- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

At the beginning of the school year, I shared some of the adaptations our family had made for this, our 19th year of home-

schooling. Seasoned though we are, this year is in some ways our most challenging because, for the first time, six of our children are of school age at one time.

This is my first promised update.

I got a fair amount of mostly good-natured ribbing by some after writing about our plans for a unit study of New England and the Canadian maritime provinces, which was to be concluded with a cruise. I was to be the speaker on a home-schooling cruise which, translated, means our family was supposed to be able to go for free. Cruising is a hard study method to emulate, my readers complained.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the dock. The cruise line had gone bankrupt, giving us a chance to prove the adaptability of home-schooling. It also proved the power of promises made to children. We were going to New England with or without a ship.

In fact, I'm writing this article on a rainy morning on Mount Desert Island in Maine. (I don't know why the term "desert" was chosen it has nothing to do with this terrain. This place is lush and beautiful, resplendent with evergreens and magnificent fall foliage.)

We have indeed done a lot of cruising. Much of Interstate 95 was clear enough that I used cruise control on our 15-passenger van for hours at a time.

The first stop on our tour was unexpected. We had simply planned to get as close to New York City as possible so we could get an early start on the first full morning of our trip. The hotel we found was in Piscataway, N.J. That may be an obscure place to you, to my wife, it was home she lived there for seven years during her childhood. In fact, the hotel was just blocks from her childhood home.

We traipsed over to her old neighborhood and dutifully tumbled out of the green van to take a picture in front of the old house (which looked great with a new brick accent area on the front.) A very nice but bewildered man ventured onto his front porch, curious, not only about the apparent school group on his sidewalk, but why we had chosen his house as a photo backdrop.

On hearing my wife's explanation, he kindly invited us all in so Vickie could see her old home. Our children had seen pictures, but there was something intangibly important about making this connection for both mother and children.

Next, after a brief excursion in the wrong direction (Don't take I-278 north to get from Piscataway to New York City, that is too logical. Instead take I-278 south if you plan to go from New Jersey to the Staten Island Ferry), we headed for the Statue of Liberty.

Vickie had prepared our children for this visit by reading "The Statue of Liberty" by Lucille Recht Penner. This book was aimed at our youngest children and they seemed appropriately excited.

I was most excited when we miraculously found a metered parking spot on the city street not more than a block from the terminal, saving us $38 in parking fees for the afternoon. (Prayer works.) We headed toward the landmark on a gray, drippy day.

Emily, 10, said, "I liked the Statue of Liberty because it was high and pretty and next to the water." She appears to have gotten more than an aesthetic experience, however. She quickly added, "It makes me think we are privileged to be free."

All the deep-seated fears of our 7-year-old son Joe had been focused for weeks on our next stop the top of the Empire State Building. As part of her afternoon "potpourri" class, during which Vickie teaches short units of history, geography and science, the children had read "The Story of the Empire State Building," by Patrick Clinton, one of the Cornerstone of Freedom Series by Children's Press. Joe learned about the workers who died during construction, and he apparently visualized a structure with open beams.

His reaction supplied vocabulary opportunities for our older students. "Acrophobia" is now in their vocabulary. As it turned out, the wire barriers on the observation deck were more than enough to ease Joe's mind, and we hope he learned a lesson about not fearing the unknown.

John, 8, said he really liked the Empire State Building more because he had read the story of its construction. It gave him a real sense of history instead of just being awed by the height.

Boston was our next stop. Jessica, 15, had read "Johnny Tremain," Esther Forbes' classic children's story of Boston during the American Revolution, to our younger children. They hurried to finish the book on the Massachusetts Turnpike on the way into Boston. The Old South Church, Faneuil Hall and Paul Revere's house were highlights of our walk along the Freedom Trail. The Boston Tea Party site is cheesy and hopelessly engulfed in construction and urban blight.

Visits to Boston and New York are close enough for those of us living in the Washington, D.C., area that these really are must-do opportunities for your children. But read first. Places come alive when they are connected with stories of the people who made the buildings worth visiting.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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