Oregon Trip Becomes a Journey of Learning

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Tsubata

One of my chief goals as a home educator is to help my children develop the habit of exploration and discovery. I am not content simply to get them through the standard years of schooling; I want them to continue to expand their knowledge throughout their lives.

In recent weeks, my son and I traveled to Portland, Ore., to participate in a friend's wedding. Although we were nervous about plane travel, we decided the trip was important.

Because the trip went from coast to coast, we were able to see a lot from our plane window. We saw the landscape unfold below us - rolling hills gave way to sharper mountains, flat plains were crossed by winding rivers. My son pointed out the various features to me, and I would explain how some of them developed. When we saw the exaggerated curves of the Mississippi River, I told him how the curves would became more and more extreme until there was a flood. The floods tended to redraw the river's course back to a straight line again, I explained. My son noted that it might also create islands where the river had previously curved.

This began a discussion of island development through alluvial deposits of river-borne silt. We talked about the typical delta-type islands that form at the mouths of many rivers. We also talked about dams as we passed a few oddly shaped man-made lakes, and about how they provide electricity and store water for irrigation and human consumption.

My son asked about the perfectly round circles of green that were surrounded by yellow squares. He had heard of "crop circles" and thought they were a UFO phenomenon, but we learned they actually are the natural result of a rotating irrigation system. We saw snow on top of the Rocky Mountains and could see how the winter snows create the runoff that settles in the valley lakes below. We watched mountains give way to the yellow expanse of desert, and the deserts give way to mountains and lakes again. As all the scenery passed below us, we discussed what it must have been like to travel it in a covered wagon with a few horses. How did the pioneers know where to cross the rivers? Where to pass through the mountains? Where they might find water?

As we flew, my son noticed the way the pilot manipulated the wing flaps to guide the plane. We discussed the principles of airflow and lift, speed and altitude. We computed how many miles high we were and how long the flight would take at the air speed the pilot had indicated. We noticed condensation from the clouds on the wings and discussed winter weather and the icing of wings.

While in Oregon, we learned about the local climate patterns and vegetation. We found out that blackberries grow wild there all summer and that they have many other crops not found in our area. We visited the Pacific Coast and saw sea lions sunning themselves on rocks and communicating in a melodic barking chorus. We learned that the currents there come from Alaska, accounting for the frigid temperatures and frequent whale sightings. We saw the bleached and whitened trunks of hundreds of trees washed up on the shore from many storms.

And as we returned, we experienced the difference that time zones make in travel times of arrival and departures. …