Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our History Capstone Fieldtrip to Washington D.C.

Last week, our homeschool co-op took a three day History Capstone trip to Washington D.C..  For the past 2 years, I have been teaching a U.S. History class to fourteen 6th - 9th grade students.  Last year we covered U.S. History from pre-Columbian times up through the Civil War and at the end of the year, we took a Capstone trip to Gettysburg, Antietam and Harper's Ferry (eventually I'll write more on that trip).  It was an amazing trip--biking through Gettysburg, kayaking through Antietam and hiking through Harper's Ferry--and I knew it would be tough to top, especially since we decided to go to D.C..  The challenge was that all of us live just a few hours from D.C. and so most of the kids had already visited there a number of times.  I needed to come up with a way to keep it fresh and interesting.

The first challenge was to find reasonably priced lodging that could accommodate 22 people.  After a bunch of research, I found the Washington Seminar Center (WSC), which is located in the basement of the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.

The WSC turned out to be a tremendous find.  The Church started the center as part of it's social justice mission.  They offer reasonably priced accommodations to groups coming to D.C..  The WSC is located just 3 blocks behind the U.S. Capitol Building.  There are three separate bunk rooms that sleep up to 40 people.  It worked out nicely for us--one for the boys, one for the girls and one for the Moms.  The facility also has a large, well stocked commercial kitchen, a rec room, a sitting area, a dining area and a courtyard garden.  Needless to say, it was absolutely perfect for our homeschool group, especially since we could walk everywhere. 

I've got to say that these women just rock my world!  They have all become great friends over the course of the past few years and have helped make our homeschooling experience a joy.  I literally can't say enough good things about them--they're smart, funny, talented and uber supportive!

The second challenge was to find activities to do to that would be fresh and exciting for the kids.  I think I succeeded.  We arrived at the WSC around noon on Tuesday and proceeded to walk to the Newseum.  I hadn't been in the Newseum in well over a decade and I have to say, it is FANTASTIC (in fact, I'd love to go back sans kids).  When we arrived at the Newseum, we began with a one hour class on the ethics involved in reporting the events which occurred on 9/11.  It was a thought-provoking, interactive class.  We then spent the next 2 1/2 hours exploring the museum.  There was such much to see and take in, but I particularly liked the exhibits on the Pulitzer Prize winning photos as well as 9/11.  

After the Newseum, we returned to the WSC and cooked a communal dinner.  We then waited until dark and I led the group on a night tour of the monuments.  All I can say is if you've never done a night walking tour of the D.C. monuments, it's an absolute must!  The monuments are gorgeous at night.  The Korean War Memorial is 10x more poignant and beautiful at night, especially since the granite etchings literally "glow in the dark."  All told, we walked almost six miles and by the time we returned, the kids were pretty tuckered out.

The next morning, the group split up.  A small contingent headed off to the Smithsonian American History Museum while I led the other contingent to the Smithsonian Castle, the Dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum, the Edvard Munch (The Scream) exhibit at the National Gallery, the Carousel on the Mall as well as a visit to the U.S. Botanical Gardens.  Here are a few of pics:


We met back at the WSC and then the kids (& Moms) who were up for an adventure hike set off for the Billy Goat Trail.  For those of you not familiar with the Billy Goat trail, it's one of my absolute favorite places in the D.C. area.  It's a pretty strenuous hike/rock scramble through Mather Gorge by Great Falls National Park.  I used to do a lot of training on the trail back in my adventure racing days.  I still find it mind boggling that something so wild and gorgeous is located just a few miles from the heart of D.C..

The kids did great and really enjoyed the challenge!

We finally emerged on the C&O towpath shortly before Great Falls and made our way to the Falls.

We opted to hike back to our cars via the canal towpath, which was a great opportunity for the kids to learn about its history as well as see several of the locks.

Fortunately, when we eventually arrived back at the WSC at 8:00 pm, the moms who opted not to hike, had fresh, hot pizza awaiting us.  It was absolutely delish--thanks guys!

On our last day, we got up relatively early and went and toured the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, the Court wasn't in session, so we didn't get to see any of the Justices.

However, we did get to see their chambers.


After our visit to the Supreme Court, we walked next door to the Library of Congress.    Here is the torch of knowledge on top of the building's dome.

In my opinion, the Library of Congress is the most beautiful building in D.C..  The amount of information they have is absolutely mind boggling.  For example, they have two copies of every single book that has a copyright, hundreds of thousands of movies, the world's largest comic book collection and a compilation of millions of tweets.  I left there determined that we would return to spend a day or two homeschooling in the one of the reading rooms.  Here is a pic I took of the largest reading room.  It was gorgeous!

 One of my friends checked to see if the Library had a copy of the book I co-wrote and sure enough it did!

After the Library tour, it was time to hightail it out of the city before we spent hours stuck in D.C. rush hour traffic--and despite our relatively early departure, we still managed to get stuck.

Our Capstone trip was a total success.  The kids had so much fun--not only exploring the city and seeing the sights, but also hanging out together playing games, playing their instruments and playing pranks on each other.  We've been part of this Co-op from the very start and I can't say enough good things about the remarkable families who comprise it.   Our Capstone trips are just icing on the cake.

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