There are few places on Earth that bring me as much joy as Blowing Rock, NC. I grew up visiting my grandparents there several times a year, and not many things have devastated me quite as much as the day they sold their beautiful cabin and its accompanying small apple orchard and blueberry bushes. So, when my grandparents rent a house each year in the month of July, I always try and find time to visit if possible. This year, I was lucky enough to overlap with Jessica, Taegan and Dave, which led to many joint, fun adventures. Here are a few of my favorite things in the Blowing Rock area of the mountains of NC:
Tweetsie Railroad: Though it can be expensive without the AAA or military discount, Tweetsie is absolutely worth a day of adventure if your children are under 10 (past that it might get a little dull). Between the train ride, western adventures and showdowns, shows, petting zoo, and carnival rides, Tweetsie will keep the whole family busy for at least half a day. Definitely worth a trip!
The Incredible Toy Company- Close by Tweetsie is an awesome toy company with almost every toy imaginable. Great place to load up on birthday or learning toys while the kids play with legos or in a toy van.
Downtown Blowing Rock- Not only is downtown Blowing Rock ridiculously beautiful, with loads of flowers everywhere and adorable shops left and right, but right in the middle of town is an awesome playground. I grew up going to this playground and my kids still love it today (don’t worry- they’ve updated the equipment since then)! Make sure to stop at Kilwin’s Ice Cream shop with the kids. Kilwins is many more places now, but this shop has been there since my childhood and located right across from the playground, where you can usually eat ice cream while listening to music from a local performer.
The Children’s Playhouse, Boone- We didn’t actually make it to this playhouse on our recent trip, but my cousin, who lives in the area, says that it is the best place for kids to visit. Not only do they have unique crafts and activities each day, but it is basically a huge life-size playhouse for kids to play in and learn!
Watuaga County Farmer’s Market- This is a great local farmer’s market where everyone selling has to make or sell only their own product. So, you know it is real and local! Not only do they have great produce, coffee, and treats, but they have a great kids play area set up by The Children’s Playhouse where kids can play with loads of learning activities during a break from shopping. The Farmer’s Market is located outside of the Horn of the West, which is where an outdoor reenactment of pioneers occurs. Worth a visit later in the day!
Moses Cone Park- Walk around the lake for an easy “hike” with kids. It’s really pretty!
The Tanger Outlets in Blowing Rock- There are some awesome and cheap kids stores here (Carters, Gymboree, Gap, and Oshkosh), and if you go at the holidays the deals are amazing. We went ahead and loaded up on Christmas outfits because it was just that cheap!
Appalachian Ski Mountain- I grew up skiing here and it is a really great mountain for beginners and young kids because the mountain is so much smaller than the ones you find in the Rockies. When the kids get a little older, this is probably where I will take them to learn to ski.
For the 4th of July:
Boone Fireworks over Tweetie fireworks (Boone ones are free and Tweetsie is not)- The Boone fireworks are an awesome and long show. They also have playgrounds for the kids and local churches put out jumping castles for kids. Just get there a bit early to find a spot to park.
Boone Parade over Blowing Rock Parade- My reasoning behind this is simple: the Boone parade throws out way, way less candy. I have no problem with parades that throw out candy, but at the Blowing Rock parade this year, the kids got more candy than they got at Halloween. It seemed to teach them that it was okay to run in front of cars as long as there is candy, and I just didn’t think that was cool. My advice is definitely to try to make it to the Boone one if you can!
I have deeply loved doing a Fairy Tales unit over the past two years. Aria looks forward to the unit each time it comes up, and every morning of our Fairy Tales theme will ask what story we are working on that day almost the minute she wakes up. I strongly feel that you need more than one week for the unit, as there are so many great fairy tales that deserve to be covered, but I will say that the three weeks we did this year were probably not necessary. I think two weeks of fairy tales, royalty, and castles are the perfect amount of time to really dive into the subject! But you can make that decision on your own, either shortening it if your kid doesn’t seem excited about the unit or adding more stories and making the unit longer if they love it!
For this unit, I took the time to create individual lesson plans for each story, because I really wanted to spend one day per story. That meant that I wanted an in depth study of each story we covered and made sure to try to take the time to do math, science, literacy, and art if possible each day. Were we able to do everything I had planned? No. But I adapted each day based on how receptive Aria was to the story or what we had going on (aka, some days were just too busy to do much other than the story and a few crafts/sensory activities). We have been working through a large Ready for Kindergarten workbook over the last few weeks, so I don’t feel bad on days we don’t get to math and literacy with our unit, as we probably do with the workbook. However, I’m glad that I had it all well planned out so that I had options to pick and choose from…and also because it should make lesson planning for next year that much easier!
My daughter is not a huge Disney fan. She likes princesses but doesn’t love them or beg to watch any Disney princess movies on a regular basis. So, for her, the princess stories were not the ones she was most responsive too even though she had fun with them. Instead, she loved the Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood the most. Part of this was due to how fun the units were and part of it is that she loves the idea of The Big Bad Wolf. My girl just loves the bad guys for some reason! Goldilocks and the Three Bears was also a big hit because we had some great toys to use with the lesson and because we had some friends come over who participated in the fun!
We did the stories of Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, and Tom Thumb for the first time this year. I chose Peter Pan because Aria had been working on a geography workbook for several weeks, had finally finished the whole thing, and her reward for finishing the workbook was a large color me pirate ship. The girls loved the pirate ship, and they have a huge love of fairies, so it seemed to be the best story to spend two days working on this year. Aria loved the crocodile and Captain Hook, so we did a pirate day. The big hit was Aria going on a treasure hunt that I made, then creating her own pirate map for me to follow to reach the treasure. The following day we focused on Tinkerbell and did a fairy themed day where the girls dressed as fairies all day, played in their fairy garden, etc. Definitely something to do again next year. The Little Mermaid was fun to do now that we are in summer, as it aligned well with us having swim lessons and spending lots of time in the water. We did the story of Tom Thumb as a quick side story since Aria loved it when we read it. Though there is not much out there for the story, we did a lot of fun fingerprint activities that kept us busy and learning!
The most important part of this unit is spending a lot of time reading, and I am super glad that somehow the unit hit right when Aria started showing even more of a fascination with reading. As the year has progressed, she has worked harder and harder at reading, going so far as to read and find many of the pronouns in the books that she reads now. But she doesn’t let her inability to read stop her. More than anything, she wants me to read the story to her so that she can learn it and then pick the book up and read it back to me. Though it sometimes feels like it takes up a lot of time, these early reading steps seem to really excite her, and I will do anything to foster it. So, it was wonderful to have these weeks set aside where we really focused on literature as the main part of our day and not a small part of the day.
As this was my last official unit of Pre-K 4, I spent a large portion of these weeks thinking about what I would change or make better for next year. I think timing the unit earlier in the year is a wiser choice, just so that we have less going on and more time to focus on the material. Somehow the summer months always seem to be busier! I also plan to do the unit near our Europe unit (we are starting continents units this year), so that we can connect the kings and queens of Europe to a royalty/princess fairy tales week. This year we separated the Castles and Royalty week from a Fairy Tales week, which really worked well for Aria as a 4 year old, but I think she can handle a little history and more of a challenge this coming year, so I won’t have separate units for her as a 5 year old.
I love this unit and definitely think it is one of the best units of the year. There are so many options out there of units to do with a 4 year old, but if your child loves adventures and stories or lives in their own fantasy land half the time (as mine does), start collecting materials and go on a fairy tales journey with your kids! So worth it!
**I apologize for the formatting issues on the below PDFs. Working to fix them ASAP and will repost once I fix them!**
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE CINDERELLA UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE GINGERBREAD MAN UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE HANSEL AND GRETEL UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE JACK AND THE BEANSTALK UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE LITTLE MERMAID UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE PETER PAN UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE PRINCESS AND THE PEA UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE RED RIDING HOOD UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE SLEEPING BEAUTY UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE SNOW WHITE UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE STONE SOUP UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE THREE LITTLE PIGS UNIT PDF
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE TOM THUMB UNIT PDF
Ana's Suggestions for kid friendly places to go:
I grew up in Charlotte, NC and quite a few of my family members still live in the area, so I visit a few times a year and we usually keep our schedules full with fun activities. Here are a few of my suggestions for places to visit with kids:
Discovery Place (Science, Nature, and Kids)- The perfect places to go with young children to give them a variety of fun, educational experiences. For my children, at their current age, the Huntersville kids museum is the perfect entertainment for the whole day. They have loads of dress up and play pretend activities, along with craft and building areas, and even a baby play section for tiny ones. I grew up going to the science museum and IMAX theatre, so once your kids are older, I highly suggest the science museum for fun, hands-on learning.
Imaginon- Absolutely recommend visiting Imaginon with your kids if you are ever in the Charlotte area! They shift learning exhibits every few months, but they are always fun! We first went to the Clifford exhibit, which Aria loved because of her love of dogs. Our second visit, they had a mix of ocean, Mr. Potato Head, and space activities that both my 2 year old and my 5 month old could enjoy. They also have weekly library story times for a variety of ages that are worth checking out if you are looking for learning activities in the area.
Sciele Museum- Went to the Schiele Museum on a trip to Charlotte last year and discovered we were visiting on the perfect day! Activities, animal petting, and relay games were just a few of the fun events we were able to enjoy, though on a normal day you may not get to experience some of the fun games Aria got to try out. On a normal day, there are great dinosaur, space, pirate, and nature exhibits to check out, which could go along with a multitude of units! They also have a great outdoor village to learn about Native American living.
Charlotte Nature Museum and Freedom Park- Freedom Park always has the best festivals, so I highly recommend keeping an eye on park happenings if you are visiting the Charlotte area. There is a small lake you can walk around and loads of fun playground activities. But the big draw to the park is its easy access to the Charlotte Nature Museum. While I am not a huge fan of the museum because I have a snake phobia, the girls absolutely love it. Really well done and catered to kids.
South Park American Girl Doll Store and Cafe- Huge American girl doll store in the mall with a cafe where you can reserve a table for lunch or high tea for your child and their doll of choice. Super fun experience for girls.
Romare Bearden Park- Has fun festivals from time to time, but the big draw is the water play area, where kids can wear their suits and play in a unique splash pad. Great kids park.
Symphony in the Park at Southpark- A fun summer outdoor music series held outside the mall at Southpark. The girls love to picnic and dance along for hours while the Charlotte Symphony serenades us with great music.
Children’s Theatre of Charlotte- A great place to watch performances for children (perfect if you like theatre but don’t want your kids bothering other people). I grew up going here for camps and performances, and they are super well done and very professional.
The Matthews Library- Has a large selection of books and a great kids play area in the children’s section. Just a really great atmosphere overall.
Charlotte Renaissance Festival- The perfect place to get to play pretend for a whole day. Super fun way for kids and adults alike to get away from modern distractions and live like someone from the medieval times.
Blakeney- Has a great kids play section for while parents eat (right behind Brixx) and we love Pigtails and Ponytails for an awesome, kid friendly haircutting experience.
See a performance at Blumenthal Theatre
The Mint Museum kids area (Uptown)- has an awesome area for kids crafts and activities where parents can trade off watching kids and wandering the beautiful exhibits
At the holidays…
The Thanksgiving Day Parade (Uptown)- A yearly tradition for my family, the girls absolutely love the fun floats and enthusiastic people in the parade.
NC Transportation Museum- Has a fun Polar Express train that you can ride. Recommend paying for nicer seats, as our cheaper seats didn’t have a great view, but the activities before the train ride are worth arriving a few hours early for some thematic fun.
The Train to Christmas Town (Gastonia)- This train ride doesn’t have the best view, but the train workers are super enthusiastic about the holidays and the girls had a blast getting to greet a ton of characters from the book the train is based on.
The Billy Graham Library- At the holidays, the library puts on a really well done live nativity scene. They also put on carriage rides around the property, which is fun for small children. Great for getting in some Christian focus at the holidays.
Afternoon Tea at Ballantyne Hotel- They have special holiday tea time perfect for young girls to enjoy with mothers or grandmothers
Some other great things to do with kids (just not my favorites) include:
Going to a Panther’s, Checkers or Hornets game
Go to NASCAR speedway
Take the Lynx Rail uptown and wander around Uptown
Levine Museum of the New South (for older kids)
To be continued...Feel free to offer some suggestions below of places I may have overlooked!
Ana’s Field Trip/Activity Suggestions:
The Coca-Cola Space Science Center (free under 3)- Though this center is geared more towards slightly older children who are on field trips, as a space loving family, we love this center. There is a small area where little children can play and learn about space (perfect for Skylar), an IMAX theatre that plays a great Sesame Street video for kids about space once or twice a day, and loads of equipment to feel like you are in space or actual equipment from spaceships. The best part of the center is the gift shop, where we have found great deals on interesting finds for space and dinosaur units.
Callaway Gardens (particularly the Butterfly Center)- In preparation for a bug unit that I planned to do a few weeks later, we took the girls to Callaway Gardens, where they have a beautiful indoor butterfly garden. We were able to talk about different butterflies and different stages of butterfly development. While Aria enjoyed seeing the different butterflies, I enjoyed the gift store, where we were able to buy a butterfly hatchery (caterpillars ship to you in the mail) and a boatload of bug stickers and books! Callaway Gardens is a melange of learning opportunities, including swimming, walking the trails, and a nature Discovery Center, but the Butterfly Center is most definitely a gem for the homeschooling mom and family!
The Columbus Museum (FREE)- The museum itself is great and an excellent hands-on learning experience, but the truly best part of the museum is the children’s area, which has some incredible and free activities. The video creation area is amazing, as is the theatre area with dress up options and puppets. Children can even go into the backroom and practice being architects, drawing and modeling floor plans, which is cool for even adults to take part in. During the summer, they put on weekly performances for children that usually feature learning songs or puppet shows. Perfect place to enjoy with a budding artist!
The Columbus Library (FREE)- Not only is this a stunning museum, but it is the perfect playground for children. There is a large dinosaur playground that you can drive to behind the library, which is super well done and perfect to play at during a dinosaur unit. But inside the library is an awesome kids section, with an outdoor, interactive children’s garden and a great activity room. They have loads of kids books and hands on activities, along with great children’s programs, such as STEM Mini Makers (our current favorite). Highly recommend spending as much time here as possible!
The Columbus Botanical Gardens (FREE)- though these are small, they are beautiful gardens perfect for any outdoor units or family pictures
National Infantry Museum (FREE but ask for $5 donation per person)- An awesome museum for learning about our country’s history and the wars that have been fought around the world. Geared a little bit older than preschool, but there are areas of the museum that still caught the girls’ interest. Has a great IMAX theatre that hosts several great children’s movies during the summer and at Christmas time.
Oxbow Meadows (FREE but ask for $5 donation; certain events require an additional fee)- A really great, small children’s nature museum. Hosts some awesome nature learning opportunities throughout the year and fun festivals (like a fairy, honey themed, and frogwarts festival during the year). Perfect for any nature or animal themed units during the year. Close to a great walking trail and dog park.
The Riverwalk- we love the riverwalk for how easy it is to walk with a stroller and how beautiful it is. During the summer, we love the part of the walk that starts in Flat Rock Park because of the tree coverage (a necessity in a very hot Columbus)
Lakebottom Park- this is such a great park for kids with a great walking trail that surrounds the park and an excellent (mostly covered by trees) playground. Check out the festivities in the park, from Art in the Park to concerts.
Riverfront Splash Pad and Freenotes Harmony Park- good way to cool down during the summer, especially if you don’t have a pool, though you have to be careful of some larger kids pushing the smaller kids down in their haste to play (Aria and Skylar have both gotten boo-boos at times). The Freenotes park is new and super fun for all age levels. The music section is really fun for both kids and adults!
My Gym Columbus- we are huge fans of My Gym, having gone to classes here since Aria turned 8 months old. Such a well priced, perfect for kids gym. My girls love getting out of the house to go to the gym and everyone who works there is great with kids.
To be continued... (am I missing anything? Please give suggestions below on great places to go with kids!)
The girls and I are headed on a long drive next week (anything 6+ hours is long for us, though I know many people drive much longer distances), so I thought I would pull together some of my personal advice for surviving a long drive alone with kids. Now, obviously this varies drastically by age, so right now my advice is applicable for children in the 2-5 range. In a few years, I'll have to update this with advice based on their ages then. And under 2 is always about just hoping they sleep a lot or are entertained by the views outside the window or siblings next to them.
So, this is what I plan to do to try and survive the trip with as little frustration as possible (fingers crossed for no traffic):
1. Media is the automatic choice when thinking about how to entertain kids in a car, but I hate to have them mindlessly staring at a screen the whole time. So, we have been watching a lot of Preschool Prep DVDs in our car. They are great because they help with sight words, phonics, numbers and letters but are also interactive because the kids like to shout the sounds and words out loud as the DVDs play. Honestly, my girls love it so much and don't seem to realize they are learning. I highly suggest trying them out! Books on tape are also an awesome way to pass the time.
2. I personally enjoy some quiet time in the car too, where I can listen to music and focus on the drive with no loud noises in the back, so it is useful to pack a few things to take a number of media breaks (other than the nap(s) that every parent hopes for):
Hope this helps you on your next long drive! I would love to hear your best suggestions for making car travel easier so that perhaps I can have some new, awesome ideas for my next car trip with the girls!
Jessica and Ana
Our Homeschooling Mission Statement: We will strive to be patient, godly examples to our children, integrating biblical principles and morality into every subject. Learning should be fun. We will foster an attitude of lifelong curiosity and play while providing the best possible education we can through books, art, technology, food, tactile activities, and cultural experiences. Learning will not be dictated by hours on a clock but will be a way of life for our families.