Friday, August 31, 2007

A Somewhat Unplanned Field Trip

With Tonya on crutches our routine has been almost completely thrown away. We have been trying to create a new, temporary, routine out of thin air that copes with our new reality. This involves a lot of "playing it by ear", with the idea that if a thing works, it becomes part of the new routine.

So we woke up this morning with the question that we've had to answer a lot each morning these days, so much that it has become a de facto part of our new routine: what in the world are we going to try to get done today?

Well, we had a pile of library books lying about; and since our pre-ouchie library day was Thursday, and we missed it yesterday because Tonya was getting her cast put on, and thus the books still needed to be returned, we figured we should just all pile in the van and head to the library. So we got there, and..., does your local public library have really weird opening hours, like ours does? I mean, what's up with that? (My former-librarian spouse just piped up: "Limited funds.") The library opens at 10:00 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; it opens at 12:00 noon on Monday and Wednesday; and it opens at 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday.

We weren't going to wait around for two and a half hours for the library to open. So I had Pillowfight Fairy deposit all the books in the Book Depository box, which she did quite ceremoniously, one at a time. I also had her try to sound out the word Depository. We need to work a little more on our phonics, I'm afraid. (More on that in a future post.)

But now, we were actually out of our house! In our van! With nowhere that we had to be! What freedom! And the question was raised: what do we do now?

We decided about a year ago that we needed to fight our natural tendencies to be complete homebodies by making an effort to get out and do something special, some kind of educational or cultural field trip, at least once a month. (We figured that if we didn't commit to this sort of thing, we'd naturally just hang around the house until we all turned into turnips or something.) And we've been pretty good about it so far. But August was waning and we hadn't done anything noteworthy yet this month, and with Tonya not in a condition to be adventurous these days, it hadn't been looking like we were going to be able to keep our commitment.

Ah! But here we were now, all of us in the van, already out of our routine! Why not take the opportunity and do something worthwhile, check it off our list, and have another guilt-free month? So I suggested that we go to the Aerospace Museum of California at the former McClellan Air Base. Tonya couldn't come up with a strong enough reason why not, so off we went.

The Aerospace museum is hosting a rather interesting exhibit through the end of September. Details can be found here. The exhibit, entitled "The Da Vinci Experience", primarily covers the mechanical innovations that appeared in his sketches. The company that put together the exhibit basically constructed working wooden models from something like sixty of Da Vinci's sketches on mechanical and military subjects. I'd heard about this exhibit from various sources, and had been wanting to go; but we had never been able to make the time prior to this. But now, we had the opportunity!

(Incidentally, after the exhibit leaves Sacramento, it's heading to Henderson, Nevada, until March. And whither then I cannot say...)

We got to the museum about 11:00 or so in the morning and got checked in. The cashier recommended that if we were interested in looking at both the Da Vinci exhibit and the aircraft, that we start with the latter; it's been very hot in the Sacramento area lately--well upwards of 100°, and unpleasantly humid--and she suggested that the earlier we go out to look at the planes, the less beastly it was likely to be. This sounding like good advice, we went to look at the planes first. Tonya found a seat (she's not much of an aerospace buff, and didn't want to hobble from display to display in the heat on her crutches) and kept Happy Boy with her in his stroller, and I went off with the girls to look at the planes.

This is not a good museum for the parents of a girly girl. The aerospace part of the museum is full of big machines! Jet engines! Rocket engines arranged in such a way that you can't go anywhere without walking directly underneath them! (Pretty scary, if you ask me.) Propeller engines from World War 1 on! (That is, the one where the entire engine rotated with the propeller, to help keep the blooming thing cooled. Apparently the engine acted like a big gyroscope on WW1 aircraft, allowing them to turn rightward very quickly, and allowing them to turn left practically not at all). Ejection seats! Pressure suits! An F-111 cockpit! An entire F-106 in the display room! (Man, I had been under the impression that the F-106 was one of the smaller aircraft. Where'd I get that idea? That thing is huge!) A working simulator! (Five bucks, please. We didn't do it, partly because we didn't want to part with the five bucks, and partly because you had to be this tall in order to ride in it, and Adrenalin Junkie wasn't.)

Boring. B-O-R-ing. They had a poster of the planets on the wall; that's what the girls wanted to look at. And they wanted to climb the stairs.

Anyway, I eventually convinced them to head out into the lot where most of the planes are out on display. I was fascinated by them, and I tried to tell the girls a little of the history of each one, as I remembered it. When I say "the girls", of course, I primarily mean the near-five-year-old. I don't know how much an impression all this stuff made on the Adrenalin Junkie. One doesn't usually care much about the Korean War when one is two. But there was a cargo helicopter there, an HH-3, that was opened up so that people could climb in the back (alas, not the cockpit). She loved it in there, and didn't want to come out.

Pillowfight Fairy was mildly interested by all these big planes. They were all big to her, even the ones that us jaded Aerospace junkies would call "small". I suspect that they all looked the same to her--except for the F-14. She rather took to the F-14. I could tell she took to it, because she named it. I couldn't get her to call it the F-14. No, it became the Flyer 4000! Which actually sounds a little more exciting than F-14, so I suppose she's not completely off her rocker. But when I walked with them around to the backside of the plane and tried to explain the mysteries of the tailhook, they were more interested in picking the flowers they saw growing there.

Well, I was edified, at any rate. I found it rather interesting that there were some Russian aircraft there, not far from the American models that they fought in places like Korea and Vietnam. I'd read that the American pilots in Vietnam had trouble seeing the Russian planes until they got pretty close, because the Russian planes were so much smaller than their American counterparts; but it really drives the point home when you can stand halfway in between an F-4 and a MiG-21 and just look at the two. Good grief, that MiG is tiny! Next to it the F-4 looked like a winged hippo.

But back to our field trip. We went back inside and found Tonya, who this whole time had been fielding comments and questions about her cast, such as: "So, what did you do to the other guy?" and "So did you kick your husband?" and "Did you get that skydiving?" Tonya, being ever truthful and modest, had been responding by telling them the mundane truth: She'd stepped funny on a toy. We relieved her and headed in to the Da Vinci exhibit.

The exhibit started with a ten-minute film on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, expaining who he was, when he lived, what artistic contributions he made--such as his sensitive use of light, shade, and perspective, and his experiments into new materials and chemicals for use in painting--and a brief description of the political and military situation of the time in which he lived. From that it described his sketches on military and mechanical matters, which are the subject of the remainder of the exhibit.

As I mentioned before the core of the exhibit is a collection of wooden models made from Da Vinci's sketches, each with a written description of what it is and why Da Vinci designed it. About half the models were labeled "Do Not Touch", but the other half were labeled "Handle Carefully", and had cranks or pull-ropes that one could pull to make things happen. As one might imagne, these were the ones that caught the girls' attention. They had a blast turning the cranks and watching the balls roll around; the gears turn; the water spash. I don't know if they caught much about the purpose of ball bearings or inclined planes, but you never know....

We stayed in there for maybe no more than half an hour, because this unplanned field trip had already taken us well past everyone's lunchtime. I suspect that this exhibit would be more interesting for older kids (although we knew that before we went), and I suspect it's more of a guy thing--although girls can enjoy it too, especially if they have a little engineer in them, like our girls do. In the van on the way home, we asked them what their favorite parts were. The Pillowfight Fairy's answer was something like, "I like the wooden things"--presumably in contradistinction to all those aluminum and titanium things sitting outside on the tarmac. The Adrenaline junkie's answer was something mostly incomprehensible but very emphatic, accompanied energetically by hand motions like those from the song "Roll the Gospel Chariot Along".

So we think she got the point! More or less.

Update, September 4: Welcome to visitors from the Carnival of Homeschooling! You might be interested to know that the Pillowfight fairy presented us with her own mechanical sketch this morning, and a very highly amusing one at that, given that it would, in principle, work. The post is here.


Lostcheerio said...

Hiya! Strangely, our local "air and space" museum is one of our daughter's favorite places to go. She likes the planes and machinery much more than my son does, although everyone loves the climb-in cockpit, yeah? :) She's 3. She also likes to go and park by the airport and watch the "pwanes" go up and down. Dan is getting his pilot's license -- this could all go terribly wrong for me -- I do not like flying and see nothing interesting in planes. Woops.

The DaVinci exhibit sounds REALLY cool -- I hope it comes here. Good for you, exposing your kids to something interesting. Observing *your* interest in a museum can have as much impact as any information they might be able to absorb at this age anyway. Learning that museums are cool, yo.

Lostcheerio said...

And... forgot to mention... thanks for the link. I linked to your post from our post about our similar "field trip" here:

Timothy Power said...

Hello, LostCheerio! Very pleased to make your acquaintance. We're still pretty new at the whole museum-crawl scene, with our kids only being not-quite-five, two-and-a-half, and seven months. I think the kids will do better at it when they get older. But until then, I think your suggestion about us having enthusiasm about what we're doing is a pretty good one.

I'm not sure that my girls like watching the planes take off yet. I took the oldest one to a local airshow in June. At the beginning of the day, the planes were scary because they were so loud. By the end of the day, they were just as loud, but they were only annoying.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by! And you're welcome for the link; I liked your girly girl post a lot. I suspect my girls would be more girly if they weren't being raised by a mommy who wasn't so left-brained.