We're in the San Francisco Bay Area now, after having first spent a week in Austin, TX. I brought my computer along thinking that I'd write at night in the hotel room after the kids went to sleep ... but somehow, each night, I've collapsed into bed instead. Though we've traveled a great deal with Desmond and Nini ever since they were wee wigglers, I tend to forget how much more energy an adventurous day of travel requires than an ordinary day at home.
And we've had many adventures, mainly outdoor ones. The wildflowers were beginning to bloom in Texas, including the bluebonnets, and we spent a lot of time enjoying their beauty and fragrance and talking about how they get their names. The flowers are blooming here in California, too. Desmond has been the most excited about them, asking lots of questions about the difference between wildflowers and cultivated flowers and making wonderful observations, like when he remarked that the inside of a California poppy looked just like a sea anemone.
We've seen lots of animals, too: Red-eared slider turtles and even one big snapping turtle in Texas; Austin's raucous flocks of grackles, which the kids chased while quoting from A.A. Milne: "Shoo, silly old dragons!"; pink starfish and porcelain crabs in the tidepools near California's Half Moon Bay; the famous sea lions of San Francisco's Pier 39.
We've basked in warm sunshine, marveled at a dramatic Texas thunderstorm, talked a lot about San Francisco's fog. We've ridden a miniature train, an airport monorail, a cable car, and an electric bus, which for some reason was an extra big hit with Desmond, who called it a "tremble bus" and was fascinated by the overhead wires that powered it.
I can't imagine anything my kids could be learning in a school setting at this age that would compare with these experiences. We're exceedingly fortunate in the amount we're able to travel, but one doesn't have to travel far to stimulate a three-year-old and expose him to something new and engaging. A trip to the farmer's market, the hardware store, a freight yard, a botanical garden, an art gallery, or even something as quotidian as a drainage ditch can be as thrilling to a small child as a trip far from home.
And in the middle of all these adventures, when you're not even paying attention to whether you're teaching the shapes or the numbers or the alphabet, your kids will unexpectedly reveal that they've been learning more than you realized. Though we're usually huge readers, we've been too busy out in the world during this trip to spend much time with books -- yet the other day, Desmond picked one up and, when he thought no one was watching, read out to himself, for the very first time: "C - A - T. That spells cat!"