as a kid, that you get to hang out in a red lighted dome with a spiral stair case on the roof of a physics building, it's a good night.  But I left thinking How are they going to get kids interested in space with those low powered telescopes?  Even the giant one didn't have much intriguing to look at.  Meanwhile, the kids decided that space study is awesome because when you're done, you get a star shaped cookie from university catering services!  Haha!  They know how to hook 'em!  

It at least inspired me to finally commit to figuring out how to use the awesome telescope that my dad gave us.  In ours (when my dad sets it up) you can actually see the rings of Saturn AND you can look directly at the sun.  How cool is that?  I think it's cooler than star shaped cookies, but we shall see.  This is the year I learn how to use that sucker!  

One of my most special memories with my dad is of riding out to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere to set up his gigantic telescope far away from city lights.  We sat out there and talked, and drank cocoa, and froze our tails off.  I looked at charts with my red lighted flashlight and nodded like I had a clue as to what I was looking at.  He brought me a reclining chair to just sprawl out in and gaze at the sky while he did the more meticulous work of sighting and locating and charting.  I didn't understand any of it, but it was so special just to be there.  I could tell that to him, all of that up there had something to do with our connection to the infinite and he wanted to share it with me.  Now I want to share that with my kids, and he's given me the actual device with which to do it.  The only problem is that I spent more time in that stinking reclining lawn chair, looking in awe at the big sparkly sky than I did paying attention to how you actually use a star chart or a telescope.  This is the year.  This is the winter that I figure it all out. 

With winter fast approaching and snow now settled in on the mountain tops around our little valley, I imagine that there will be no more field trips for us for a while.  No more driving through canyon passes to get to the big city until snow has come and gone.  But it was an excellent season of experiential learning! 

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