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.

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures

Photo Friday – Surrounded by History

“Isn’t it amazing?” I asked my daughter as we toured the Tower of London. “To be surrounded by so much history? Why, there’s the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. And there’s where Sir Thomas More was imprisoned. And, right in front of you, is the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII for his new bride Anne Boleyn. Behind you is where she was beheaded, and…”

“Shhh, daddy, I’m trying to take a picture of the raven.”