This story originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle 

The “new normal” – created in the wake of COVID-19 – has changed many things about our daily lives, especially the way we experience education. Many schools have completely switched to virtual learning, while others are implementing in-person and virtual hybrid programs. Either way, children are spending the majority of their time behind a screen and are missing out on the much needed social aspect of attending school. With no clear timeline for when in-person learning will return full-time, we wanted to find some fun and interesting ways parents and students can create their own fun. For more insight, we teamed up with Amanda Vlastas, Founder of West University Moms to see how she and her sons have been keeping busy this school year. She suggested heading down the road to Galveston Island for some exciting ‘homeschool’ adventures.

Amanda Vlastas – After a long summer spent at home, my sons Mattias and Emilio have officially started their fall semester of school – virtually. Whether your kiddos are doing remote learning, homeschooling, or participating in socially distanced classrooms, one thing is for sure – the weekdays look a lot different now. The new curriculum is filled with a mixture of zoom calls, learning pods, and a lot of screen time.

One of the educational – and social – aspects of school that will be missed the most are field trips. These informative and exciting outings previously played a vital role in my boy’s school curriculum and offered them an authentic opportunity to explore new surroundings. Even though the pandemic is putting a pause to these much-needed social experiences, we have found ways to get creative, get out from behind the computer and create our own educational adventures. This past weekend we went to Galveston Island, less than an hour away, this historical gem turned out to be the perfect location for a “homeschool field trip”.

We immediately felt the excitement as we crossed the causeway. We sensed the immense history offered by the Island as we headed Downtown and saw the many trains and historic buildings along Harborside Drive. We’ve been to Galveston to go to the beach many times before but never experienced this side of the “city island”. Galveston offers everything you would need for a successful homeschool field trip including an aquarium, a historical library, a retired tall ship, museums, and traditional mansions that are open to the public.

Ahoy matey!

Any sailors aboard? The best way to teach your kids nautical lingo like the difference between ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ or keywords like ‘barque’ and ‘cargo’ is to take them to see for themselves at the Texas Seaport Museum housed on the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA.

We toured the ELISSA after walking through the museum and watched the film to learn the background and history on the ship.

I recommend everyone who visits watch the movie to gain knowledge of what you will see. Onboard, you can see where the crew slept and prepared meals; we even got to see the crew climbing the mast during a “man-overboard” drill, my kids were enthralled.

We learned that ELISSA was brought from Greece to Galveston in 1978 and by 1982, she was transformed into a floating museum. One of the most interesting things about her is that she still can actively sail – although this year they weren’t able to because of the pandemic.

After exploring ELISSA and checking out the museum, your kids can test their sailing knowledge with this worksheet: 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA

The Oil and Gas capital of the world

Right down the street from the ELISSA is a local attraction that is very relevant for us Houstonians – the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum.

This old, retired oil rig has been converted into an incredible three-story museum operated by the Offshore Energy Center and is a wonderland of amazement for kids. They can view various tools, platforms, and safety equipment and see what daily life is like for the crew who live for weeks or longer onboard the rig.

My boys loved walking across the metal gangways which shows glimpses of an escape pod, a hyperbaric chamber, diving suits and gear, and the Billy Pugh basket which can carry a person from the rig to a different boat and even to a helicopter.

Once your kids explore this museum, they can test their knowledge here: Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum

Hidden Treasure

If artifacts and relics make your children’s eyes sparkle – The Bryan Museum boasts a collection of approximately 70,000 items in total, including 20,000 rare books, three dozen saddles, over 250 antique firearms, rare maps, and artifacts, including arrowheads and a Spanish mission bell. The Museum is landscaped beautifully, and with the nice weather, we were able to enjoy the garden and sculptures.

My kids love a good mystery and were intrigued by the collection of ‘treasures’ that were hidden by the orphans who used to live in the building. Your kids can view the orphan’s secret hideout under the stairs which was found when renovations started on the museum.

I suggest about an hour and a half at this museum as it spans 12,000 years and offers a chronological history of Texas and the American West.

Is your child starting to grasp the expansiveness of Galveston’s history? Check out this fun curriculum at Galveston History Curriculum

‘Ellis Island of the South’ – The history of immigration in Galveston

Personally, I have overlooked the huge role that Galveston played as a port of entry in the 19th and 20th centuries and was amazed to learn that thousands of immigrants came in through Galveston and settled in Texas and the southwest.

Churches and organizations opened up to help migrants who would come in from passenger ships docked at Pier 29 until 1875 when Federal laws ended the free entry of immigrants into the country and established the area’s first U. S. Immigration Station at Pier 29. You can visit it on Strand street.

Sunken Ship

Seawolf Park is a memorial to USS Seawolf, a United States Navy Sargo-class submarine mistakenly sunk by U.S. Navy forces in 1944 during World War II.

The park, which is located on Pelican Island, has a picnic area if you want to pack lunches or have a snack. The park is also home to Galveston Naval Museum, which berths the WWII submarine USS Cavalla and the only Edsall-class destroyer escort left in the US, the USS Stewart. The remains of the tanker S.S. Selma, the largest concrete ship constructed, can be seen northwest of the park’s fishing pier.

Movie Date

We dropped by Pier 21 Theater an adorable little theater on the second floor of Pier 21.

The theater offers daily screenings of films including Galveston-Gateway on The Gulf, a film about the thousands of immigrants that have come to America through Galveston and how they shaped Galveston’s business and community. You can see in the movie how over time Galveston became one of the most important shipping centers in the South.

Pirate enthusiasts, like my boys, are sure to enjoy the short film that documents the adventures of the infamous Jean Laffite, the mysterious “pirate” who tormented merchant ships in Galveston in the 1800s.

Engage your children and test their knowledge with this worksheet: Immigration Experiences

A Storm’s Brewin: Galveston’s most destructive storm

Living in Houston, we all are familiar with how destructive storms and hurricanes can be. We were able to learn about the storm that unfortunately completely devastated Galveston and caused the most casualties in United States storm history, The Great Storm of 1900.

When you visit and read about the stories, you can definitely see where we get the sense of community every time we have a strong hurricane. The community didn’t give up after the storm and then kept striving to rebuild Galveston back to the way it was.

Pier 21 Theater also shows a 27-minute film called The Great Storm.  The film has been digitally restored from its 35MM slide presentation to a high-def format and shares the personal stories of survivors and the recovery of Galveston following the 1900 Storm.

If you head down to the seawall, you can view the Storm Memorial Statue, built in memory of the more than 6000 men, women and children who died in the 1900 Storm. The artist David Moore created the statue, a 10 ft. tall bronze, which was installed on the hurricane’s 100th anniversary in 2000.  Once you have perused the library and watched the films, test your kids comprehension with this workbook: The Great Storm of 1900

Grab a book

The Rosenberg Library, the oldest operating library in Texas, houses a vast collection of Storm manuscripts, photographs, and other archives that present graphic evidence of the survivors’ Storm experiences and the carnage that was left behind.

In addition to material on the 1900 Storm, the library offers the Galveston community the highest standards in children’s library services in a beautiful new setting with advanced technology for searching and self-checkout. The Rosenberg Library has also made it possible to Check out the damage from the 1900 Storm on Google Earth

I hope we have given you several great educational and adventurous ideas for your own personal field trip to Galveston. There is so much to see that you can visit multiple times and break up the attractions to spread them out through the semester, after all – Galveston is so close! Start planning your field trip now at www.visitgalveston.com and while you’re there, don’t forget to grab your Island Pass! The Galveston Island Pass is your key to adventure and savings while exploring the numerous attractions that make Galveston so special.

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