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Practical Homeschooling® :

“My Educational Trip to China”

By Trish and Rebekah Kimminau
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #88, 2009.

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Trish Kimminau

When my mother suggested taking my oldest daughter, Rebekah, on a trip to China, I immediately knew we would try to get her academic credit for the trip. Because we were making this an academic course, my husband decided to take money out of her college fund to pay for the trip. That helped with finances!

My Grammy, Grandma, and I on a boat in the locks at the Three Gorges Dam
We started Rebekah’s research about two months before the actual trip. Once my mother settled on an itinerary, I gave it to Rebekah and asked her to research the areas to which she would travel. I collected some books on China from my library and from friends, then told her to look the rest up on the Internet and in the library. I helped her look for books that would tell her about each place.

A friend had recently sent me a copy of the course contract she uses with her high school students, so I used that to figure out how many hours Rebekah would spend, and how much credit she could get. Figuring out the hours was the tough part. I looked at each book I had chosen, and guessed how much time it would take for her to read, and totally guessed on the rest of the research.

My grandma (Lois Kimminau), my Grammy (Berta Riley), and me in front of a Suzhou pagoda
Because I wasn’t sure if my times were accurate on the course contract, I also made up a matrix for her to use as she studied. She was supposed to keep track of how many hours she spent on each requirement, then write it on the matrix. With that I could write it on the course contract. Unfortunately, she did not keep good track of her time, so I was back to guessing for the number of hours to use for her credit. However, since my estimated total hours were 247, and 50 hours count for 1 credit, I will have no problems putting three credit hours on her transcript when I get to that point.

I expected Rebekah to produce a photo album, a written report about China and the areas she visited, and a journal she would keep on the trip. When she had finished everything, it was very different from what I’d expected. The photo album was good and we made three copies, giving one to each of her grandmothers for Christmas. Her journal was incredible. Her grandmothers and I helped type it from her notes, and we each added comments from things she told us or her grandmothers experienced on the trip. We emailed it to all our friends and got many positive comments, including, “You should publish this,” which is why we submitted it to Practical Homeschooling! The last thing she did was her report, and it ended up being much like her journal. I would have liked it to be a little more “formal,” but her dad and I decided that it was a good job for her grade level (8th grade).

In the end, it was an incredible experience. I have used the course contract for other non-traditional activities in which my kids have participated. Now my mother is planning to take my second oldest daughter to Ireland in summer 2009. So we will be using this format all over again!

Some Dragon decorations we saw on a river boat tour in Nanjing

Excerpts from Rebekah’s China Journal

Day 1-The Flight

Yesterday morning we got up at 4 A.M.! We got to the airport around 5:30 and we got all checked in with no problems.

When we got to the Chicago airport we went to the duty free shop. I got hazelnut chocolates!

We raced to our gate and boarded the plane to Shanghai. I loved business class. I had a seven-course lunch! I slept on and off throughout the trip, watching movies and reading in between. They brought us food around every 3-4 hours! It was very weird to think that we skipped 13 hours of the day. (There is a 13-hour time difference between Chicago and China during daylight saving. Afterwards it is a 14-hour difference).

Once we arrived in Shanghai, we went through customs and met Hua (Hua is my Grammy’s friend. She lived in North Carolina for a few years, and lived with Grammy for two years. She is the main reason we took this trip. Hua has been inviting Grammy to China since she went back.) We got to the hotel finally and went out to dinner. We shared a bunch of platters. My favorite was the duck, and Hua ordered me a drink called “tea with milk and black pearls.” It tasted like something you would get from Starbucks! I saw a McDonalds and KFC coming home from the restaurant and a very tall hotel that had a cool top (it had a big arch through it with lights through the top-I have a picture of it). I need to go to bed. . . .

Day 3, Saturday-Nanjing

A beautiful building on top of the Nanjing City
Today we had to be at the lobby at 8:15 so that we could get to the train station on time. Hua’s son, Billy, took us to the train station and went with us to Nanjing. My mom called us while we were in the taxi. (Hua gave them one of her cell phones. I had signed up with Total Call International for 5.5 cents/ minute to China. If you know anyone in a foreign country, TCI is a great way to go for making phone calls-Trish). We waited in the station and then got on the train. We each got first-class seats for only $13!

For lunch we went to a local restaurant that featured local delicacies and I found out I really liked duck.

Next we went to the Nanjing city gate. I like that a lot. It had three gates that people used to have to go through. And it had tons and tons of space for soldiers to hide out in. I liked going up and down the stairs.

Next we went to Confucius’ place. We took a 40-minute boat ride on which I just looked at the sights because the tour was in Chinese. Next we went to Hua’s cousin and his wife’s restaurant. Dinner was good. I liked a lot of the things we tried. The Chinese eat a ton. (I learned later in the trip that a good host serves at least 30 dishes-Grammy.) We saw some shows; my favorite was the mask-changing one. A man raced around in a costume, and all of a sudden his masks changed! Then, after talking a lot, we went home.

Day 4, Sunday-More Nanjing

Today we were going to the Sun Yat-sen Monument. Sun Yat-sen was the first president of China (after the emperor was overthrown. He was also the brother-in-law and mentor of Chang Kai Shek-Grandma).

The Course Contract

Here is the contract I came up with. Feel free to use it as an example, template, or idea generator for your own course contract!

You can also see a larger version online at: home-school.com/phs88/coursecontract.gif

He overthrew the last emperor. His famous saying was “The world belongs to the people,” in contrast to the emperor, who said, “The world belongs to the emperor.” His monument was very pretty, but it was way up high in the hills; you had to climb 392 steps to get to it! The 392 steps represented the 392 punctuation marks that were in his last speech. I climbed up and down the steps twice. In his monument there was a hall with a huge statue of him sitting wearing a Chinese outfit. The Chinese outfit was significant because people fought over whether he should wear a modern suit or a Chinese outfit; they compromised-two statues, one of each.

After the monument, we took a trolley to another part of the park. We got to the Linggu Pagoda, but I did not want to walk up all seven stories! Then we headed to the open-air music hall. On the way we saw, in a lake, a bunch of people in huge balls, floating! They kept trying to stand up and walk, but they just kept falling! It was hilarious to watch.

Next we went to lunch in a restaurant that was close to the top of a mountain. Then we went up to the observatory. Then we left for the train station and rushed! We got on the train with two minutes to spare. I am writing this on the train. . . .

In all, Rebekah and her relatives spent 18 days in the trip. They also visited Yiching, cruised the Yangtze River, saw Tiananmen Square, visited the Great Wall, went shopping, and lots more.

You can read a text-only version of her entire journal online at home-school.com/phs88/chinajournal.html.

How Rebekah Made Her Cool Online Photo Album

One tool I used to give Rebekah academic credit for her China trip was to have her make a photo album. Since she returned close to Christmas, we thought it would be fun to also make photo albums for her two grandmas. A friend showed us photo books she had created online, so we decided to do the albums that way. I researched prices, and ended up using www.mypublisher.com, because we got large discounts through our Costco membership.

The process was very simple. We went to the website and clicked on the “photobooks” link. That enabled us to download the free software. The program walked us through the whole process, including choosing a book cover, design, placing pictures and writing captions. The program uses digital pictures from your computer, and was quite easy to use.

Since then, Rebekah has experimented with other programs. She now prefers mycanvas.com. She says it’s much easier to use, and gives her more options.

In an earlier season of my life, I was an avid scrapbooker. Now that I have experienced the ease of online photo books, I’m torn about going back to the old way. Photo books don’t require me to print the pictures. Plus I don’t have to buy stickers, glue, paper, etc. But I’d miss the social element of scrapbooking with friends. Two different mediums, each with their own benefits.

Trish Kimminau has homeschooled for 10 years. She has four children. Rebekah, who co-authored this article, is 15 and the oldest in the family. Rebekah was 13 when she went to China. Rebekah’s father is in the US Air Force, and they are moving from San Antonio to Virginia this summer.

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