10 Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
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Whose Life Is It To Share?

We share so much of ourselves these days.

Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, blogs, email, and texts, it’s easy to have almost every aspect of our lives spread all over the Internet for the enjoyment of family and friends.

And strangers.

Because so much of what you’re sharing is wide open to anyone anywhere with a computer or smart phone.

But that’s okay, right? It’s your choice to share yourself with the world. If your Facebook posts and Instagram photos are set to “public” or your Pinterest page features personal photos, that’s your business.

And if you write a mom or dad blog, with your personal thoughts about parenting, you have it set to publish to the world, to gain as big an audience as possible. I know I do.

This is where my question comes in. Whose life is it to share? I’m not talking about yours. That’s an easy answer. It’s your life to share.

But what about your kids? Did you ask them if it was okay to share their life with the world?

I started my dad blog nearly eleven years ago, when my kids were 5 and 2. It never occurred to me to ask for their permission. I certainly took some precautions to shield them from fame by not revealing their names, and to not feature close-up photos of their faces.

My kids have always known about my blog. They’ve just never been terribly interested in it. I blather on enough in real life, they don’t need to read even more of my daddy musings. They’ve lived through it already.

Several days ago, however, my daughter decided to read my blog. The first post she saw was about her having a very public meltdown over a spider when she was a 3-year-old.

“Well, that was embarrassing,” she told me. “I hope none of my friends see that.”

I was perplexed. I mean, she was a toddler. It was a decade ago. I asked her why it was embarrassing.

In her infinite teenage wisdom, she replied, “It just is! It’s my life!”

She makes a very strong point.

Now, I’m not going to go back through thousands of posts to edit or delete anything that might elicit a response from my daughter of, “Oh my god, Dad, why did you say that about me, I’m going to die!”

Because I’m confident there aren’t that many of those. Also, I don’t have the time.

But it sure has me thinking about what right a parent has to share so much of their child with the world.

Simply look to Hollywood and the world of former child stars who have struggled with being in the public eye at such a young age. Many of them either had no choice, or didn’t understand the ramifications of sharing so much of themselves with the world.

Will we be seeing a new generation of children angry with their parents for placing them front and center on a parent blog, or a YouTube channel, or anywhere a devoted following of fans can grow on the Internet?

As a parent blog reader, I’ve intruded onto some very intimate moments in some children’s lives. From bed-wetting to kindergarten crushes to pre-teen depression, there are any number of subjects that you wouldn’t normally discuss outside of your family or circle of friends. And yet, some bloggers do just that, whether to seek advice or commiseration or even fame.

As my daughter said, it’s her life. I’ve been careful over the years to maintain her privacy, but maybe not careful enough. For as much enjoyment I receive from keeping this blog, it’s not worth it if one of my kids feels that I’ve broken that unwritten confidentiality agreement that all members of a family should have with each other.

I wouldn’t be very happy if my daughter started a blog and wrote humorous out-of-context anecdotes about my piggish ice cream eating habits, or the unholy mess on my office desk, or the not-so-funny comment I made about the neighbor down the street.

It’s my life, and it’s up to me if I want to share it with the world.

Now go back and re-read that sentence in the voice of your child. If you want your kids to respect your privacy, it’s only fair for you to respect theirs. Next time you post a picture or story to the general public, think about whose life it really is to share.

The Great War For Kids

There’s one thing about history that my daughter quickly learned in her early elementary school days. Humans seem to always be fighting each other.

It’s an unpleasant subject on the surface, but if you’re going to instill a love of history in your children, you can’t avoid the fact that they will, inevitably, be reading about war.

And they will find it utterly fascinating.

With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, or The Great War, we’ve seen a deluge of books on the subject.

One of these new ones is especially for kids. It’s not only a fascinating look at the deadliest conflict in human history, but it’s a primer on how to enjoy reading history.

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World War I for Kids, by R. Kent Rasmussen, is, quite simply, the best children’s book about war that I’ve ever seen. The reason I think it’s the best is because of the way the author engages young readers with vibrant illustrations and hands-on activities.

This is not just a book for reading. It’s a book for doing. Activities include camouflaging an egg, making a trench periscope, and baking up some genuine “war bread” (no sugar or lard allowed). There are 21 activities in all, spread throughout the book to help bring the descriptive passages to life.

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The author never talks down to his readers. He offers up clear and lively explanations on key aspects of the war, from its buildup to the rapid advances in military technology to the war’s impact on later historical events.

If your kids think history is boring, hand them this book. I guarantee they won’t put it down for awhile. The easygoing format, incredible photos, and fun activities are a welcome change from the usual dull texts with their laundry lists of names and dates.

World War I For Kids encourages its readers to connect the dots between the major events, why they happened, and how all the events, both past and future, are related. That, right there, is critical thinking, folks.

This book is good for any age from 4th grade up to early high school. It can certainly be enjoyed by anyone who is looking for an introduction to World War I.

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You can buy a copy of World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities at Amazon.

I also have a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment here or on the Idaho Dad Facebook page. I will pick a winner in a week’s time.

Grocery Store Meltdown

In the middle of my grocery shopping yesterday, I was alarmed by a child’s ear-piercing gurgling scream of terror coming from one aisle over. It worried me enough to rush to investigate, thinking some kid had fallen from a shopping cart or, worse, was being attacked by a pack of rabid badgers (hey, you never know). With phone in hand, ready to dial 911, I ran around the corner into the cereal aisle.

Well, like they say, if you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebras.

It was what you’d expect. A toddler wanted the box of chocolatey candy-coated sugar puff cereal, and mom was opting for the much healthier Cheerios.

It had been awhile since I’d experienced a grocery store meltdown, so it took me by surprise.

My own children were above such things.

No, they had their meltdowns at Toys R Us, like any respectable toddler should.

The grocery store incident reminded me of one time, however, when my daughter went off script and had a bunch of people worried.

It was ten years ago, when she was three…

We were in Sandpoint, Idaho, poking around the touristy downtown area. We stopped at the Cedar Street Bridge to browse the Coldwater Creek store there. I don’t know about you, but we don’t buy stuff at Coldwater Creek, we only browse… It’s much easier on the checkbook.

Anyway, in the middle of our browsing, our daughter started her little dance and whispered, “Mommy, I have to go…” so off to the nearest bathroom on the upper level of the bridge. My son and I looked at old photos on the wall while we waited. Soon a middle-aged couple and their friend stopped to look at the photos too. Just then, the screaming began.

“No no no! Aiiiieeee! Bwaaaaggghh! Gurgle! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” Something like that anyway. I didn’t react at all. Why should I? I hear this stuff practically every day. But the couple next to us became very concerned, probably because of a recent child abduction that had brought national attention to our area. The woman didn’t waste much time and announced that she was “going to investigate!”

We waited a few moments, with a small crowd gathering, and me pretending not to know what’s going on. Pretty soon the woman emerged from the bathroom, spread her arms, palms out to calm the masses, and authoritatively stated, “It’s okay! Everything’s alright. She saw a spider web!”

Audible sighs of relief followed, and the crowd dispersed, glad in the knowledge that the screams of terror coming from the public restroom were simply a little girl freaking out over a dusty old spider web.

I’m glad those days are long over.

Try To Be A Man

If you’re a stay-at-home dad, then you’ve seen the disapproving looks and heard the snide comments. At first it bothers you, but after awhile you realize that the animosity usually stems from either ignorance or jealousy.

And where do these looks and comments come from? Oh, just about everywhere. Family, friends, men, women, stay-at-home moms… But the worst are the golf-playing, beer-drinking, Minoxidil-rubbing, weight-pumping working dads. They have their own personal definition of what a man is supposed to be, and it sure as heck doesn’t include vacuuming, changing diapers, and cooking a healthy family meal.

I bring this up because I heard from one of the Neanderthals today, in a forum devoted to news and issues concerning the town in which I live.

He responded to me with this:

Try to be a man (really). Get a job and go to work.

Ten years ago, this comment would’ve made me flustered, because I was still figuring out my role as a stay-at-home dad. But now? Well, I just have a giggle over guys like this. If he really is so clueless to think that a dad who stays at home AND homeschools his kids is something less than a man, then that’s his problem.

I won’t even go into the “go to work” comment. Some days I wish I had an outside job to run to so I could take a break from the incredible amount of work involved in running a household and overseeing the education of my children. A desk piled with papers in a quiet air-conditioned office sounds like a vacation to me.

Actually, a bulldozer on a busy construction site sounds even better. I could definitely burn off some stress with one of those bad boys.

The point is, as a stay-at-home homeschooling dad, I have more to oversee, organize, approve, and accomplish than most dads who clock into a regular 9 to 5 job. I’m on call 24/7 and rarely get a break from my duties.

But that doesn’t make me more or less of a man than anyone else. It just means I’m a busy guy who doesn’t have time to banter with clueless message board trolls.

So, what is a man? Outside of the obvious anatomical explanations, I have no idea.

He is who he is. And he does his best with what he has.

If you have a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.

The Homeschool Decision

People often ask us why we first decided to school our kids at home.

We started in 2006, which seems forever ago, so it’s hard to remember all of the reasons why we turned away from the public schools.

Luckily, I wrote down a conversation I had with my son a few months before we made the decision.

He was in second grade at the time.

Me: “Did you go to the library today?”
Him: “Yes, I found a Bailey School Kids book!”
Me: “Cool. You can read it tonight.”
Him: “No, I already read it.”
Me: “What? When?”
Him: “Today, during my free time.”
Me: “Exactly how much free time do you have that you could read an 80-page chapter book in one afternoon?”
Him: “Lots.”
Me: “And what is the teacher doing during all this free time?”
Him: “Making sure we’re quiet.”
Me: “Uh-huh, are you sure she’s not doing her nails or taking a nap or something?”
Him: “No, she helps the kids who need help, and the rest of us have free time.”

I’m sure that this, combined with a host of other things, lit the fire for us to try something different.

We’ve never doubted our homeschool decision. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been totally worth it.

My kids have succeeded well beyond our expectations.

My son is taking college courses at the age of 16, while my 8th grade daughter is on track to do the same.

I have a feeling that my son and daughter would not have thrived as they do now if we had stayed with the public schools. They would have learned to keep their head down, to work quietly, to move forward, and, certainly, to do as well as necessary to avoid attention, both negative and positive.

I’m not sure the fire for learning would still be burning as brightly for them if we’d made a different decision way back then.

To be fair, it’s all conjecture at this point.

The homeschool decision worked for us. That’s the one thing I do know.