Astronauts and alligators

The unschooling diaries: week twenty

One of the most awesome things about travelling with Arthur is the way it opens my eyes to new experiences – both seeing the familiar in a brand new light, and encouraging me to explore places I might not otherwise have ventured into.

We managed to squeeze a surprising amount of adventures into our recent whistlestop tour to Florida – we were only there for three full days, and one of those was a wedding. But in between cooling off in various pools and making lots of lovely new friends we managed to make the most of where we were with two very different excursions.

The first was to the Kennedy Space Center. Now I love space as much as the next person, but honestly if it hadn’t been for Arthur being as fascinated as he is about all things interstellar I very much doubt my husband would have persuaded me to go. But we did, and it was brilliant!

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Arthur was almost climbing out of his carseat with excitement as we approached, the models of various Saturn spacecrafts towering into the sky. Everything was familiar to him from the books we’ve read and the documentaries he’s watched with his daddy, and as we got closer he began pointing out to me the different parts of the rockets and explaining how they flew.

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He got to sit inside command modules, try his hand at moon landing simulations, experience a re-enactment of the Saturn V launch (actually possibly the best bit of multi-media theatre I’ve seen) and walk beneath the Saturn V itself, his all-time favourite spaceship.

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He was fascinated as we trawled round the various displays, looking at old photographs and actual rocks from the actual moon. Being there just put into context everything he’s been exploring at home, making it so much more real – and so much more exciting.

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We even almost got to see a rocket launch, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Even that Arthur took in his stride, though he was clearly disappointed. It wasn’t quite the same watching the video one of our friends took when they caught the rescheduled launch the following night, though that was still kinda cool!

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In total contrast to this, the next day we went to Gatorland. Now again, this was not the sort of place I would have rushed to if it weren’t for the talk of alligators piquing Arthur’s interest – and again we had an awesome, and enlightening, few hours of exploration.

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There were literally thousands of alligators and crocodiles, some so close that you could almost touch them, spread around an awesomely retro site where egrets, herons and storks swooped and squawked. There was a balance of wide open spaces and smaller displays, and we had some really interesting talks about habitat and animal behaviour as we explored the park.

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Arthur was also fascinated (and a little bit scared) by the snakes, peering in through the glass. Less scary (though a little bit random) was the petting zoo, where he sneaked in a cuddle with a kid before we continued on our way.

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The other unexpected highlight – and one that was particularly helpful as the mercury topped thirty degrees – was the kids’ splash park. We dipped in there twice during our visit. The first time Arthur hung back, nervous in the company of raucous older children. On our return, though, he threw himself in with confidence – proud with himself for having overcome his fears and rewarded by being drenched in deliciously cool water.

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For a holiday that I thought would revolve mainly around socialising, albeit on the other side of the world, I was amazed by how much we managed to pack in. It reminded me, though, of the wonderful thing about travelling with children: it might add another layer of complication to the journey, but when you begin to see the possibilities the world presents through their wide eyes it can’t help but bring a whole new dimension to the adventure.

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