Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Niagara Falls Vacation – Day 1: Visiting Grandparents, Playing with Rocks & Mineral Cards

We just returned from a trip to Niagara Falls. As you might expect, there were plenty of highs and lows, and I will be writing about all of it over the next few days.

Our son has a three and a half week break between the end of summer school and the beginning of fall term. We typically like to use part of that time to travel – to give Kai exposure to new places, and also because he would drive my wife crazy if we stayed home the whole time.

After our experience on last summer’s vacation, we tried to scale back expectations. This year, we thought a shorter trip might work out better. We also wanted to pick a destination that would be fun and interesting for Kai, but not so jam-packed with sights to see that we would be tempted to do too much.

After much consideration, we decided on Niagara Falls.

As a kid, my family took driving vacations almost every summer. We saw most of the United States that way with my dad driving our station wagon from place to place. But one area of the country we never went to was the northeast. And so, I had never seen Niagara Falls myself.

I wanted to see it as I had heard from others that it is a place you must see at least once. But it was also hard to imagine that there would be so much to do once we had viewed it for five minutes. I thought there would likely be plenty of free time to go to the pool and take it easy.

In the days leading up to our trip, Kai was very excited. It reminded me of how excited with anticipation I used to get as a kid before my family’s vacations. In his last speech therapy session before the trip, he had a nice conversation with Alyson, telling her about his upcoming journey. I think he most looked forward to traveling to a state he had never been to before: New York.

On our first day, we drove to Kai’s grandparents house, as they live about halfway between home and Niagara. Kai was happy to see them, and they gave us a warm welcome.

After all the greetings, Kai could not wait to use the community pool.

He showed Mama Dell what an improved swimmer he is compared with our visit last summer. Though, to our chagrin, his form is never as good with us as it is when his swim instructor supervises him.

When we visit relatives, it is often hard to have a conversation, as Kai requires so much attention. On this visit, however, he was content much of the time playing with his latest obsession. When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards; Kai now collects cards about rocks. But there is no doubt that he enjoys his cards as much as I enjoyed mine.

Mama Dell was the person who first introduced Kai to Basher books a couple of years ago. This is a series of kids’ books on various science topics. The thing that makes these books different from others, and so appealing to Kai, are the fun, colorful illustrations that go along with the explanations of each topic.

Kai now has the Basher books on the periodic table, the human body, biology, algebra and geometry, and astronomy, among others. Recently, he discovered that the company also makes flash cards, and he has been collecting the set of Rocks and Minerals cards.

We have been using the cards as motivators to get him to do the online Thinkwell math program that I learned about from my blog friend Shiroi Tora. Without the cards, we struggled to get Kai to do one section a day. With the chance to earn cards, he eagerly does five or six a day.

Now, sitting by his grandmother’s coffee table, Kai busied himself by re-creating the entire set of cards.

Whenever Kai gets a new card, he wants us to read all of the information on the back. Some of the descriptions are not easy to understand, using words that are difficult for even my wife and I to pronounce. So, we wondered if he learned anything we read him. I was surprised when I quizzed him and realized that he had memorized many of the facts on the cards – things like pyrite is a look-alike of gold, that talc is one of the softest minerals while diorite is a hard igneous rock.

His preoccupation with these flash cards allowed us to have some serious conversation with Dell and Earl. It was funny, though, when every now and then, Kai would yell over from the living room to comment on something that we said. Even when he was engrossed in his own activity and not appearing to pay attention to us, he was listening. (However, when I want him to hear something, I may have to repeat it a dozen times to get his attention.)

Anyway, after great home-cooked meals, a good night’s sleep, and a nice time with the grandparents, we said our goodbyes and moved on to our next destination.

Tomorrow – On to Niagara!
See our Facebook page for photos from our entire trip


  1. I love the way Kai loves educational motivators. What parent wouldn't love that.

    I loved Niagara Falls...especially from both sides. I can hardly wait to see your pictures. It has been many years since I have been there.

    You are creating summer magic for Kai. He is going to love the falls!

    1. It is so funny to see how engrossed he gets over rocks and minerals. I'm glad he isn't just attracted to the pictures, but that he is learning things as well.

      We did not go over to the Canadian side... have to go back sometime for that. Can't wait to tell you about the rest of our trip! :)


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