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San Diego: A Pretty Cool Field Trip
Friday, August 9, 2013

by Scott C. Wilson
Tutor Tango CEO & Co-Founder

Last week I closed my laptop and traveled westward with my family for a vacation in Southern California. My wife and I took our two sons to visit their cousins in San Diego, and while we were there we did some pretty cool, kid-oriented things.

But as a teacher and tutor, I’m forever cursed: I view almost all of the activities I do with my own children as if they’re on the itinerary of a school field trip. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of fun myself, but I always have more concern that what we’ve planned is educational and stimulating for my boys much more so than for me.

And as I think more about it, it occurs to me that parents and educators who plan trips for their kids have the same goals: to engage them with fun, meaningful activities, to inspire a love of learning, and to encourage them to think critically about the world around them. San Diego, it turns out, is a particularly wonderful destination with plenty of sights and attractions to satisfy such goals.

One of our first adventures was a visit to the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, north of San Diego. The aquarium is affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC-San Diego, and has a mission to “provide ocean science education and promote ocean conservation.” The kids especially loved the kelp forest feeding show, which featured a question and answer session with a real, live scuba diver inside the tank, and the touch pool, where they could pat the backs of sea cucumbers and pick up starfish. But the educator in me really appreciated the aquarium’s highly engaging exhibit on climate change called “Feeling the Heat,” in which the kids tested their knowledge of which everyday items can help or hurt the planet by tapping interactive screens, viewed stunning images of climate change underway, and even stood in front of a camera to broadcast the weather in a “2050 newsroom.”

As San Diego is itself situated on the Pacific Ocean, we did some other things that brought the aquarium learning experience to life. For example, we sea kayaked through Mission Bay, where we spotted plenty of seafowl and seals in action, and we stopped at a cove in La Jolla called “The Children’s Pool,” where the seals come ashore to lounge around and sunbathe. Later we spent an evening at Silver Strand Beach State Park in Coronado, where we spotted dolphins off shore and watched pelicans repeatedly nose-dive into the water in search of fish. Indeed, it was great for the kids to see that the sea life in the aquarium lives not so far away in the real, physical world around them.

We turned our attention from sea creatures to land animals when we made a visit to the San Diego Zoo’s Animal Safari Park, located just outside of the city in the suburb of Escondido. Our tour through the animal habitats on the Africa Tram Safari not only presented us with amazing, up-close views of giraffes, rhinoceroses, Cape buffalos, and ostriches (to name a few), but it was also filled with loads of important information about animal conservation for the kids. They learned about the plight of certain species, like the white rhinoceros and the California condor, and how we can make small changes in our lives to prevent harm to other species. On the plane ride home, I was impressed to hear my five-year-old explain why it’s bad to hunt rhinos for their horns (which are falsely believed to cure a wide range of diseases in certain parts of the world).

And the focus turned from animals to humans during our trip to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, which is moored in San Diego’s bustling north harbor. The kids loved pushing buttons and pulling levers inside of plane and helicopter cockpits, but I loved that they learned a little bit about naval history along the way. The Midway was commissioned just after World War II, and served the US Navy in many deployments, from humanitarian aid efforts in the mid-1950’s to forward combat operations during the Vietnam War.

Indeed, San Diego was a great destination for our family field trip. To see some photos from our travels, check out twitter.com/tutortango (and look on the left-hand side of the page).