In our sixteen years of homeschooling, we have had very few scheduled field trips. We have, however, enjoyed quite a few fairly spontaneous ones. We have learned over the years, you could say, to make lemonade when life gives us lemons.
Last year one of my older sons had five days of job training nearly an hour away. Dropping him off, making the return trip home, then heading back for him four hours later would have greatly reduced our school time, so we decided to take school there—or rather, make the area our school for the week. By doing a little research online, we found a new place to explore each day. We checked the weather forecast, stocked up on picnic supplies and headed out for some spontaneous learning!
Among our destinations were a nuclear power plant, a motor racing museum and a Revolutionary era fort. We even turned a visit to a neighborhood park into a nature hike, and took the time to draw in our nature notebooks. We used iNaturalist, a fun app that helps identify plants and animals when you upload photos to the online community. We brought along our field guides, colored pencils for sketching and binoculars. Besides the refreshing chance to take our time studying the world of nature around us, we used the extra hours we had before my son would be finished to enjoy listening to each other without the pressure to finish the lesson and move on to the next item on our agenda.
We discovered that late midweek mornings in early spring are not a busy time for out-of-the-way historical landmarks. The tour guide at the fort was thrilled at the opportunity to take our small group around the area and gave a wonderful tour. After lunch at the picnic tables, we explored the surrounding trails. The children were delighted to find fields of tall grass, strange barkless trees, a ravine perfect for hide and seek and huge boulders for climbing.
The rainy day of the week sent us indoors to learn about the world of stock car racing. Through a window off of the showroom, we were able to observe the pit crew in the process of rebuilding a car. Previously raced vehicles drew my children’s attention with their shiny paint and tremendous trophies that were proudly displayed. Learning about the process a driver goes through before he makes it to the big time was enlightening.
The unanimously favorite outing of the week was the Energy Explorium, the educational center at McGuire Nuclear Station. We learned a great deal about the production of nuclear energy, then we were pleasantly surprised by the enjoyable nature trail around the lake. The information desk handed out backpacks filled with materials for various activities to do along the trail. They included pencils, notepads and binoculars for each child. The experiments were detailed in a notebook given to the oldest child, and the backpacks were well-stocked with every item needed to conduct each one. I was impressed that every thermometer, stop-watch, measuring tape or other necessary tool was provided. There were even instructions for a scavenger hunt for the younger ones to help them learn to identify trees, birds, amphibians and other animals we encountered along the trail. The trail itself wrapped around the lake on which the nuclear plant sits. Just as we approached the end of the trail, a tremendous storm blew in across the lake, creating choppy water and ominous skies. We made it to our van just as raindrops began to pelt us.
What had begun as a frustrating week that I expected to be a setback, manifested into some of our most memorable learning experiences. Do you know what made the difference? I committed my steps to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3), and I asked Him to redeem the time. As I embraced the circumstances He had allowed to come our way, we found beauty in unexpected places and mined the richness of treasure in discovering that there is far more to learn than what we can find in our workbooks and lesson plans.
The lessons we learned that week ignited a spirit of gratitude, trust and creativity in our family. When circumstances take us somewhere unexpected, we look around for what we can find to explore. When plans fall through, we turn to the Lord to find out what He had in mind for us instead. When it seems like nothing else could possibly go wrong, we pause to listen to the storm raging and marvel at the waves as the wind whips across the waters. In other words, when life gives us lemons, we try a new recipe for lemonade.