Monday, August 18, 2014

7 Natural Wonders Of Georgia

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Page for details.

Did you know that Georgia has 7 natural wonders? Well one of our goals this summer was to visit the remaining natural wonders on our list. If you're wondering how these seven were chosen from all of Georgia's fabulous natural resources, check out the New Georgia Encyclopedia's article about the history of the select seven.

So in no particular order here are the 7 natural wonders along with some photos and details.

Georgia 7 Natural Wonders:

1) Stone Mountain - Ten miles northeast of Atlanta is the largest exposed mass of granite in the world. Stone Mountain Park is 3,200 acres of natural beauty and offers visitors a variety of family friendly activities and seasonal events. One of the activities is a trip to the top of this amazing natural wonder. You can get there by taking a 1 mile hike up one of the sides of the mountain or by sky lift.

2) Okefenokee Swamp - At the very bottom of Georgia (near the Florida/Georgia state line) you will discover the largest swamp in North America. The swamp was named by the Native Americans and means "land of the trembling earth," so be careful where you step! This oasis can be accessed at two points Stephen C. Foster State Park is on the West and Folkston is on the East. The majority of the swamp is a National Wildlife Refuge which makes it the it a wildlife paradise. Rent a boat or take a ranger led boat tour through the black swamp to experience everything this 402,000-acre refuge has to offer. Some of the flora and fauna you will encounter include beautiful Spanish moss-laced cypress trees, alligators at every turn, bobbing turtles, black bears and deer romping through the woods and ibis and herons flying overhead. At night you can experience some of the best stargazing in Georgia. If you are weary of a boat ride there are several amazing trails at Stephen C. Foster including a 2,100 boardwalk trail that provide breathtaking views of the park as well.

3) Warm Springs - You will find the healing waters of Warm Springs in Pine Mountain, Georgia. This area became internationally known when president Franklin Delano Roosevelt built a home, known as the Little White House, there so he could be closer to the spring. The spring provided relief for many people who suffered from polio in the early 1900's. To experience the 88 degree water for yourself visit the Historic Pools Museum or the Liberty Bell Pool (both operated by Georgia State Parks). For more information about this area visit the FDR/Warm Springs Welcome Center. You can visit FDR's residence, the Little White House, and his favorite picnic spot at F.D. Roosevelt State Park.

4) Amicalola Falls - Amicalola Falls which means "tumbling waters" is the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi. Its seven cascades, drop 729 feet to the base. The spectacular scenery and hiking trails at Amicalola Falls State Park make this one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. There are 12 miles of trails at the park and several fascinating views of the falls so that everyone can easily experience their breathtaking beauty. The West Ridge Falls Trail is the easiest for most people because it's paved. This trail provides one of the best views too (photo above was from this trail). For a view from the top of the falls you can take the short connector trail or the staircase from the West Ridge Falls Trail. For a more strenuous hike there is the Appalachian Approach Trial which is a dirt hiking trail that follows the river and includes lots of stairs (it's lots of fun to hike in the snow). Be sure to check out the Appalachian Trail display at the visitor center too.

5) Radium Springs - The largest natural springs in Georgia are found just outside of Albany. This place is so magical. This natural spring pumps 70,000 gallons of clear, 68 degree water per minute from an underground limestone cave. In 1927 the Radium Springs Casino and Resort opened and visitors from all over flocked to this special Blue Hole. However the depression, fire and a couple floods resulted in the casino and hotel closing it doors. Up until the mid-late 90's the spring was a popular swimming place for Albany residents but due to the flood damage the state and local governments eventually took over the property in 2003. Thankfully in 2010 Radium Springs Gardens opened it's gates again so that visitors could enjoy this magical place. Though swimming is no longer allowed there is still much to see and do at this beautiful place which is FREE to visit. Part of the casino ruins still stand and have been converted into a butterfly garden area with ample seating and even public restrooms. There are walkways, interpretive panels, spectacular viewing areas, and gazebos around the spring. Enjoy a few hours or entire day soaking in the foliage-draped hillocks, crystal clear waters, and exotic flora and fauna. Read more about Albany here.

6) Providence Canyon - AKA "Georgia's Little Grand Canyon" is located in South West Georgia. The canyon was formed by poor farming in the early 1900's. Each year the soft, unconsolidated sediment canyon walls continue to widen. There are some gullies that are as deep as 150 feet. The views are absolutely breathtaking. There are three miles of trails, picnic areas, a playground and several hike in campsites. Besides offering an amazing geology lesson this park also offers some fantastic flora and fauna viewing. Did you know the rare Plumleaf Azalea only grows in this region? Providence Canyon State Park is a definitely a must see and I encourage a walk down to the canyon floor.

7) Tallulah Gorge - In Northeast Georgia sits a gorge that was once known as "the Niagara of the South." Tallulah, which means fearsome, originally described the waterfalls which used to rage through this part of Georgia. In 1912 though Georgia Power dammed the falls to create a hydroelectric facility. As a result the 2 mile long, 1,000 feet deep gorge is all that remains. This gorge is one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern United States. You can view the gorge best from the Tallulah Gorge State Park North and South rim trails which are moderate trails that offer breathtaking views, ample shade and resting areas. The suspension bridge that sways 80 feet above the rocky bottom is tons of fun and provides the best views of the Tempesta and Hurricane waterfalls. The bridge can be accessed by either rim trail, however I recommend the South Rim staircase because it has more resting platforms (it does have more steps though 347 to be exact as opposed to the 310 on the North Rim). Tightrope walkers have crossed the gorge twice and visitors can still see the towers used by Karl Wallenda. If you are feeling very adventurous you can get a free permit to explore the gorge floor (100 given out daily). Also at the park you will find the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive center which highlights the rich history of this Victorian resort town, as well as the rugged terrain and fragile ecosystem of the area. While you are on the trails be on the look out for the persistent trillium, monkey-face orchid and green salamander which are all protected species found within the gorge.

8) Cloudland Canyon - The Bonus Wonder - There is one more natural wonder that I feel needs to be highlighted. Call it the bonus 8th wonder. Cloudland Canyon is located on the western ridge of lookout mountain and is yet another spectacular natural wonder in Georgia. This canyon offers amazing rugged geology and exceptional hiking. The deep 800-1,980 feet gorge has been cut into the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek. This park offers something for everyone including hiking, caving, camping, geocaching biking, horseback riding and more. An easy walk from the picnic area provides the most spectacular view into the canyon. But for avid hikers and adventure seekers you can explore the rim trail or travel the 1,200 staircase to the canyon floor (we did the stairs when my children were 4 and 5 yrs old). There are also two beautiful waterfalls that cascade over layers of sandstone and shale at Cloudland Canyon too.

Since 6 of these sights are located in Georgia State Parks you may want to consider getting a Georgia State Park Pass. These passes start at $55 and will save you money if you visit the state parks often. The money from the passes also helps keep these beautiful parks in pristine condition.

I definitely encourage you to add these Georgia 7 (I mean 8) Natural Wonders to your list of places to explore. You won't regret it! 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why The Arts Matter

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Page for details.

Photo taken at the Art Park on Pine in Albany, GA!

One of our reasons for choosing to homeschool was so that our children would be exposed to the arts on a daily basis. I know this sounds like a strange reason for wanting to homeschool and one that may not seem very important to many people, but for our family it is at the top of our list and essential for our children. Sadly due to "No Child Left Behind," budget cut backs and standardized testing pressures public schools no longer provide the arts education that is so desperately needed for a quality education.

But even in the homeschool world I see the arts struggling. There are very few homeschool curriculum's for the arts and the ones that are available are generally very expensive. Even the local classes are expensive. There have been many times over the years where I have seen and heard homeschool parents stressing over curriculum choices for the core subjects (language arts, science, math, history and geography), but I hardly ever hear them mention concerns about the arts. So today I want to encourage you to include more arts into your homeschool days.

ART is traced to Indo-European “root” at (to fit together); Latin ars means art, skill or craft.

Throughout history some of our greatest contributors (Ben Franklin, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci) to science, history, and math were masters of the arts. The arts solve problems! Without the creativity that the arts provides we don't have science and math advancements, great literature, etc. Art is about fitting things together: words, images, objects, processes, thoughts, historical periods. Art skills are life skills! And creativity drives learning!

Here are some things the arts can do for children:

-improve math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, problem solving and verbal skills
-improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork skills
-connect them more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing
-help them close any gaps in a their education
-get them thinking outside the box
-improve test scores
-enjoy deep forms of beauty
-help with behavioral issues
-keep and convey our cultural heritage
-open us up to other societies and civilizations around the world
-relax them
-provide a healthy outlet for emotion
-make them happy
-improve communication skills
-provide a form of self expression
-helps children find themselves

Did you know that UC Berkley actually invests large portions of their budget into a program call ARC which is a think tank for artists? If art is not important why would one of the leading colleges be investing money into it? Well it's because the arts provide us ways to confront the untouchable, to contemplate the "why", to imagine, to create. All of these things are pivotal to our countries future.

Fitting the arts into your homeschool day doesn't need to be overly difficult and doesn't require a curriculum. Think in terms of project based learning. All core subjects correspond with the arts and are inseparable! The arts can easily be incorporated into every subject. For example you can use musical notes to teach fractions, put on a civil war reenactment, play classical music throughout the day, start a nature journal, learn the dances of different cultures around the world, make musical instruments, build a kite. The opportunities are endless!

Do you incorporate are into your homeschool days? In what ways do you incorporate art?

Don't forget to enter the MEGA homeschool curriculum and cash giveaway here.

Also be sure to head over to Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to see what my fellow crew members are blogging about this week for their 5 day blog hop!

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

Here are a few quick links to some of my bloggy friends:

Amy @ Counting Change... Again 
Shawna @ Tenacity Divine
Adena @ AdenaF 
Jenn @ Simblissity Cottage
Emilee @ Pea of Sweetness
Kathy @ Kathys Cluttered Mind
Sara @ Embracing Destiny
Annette @ A Net in Time Homeschooling

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Do Grade Levels Matter?

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Page for details.

Image from

If you ask my children what grade they are in you will get a blank stare or a really bizarre response, because we don't emphasize grade levels in our home. Instead our children learn based on their abilities, not grade levels or what state standards dictate. Last year I told my daughter that she was in secondish grade. So that ended up being her reply when people asked her what grade she was in. And instead of her giving a blank stare we received one back.

By any standard, marker, or goal set and especially by today's sad requisites, grade levels are meaningless. Yet so much emphasis is still put on grade levels both in public/private schools and homeschools. But why?

Our current education system focuses on the "No Child Left Behind Act," standards-based education, and common core. Children are lumped together based on grade level, age and standardized measures and expected to all learn the same things at the same pace regardless of their ability. This means that the slowest or least intellectually developed child inhibits the growth of the most intellectually advance child and vise versa. Both suffer because of a broken education system. At one time a grade level defined a level of excellence, knowledge or expertise, but now it is just a meaningless number. I don't have the answers on how to fix our public school education system, but it does need to be fixed so that children can flourish, be empowered and have a drive to learn.

Prior to the government's control over education, grade levels were non existent. Children were in one room learning different material, each at their own pace. Children were challenged by those who excelled before them and encouraged to advance when they were ready, rather than being forced.

It is imperative that children receive individual educations and get what they need, when they need it and when they are ready for it. And this is yet another reason we chose to unschool. It is our desire that our children receive the individual educations they deserve. They can learn at their own pace in the way that best suites their learning style. We encourage their strengths and accomplishments and provide the support and encouragement when they need it. Children are unique so whey shouldn't their education be individualized?

Don't forget to enter the MEGA homeschool curriculum and cash giveaway here.

Also be sure to head over to Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to see what my fellow crew members are blogging about this week for their 5 day blog hop!

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

Here are a few quick links to some of my bloggy friends:

Amy @ Counting Change... Again 
Shawna @ Tenacity Divine
Adena @ AdenaF 
Jenn @ Simblissity Cottage
Emilee @ Pea of Sweetness
Kathy @ Kathys Cluttered Mind
Sara @ Embracing Destiny
Annette @ A Net in Time Homeschooling

Monday, August 11, 2014

Let Your Children Express Themselves - Red Mohawks And All

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Page for details.

Image from

Today I am sharing something I feel very passionate about and that is letting children express themselves. This post is dedicated to all those who question why we unschool and why my 7 year old son has a mohawk and pierced ears!

There are many forms of self-expression and self-expression is pivotal to a child's development. Yet many public institutions and parents do not allow children to express themselves freely. We all have a need to express our thoughts, feelings and ideas. One way I do that is through blogging. As adults we get angry when people try to force their ideals, beliefs and associations on us. However when it comes to children we find it necessary to interfere with their self-expression. We push children into the activities, hobbies, sports, etc that we think they will enjoy or that we want them to excel at. We assert our beliefs, thoughts, ideals and associations onto them and teach them that they need to conform to society. And we teach children that they should deny who and what they want to become because of what others may think.

By not letting a child express themselves freely we are denying them of important skills they need to become successful, free thinking adults. We are hindering their self-confidence, problem solving skills, work ethic, creativity and over all development.

And this is one of the many reasons we chose to unschool. Everyday we encourage our children to express who they are and encourage them to follow their dreams. Our children are confident (most of the time) and both have big dreams and goals in life. They explore their passions and interests and devote much of their time to learning about what they love. They have their own sense of style and are confident in who they are. They know their likes, dislikes and the activities that they excel at. They don't care what others think about them and they don't care about the differences they see in others. They are well-rounded individuals and we could not be more proud of them.

My story:
As a child I was allowed to express myself to a certain degree. My parents let me dress how I wanted which included tie skirts, afghan jackets and decorated blazers. I got picked on a lot in school but I never cared about what others thought because I was being myself and not conforming to the latest trend or style. I listened to music I liked, even though it was not popular. And I enjoyed expressing who I was through art, writing, and volunteering. But my parents didn't fully support my interests and would often compare me to my much older sister and push me into sports and activities they wanted me to excel at. And my personal passions and interests were not nurtured as much as they could have been. This lack of self-expression resulted in low self confidence which I still suffer from today. They were by no means bad parents they just didn't fully let me express who I was and what I wanted to become.

Fast forward: 
When I met my husband we both agreed that we would let our children express themselves and support them in their interests, passions and dreams. We knew we wanted to homeschool, but realized that there was a possibility we would need to send our children to public school. And if the latter would have been the case we still would have fought for our children's right to self-expression.

My 8 year old daughter is a tom boy and proud of it. She likes her hair long and uncombed, likes wearing bold colors and doesn't care if her clothes are covered in dirt. She is compassionate, creative, adventurous and loves learning! Some of her favorite hobbies are art, hiking, reading, skateboarding and horseback riding. She wants to own a horse and animal rescue and create masterpieces of art. Her two favorite things to learn about are horses, art and Native Americans.

Check out Gwyn's blog - Adventures Of A Homeschool Cowgirl

My 7 year old son is a very energetic, rough, tough boy. He definitely has no issue expressing who he is. He asked for his ears to be pierced when he was 3 and well the mohawk has always been his hairstyle of choice since he was a toddler. The colored mohawk is new for him. First it was blue, then red and he now wants to do it red, white and blue. He is also compassionate, creative and adventurous. Some of his favorite hobbies are hiking, getting messy, building with LEGO bricks, playing with his Star Wars toys, dressing up as a superhero or ninja and playing with his cars. He definitely tries my patience everyday, but he also makes me laugh everyday too. He spends the majority of his days building LEGO creations. He loves learning about how things work but he also really enjoys learning about the wars throughout history. His dream when he grows up is to work at a LEGO store or be a superhero!

Check out Rowyn's blog - Minifig Homeschool Adventures

The express yourself song by Charles Wrigth pretty much sums it up.

We all need and desire to express ourselves. How do you express yourself or how do you let your children express themselves?

Don't forget to enter the MEGA homeschool curriculum and cash giveaway here.

Also be sure to head over to Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to see what my fellow crew members are blogging about this week for their 5 day blog hop!

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

Here are a few quick links to some of my bloggy friends:

Amy @ Counting Change... Again 
Shawna @ Tenacity Divine
Adena @ AdenaF 
Jenn @ Simblissity Cottage
Emilee @ Pea of Sweetness
Kathy @ Kathys Cluttered Mind
Sara @ Embracing Destiny
Annette @ A Net in Time Homeschooling

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Atlanta Botanical Gardens Review

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Page for details.

Atalanta Botanical Gardens is a tranquil 36 year old, 30 acre garden nestled inside the hustling and bustling city of Atlanta. There is so much to see and do and something for every age at these gardens. There are several outdoor gardens like the Japanese Garden and Rose Garden. The Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid Center which features rare and endangered tropical and desert plants from around the world. The 600 foot Canopy Walk leading you on a journey through the treetops to the Woodland Gardens. The Edible Garden and even a Children's Garden. 

A moms review:
Immerse yourself with nature and experience both native and exotic plants and flowers. Children will especially enjoy the 2 acre interactive Children's Garden built in partnership with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Before you enter the garden make sure you check out the great Atlanta Botanical Garden Fountain. My kids had a great time dipping their hands in the water and listening to the fountain its also a great photo spot. After you pay you will enter the visitor center where you can grab your map and exhibit brochure. The garden features annual special exhibits including art, sculptures, special flowers and more. Make sure you look UP inside the visitor center to see an truly amazing glass light fixture.

The first place we headed was Children's Garden of course. I was amazed at how LARGE this area is. I really liked that there is only one paved entrance into the Children's Garden area making it feel a little more secured if a child happens to run off from you. After you cross over the Flower Bridge you will be greeted by the sunflower splash fountain which was a huge hit with my two. There is also a caterpillar maze, tree house, fossil dig, waterfall pond, bog garden and more. Children will learn so much in this hands on area. YES hand on!! Children can use many of their senses to touch, smell, listen, see. There are butterflies, birds, dragonflies, bees, fish and lizards hanging out in the Children's Garden. My daughter absolutely loved the Bog Pond where there are fish, frogs and carnivorous plants to see.

After the Children's Garden we headed to the Edible Garden. Along the way we stopped to admire some of the many beautiful garden fountains and Perennial Garden. The Edible Garden is amazing. Adults and children will find this garden amazing. There are tomatoes, peaches, watermelons, figs, herbs and lots of other yummy stuff growing in this garden area. There is an outdoor kitchen in the Edible Garden where some of Atlanta's top chefs offer cooking classes.

Next we headed to our favorite area of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens the Fuqua Orchid Center and Conservatory. Here you will take a trip around the World and feel like you are actually in a Rainforest or Desert far away. Make sure you keep a careful eye out for some of the animals living here. We spotted turtles, tadpoles and some fascinating birds. There is also a great poisonous frog exhibit in the center. The Orchids and Cactus's were probably our most favorite in this building.

We then made our way to the Canopy Walk. Along the way we made sure to check out the rest of the outdoor gardens where we saw Roses, Conifers, Camellias, Vines and more Perennials. The Canopy Walk extends 600 feet and takes you on a journey through the branches of native trees like Oaks, Hickories and Poplars. It is the only tree canopy-level walkway in the US. At the end of the Canopy Walk you will end up in the Woodland Gardens where you can leave the paved path and travel on a dirt mulch path to view native Azaleas, Hydrangeas, Trillium and largest Tulip Poplar in Atlanta.

We realized we forgot to check out the Japanese Garden so we made sure to check out the oldest  area at Atlanta Botanical Garden before we left. In this garden there are beautiful Japanese Maples, Irises and Azaleas. This is a small area but quite beautiful with a waterfall, pond, bamboo fence and 300 yr old lantern from Japan. This gave me a great opportunity to discuss a different country and culture with the kids.

We spent about 4 hours at the Garden and were able see everything during that time. Actually there were a couple of things we saw twice because the kids REALLY wanted to walk though the Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid Center again.

I didn't know that the amazing Piedmont Park a 185 acre park is located adjacent to the gardens so we missed visiting the day we went to the gardens. But next time we will be sure to squeeze in a picnic and some fun at the park!

Extra details:
  • The gardens are a little pricey $18.95 for adults and $12.95 for children 3-12. But a family membership is $99-$129 so if you plan to visit again this would be the way to go.
  • Plan ahead with these awesome itineraries to get the most out of your trip. Special itineraries for children are also available.
  • If your children will want to play in the splash fountain consider having them wear their bathing suit under their clothes. Oh and maybe a towel for when they get back into the car.
  • The gardens asks that you not bring in food or drink. There is a cafe on site with snacks, drinks and meals. Kids meals are $6.25 and lunch meal specials are $12 (2 items, cookie and drink).
  • Parking fee is required. 31-60 minutes $2, each additional 30 minutes is $1, max rate is $15.There is covered and uncovered parking available. If you plan to visit frequently consider purchasing a multi-visit pass.
  • There are several restrooms decently spaced throughout the park but not all of them have baby changing areas. 
  • Allow yourself time to also check out Piedmont Park. There are lots of things to do at this amazing park like have a picnic lunch, bike riding, play in the fountains, swimming (small fee), playing at one of the two playgrounds and more. 
  • All paths and buildings are handicap and stroller accessible with the exception of the Woodland Gardens which a dirt and mulch pathway.
  • Whistle at the birds in the Fuqua Conservatory they like to whistle back.
  • Educators and homeschool families can prepare children for their visit by utilizing these great resources on the Atlanta Botanical Gardens Website.
  • The Atlanta Botanical Gardens offer homeschool day programming a couple times a year, which include special programming and discounted admission rates.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens
1345 Piedmont Avenue
Atlanta, GA, 30309

Links to follow:
-Atlanta Botanical Gardens Website
-The Children's Museum Facebook
-The Children's Museum Twitter
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