Our family spent the month of January 2016 in St. Louis. We stayed in a lovely home in the urban neighborhood of the Central West End, within walking distance to shops and restaurants and a mile from Forest Park. The Central West End was named one of America's Top 10 Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association in 2013 and I can certainly see why! It is a safe, diverse, walkable and beautiful neighborhood close to everything in St. Louis. I highly recommend planning a family vacation to St. Louis. For all of you home-schoolers and road-schoolers out there, I put together a curriculum for our time there and am happy to share it. Enjoy!
A quick look at the Missouri Secretary of State webpage will give you a nice overview of "The Cave State", including the Gateway Arch, the Louisiana Purchase and the 1904 World’s Fair.
Read select passages from Meet Me in St. Louis by Robert Jackson to learn more about the 1904 World’s Fair. There is an entire section of the Missouri History Museum dedicated to The World’s Fair, so I was glad we took the time to do this before visiting the museum.
St. Louis Architecture for Kids by Lee Ann Sandweiss will get the kids excited touring the city. It is a very simply written overview of the sights geared towards young children. It was also fun to go through after we had spent some time in St. Louis to maintain a sort of “check list” of what we had already done and what we still needed to make time to see. It also serves as our keep sake to remember our time there.
Writing Idea: Write an “as you go” memory book where the kids write and/or draw about each place that they visited in Missouri. Both of my kids did this during our time there and it was interesting to see how different their entries were on the exact same place.
Field Trip: Ride to the top of The Gateway Arch
This is something the whole family will remember; it’s a great view of the city and the river and it is a fun way to experience the tallest monument in the United States.The cars to the top are very small, so probably not fun for a claustrophobic, but you are able to get out at the top to look out the windows as long as you like and then ride another car back down.
Craft Idea: There was a kit to build a paper version of The Gateway Arch included in our Little Passports booklet on Missouri, so we were able to build our own Gateway Arch replicas. If you wanted to build your own at home, there is a paper one available on Etsy and Wurlington Brothers Press.There is also a hands-on exhibit in the Science Center all about building bridges and arches.
Videos: There are several videos on YouTube all about the engineering behind The Gateway Arch.
Field Trip: Tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery
The 75 minute "Day Fresh" Tour was the perfect amount of time for a tour of the facility. We got to see the beautiful stables and a few of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales; learn about the ingredients in beer and the steps of brewing beer from start to finish; and see the fermenting tanks and the bottling and packaging facilities. The buildings are over-the-top ornate, so the architecture and detail of the buildings was my favorite part. The tour guides were very funny, friendly and quite knowledgeable on the brewing process and the history of the Busch family. Kids were absolutely welcome on the tour; they got a small gift when all of the adults got beer tastings. There were two tastings along the way and the tour ended with a free drink in the beer garden where you could elect to eat lunch as well. The menu looked tasty and it seemed like a nice place to spend the afternoon (even in the winter because it was tented).
Writing Idea: Explain how beer is made, remember the ingredients and what is done to turn them into beer. If this is too hard, have them write instructions for making their own favorite food or beverage.
Field Trip: Visit the St. Louis Zoo
Forest Park is home to a lot of the big tourist attractions in St. Louis, including the St. Louis Zoo. The Zoo is huge, but FREE, so there is no pressure to hurry through! There are a few things that cost money: a train, a children’s zoo and a carousel. The children’s zoo is definitely worth the admission if you have little ones; they can get really close to some unusual animals including a tree kangaroo, a two-toed sloth and the Fennec Fox. The staff was willing to spend time talking to the kids and answering any questions. Other highlights outside of the children's zoo were the playful and interactive sea lions, the Insectarium and the penguin exhibit.
Writing Ideas: There are so many creative writing activities that can be done involving animals. Here are a few of our tried and true.
The St. Louis Art Museum is also in Forest Park and has free admission every day. The education page on the website provides some online information that you can go through with your kids before visiting the museum. It also has printable guides to the Egyptian Mummy and Arms and Armor sections of the museum. There are hands-on art activities and a 30 minute family tour of the museum on Sunday afternoons.
We have been using the Jot it Down! program offered by BraveWriter as our very loose guide to creative writing for the past year. It is aimed at children ages 5 and 8 and I turn to it any time I am looking for inspiration. One of its projects helps you see how to get the most out of a visit to an art museum with your kids. These ideas can be applied to any art museum, but work especially well at a large metropolitan one like the St. Louis Art Museum. The following activities are from that program and I highly recommend them.
Field Trip: Laumier Sculpture Park
The Laumier Sculpture Park is an outdoor collection of sculptures, where kids and dogs are welcome to be active and loud while observing the sculptures. Each sculpture has a sign that explains what it is supposed to be about or represent, so I had the kids say a few things that each sculpture made them think of and then we had fun comparing what they said to what the sign said. We had previously seen a huge eyeball on a mural at The Missouri History Museum and had been quite puzzled about what it could possibly mean or why it was there, so it was great when we happened upon the original sculpture at the park. Free walking tours are offered on the first Sunday of each month May – October. There is a children’s garden section with a few things that the kids could climb on and some nice nature trails. There is also a printable nature trail scavenger hunt and a downloadable audio tour (original scores inspired by the sculptures) available on the website. The Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center is also on the property, displaying rotating exhibits.
Field Trip: The City Museum
This is one of the coolest places we have EVER taken the kids! Essentially, it is a huge indoor playground; yet so much more. It was constructed by famous sculptor Bob Cassilly, known for his public sculptures of animals (including the hippos in Riverside Park and the tallest sculpture in Texas at the Dallas Zoo). Every square inch of this place represents beauty and creativity and the joy of exploration. Animal sculptures, multi-story slides, hidden tunnels/staircases and mosaics abound. You could spend a few days in here just trying to take pictures of all of the stunning artwork. The City Museum was listed among the Great Public Spaces in the World by The Project for Public Spaces. You can NOT skip this museum if you are in St. Louis!
Writing Idea: Put together a biography of Bob Cassilly (his life story is pretty inspiring).
Field Trip: The Missouri History Museum
This was the perfect field trip to bring everything we had read in our Little Passports Missouri to life. There is a section of the museum aimed at young kids where my daughter pretended to run an international café at the 1904 World’s Fair, hunt and fish with the ancient Mississippian people and captain a steamboat on the Mississippi River. There was a room dedicated to demonstrating what the 1904 World’s Fair was like; we spent time admiring the formal dress of the time period and some Asian furniture that was on display at the Fair. We spent a long time in the “1875 St. Louis” exhibit because there were large and colorful, comic-like murals covering all aspects of what life was like during that time. All facets of life were covered, from the top occupations of the period, to what people ate, to the top causes of death. The kids were truly fascinated by these lists. There was a scavenger hunt to go along with it, which really kept us attune to the details of the murals.
Field Trip: The Magic House
My kids have almost aged out of children’s museums, so I hesitated to take them to The Magic House, but I am glad we went as is it one of the best children’s museums we have visited. First of all, the food was fast and healthy so we were happy to eat there instead of feeling like we were just making do. Second of all, the exhibits were not overly complicated but well thought out and executed so that the kids could get a lot out of them without me having to wrangle them in and then try to speed read what we were supposed to be doing before perhaps losing their interest all together. Everything was self-explanatory but still appealing to older kids. For example, we had fun guessing smells using only your nose and guessing the type of ball using only touch and matching known musical notes to mystery notes. There was also just the right amount of climbing/physical activity – two climbing structures and one big slide. Even the grocery store (which I usually find totally boring) was fun because it was so well laid out and the cash registers actually functioned properly. One of the most novel exhibits was a little river under the floor where you could throw a fish in one end, follow it across the room, and then catch it with a fishing pole in the pond at the other end. The other thing that grabbed my attention was a room that had an animated marine life scene on all the walls. You could color a sea creature, scan it, and then immediately see it swimming in the scene on the wall. Talk about instant gratification!