You likely already know that Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has a great deal for parents of homeschooling kids: bring proof that your child is homeschooled (homeschooling association card, for example; they take attendance record printouts for virtual schooled students), and entrance for you and the members of your immediate family is only seven dollars per individual. On the other hand, for many Maryville or Knoxville families, it’s quite a drive; if you’re going to take a day off to spend there, you want to make sure that you’re optimizing your time. Since you won’t have the chance to go all the time, you want to be able to see everything; you also don’t want to overstimulate your kids, or leaving them (or you) feeling as though the trip is taking forever. So…what do you do?
If you’re using this as the basis for a lesson—perhaps a report on one of the sea creatures that are scattered throughout the aquarium—take good quality pictures of the signs instead of expecting your kids to take notes. They won’t enjoy the experience nearly as much if they’re constantly scribbling in their notebooks, and a quick snapshot will be much more effective in the long run anyway—correct spelling, and you know that the information is correct, rather than being altered before it got through an overexcited mind.
Plan your visit.
If you’re taking a younger child or two, you might want to keep in mind the play area in the central area: a good place for them to run around for a little while and blow off some steam. This is also a great way to wear them out right before the trip home, so don’t be afraid to do some backwards walking and come back here if need be.
Check out the nursing rooms.
There are nursing rooms located in both women’s bathrooms—and if you need to nurse your baby at some point during your trip, this is without the best place to do it. They also contain a changing table, and are big enough to use as a cool-down location for an over-excited special needs child.
Check out the special exhibit room.
These exhibits rotate out regularly, so make sure that you take a look at anything that you really want to see while you’re there. Take plenty of pictures, too! These exhibits are often unique, and definitely worth a look.
Take advantage of chances to move around.
Don’t limit your children to passively looking at the creatures. Let them crawl through tunnels, touch creatures when the opportunity presents, and manipulate activity centers. They’ll likely learn more from those experiences than they will from any of the reading that they do along the way—hands-on is often the way to go for young learners.
Don't be afraid to go the "wrong way."
If there’s something that you really want to see, whether it’s a show, an exhibit that’s overcrowded, or something that you want to go back and look at again, do it! There’s a natural flow to traffic most of the time, but as long as it’s not a particularly busy day, it shouldn’t be too difficult to slide back around and do it again. Have a child who is fascinated by the sharks? Go back and look at them again! Want to see a show, but you passed its location thirty minutes before it was due to start? Go on back! There’s no one stopping you, and it’s your day.