7 Places To Sneaky-Teach Your Child (in SE Michigan & NW Ohio)



#7 - Cabela's

#7 – Cabela’s

My daughter is stubborn and resists “school work” at every turn. (I don’t know where she gets it. Must be from her father. *wink*)  She loves to learn and explore, but she wants to do it on her own terms.  If she’s got a burning curiosity about space, trying to get her to complete a lapbook on history is nearly as grueling as wintering over at Valley Forge.  

Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that we have the flexibility to follow her lead, which eliminates a lot of those types of arguments. Honestly, if she turns out to be a 30 year old astronaut with the ability to successfully research topics of interest who doesn’t understand the “Valley Forge” reference, above, I’m OK with that.

On the other hand…

Sometimes I have to pitt my stubborn Mama will against her stubborn kid will and insist. There are two reasons:

First, I only insist when I feel it’s something she needs to know to be a contributing member of society.  She has to be able to do basic math, write out a thought with clarity, understand the basics of how our nation’s government works, etc.

Second, I believe that learning to do things that you don’t like while keeping a cheerful heart is one of the great keys to a happy life.  I don’t like to wash dishes or mop floors. I find no joy in changing poppy diapers. I’m not especially fond of balancing the checkbook. Every day we, as adults, are required to face countless tasks that don’t spark our passion but that really just aren’t optional.  We deal with it. We put on great music or work together with a friend or use a particular tool that makes the job more enjoyable for us or we motivate ourselves with the reward of time spent doing what we love once we get our “chores” out of the way.  I think that learning to buckle down and practice her trombone when she’d rather be playing video games is a super important part of her education.

So some days are led by our children’s interest.  Some days are busy with to-do lists. But the BEST days are the sneaky-teaching days!

Sneaky-teaching is when you tell your child, “we’re going to do something SO FUN today!” And you do something that they think is a fabulous, grand adventure and at the end of the day your child says, “Wow! That was really cool!” and, inside, you do your best mad-scientist laugh because you know they just learned all sorts of new information and they don’t even realize it.



Here are 7 great locations in the Southeast Michigan/Northwest Ohio area for sneaky-teaching outside of the home.

1. Imagination Station, Toledo, OH 

Imagination StationThis is actually the place that inspired this post.  We just went for the first time this past weekend. I’d resisted for a long time because I’ve been to other places that were similar (so I thought) and I’d looked at their prices and thought it seemed a little expensive.  Within 10 minutes of walking through the front door I was ready to buy a family membership so that we could go back again and again!

Imagination Station is huge. No matter what your child is interested in, there is something there for them.  If they are quiet sit-and-figure-it-out types they will find tons of work spaces filled with challenging experiments. If they are the kinds of kids that never stop moving there is everything from a high-wire bike to a giant hamster wheel to burn up energy.  There is a large area just for little ones to climb and splash and explore.  There is a piano that plays “music” made entirely from bodily noises.  Your child will love this place!

As the mother of a very active 2 1/2-year-old and a very inquisitive 9-year-old I was concerned that everything would be too advanced for the little one or too babyish for the big one.  No such worries!  There was never any place we visited where there wasn’t something for both of them.

A little pricey?  Perhaps. It’s the only thing on this list that you have to pay for but, in my opinion, it’s totally worth the splurge.

2. Pearson Metropark, Oregon, OH

Pearson Metropark is one of the first places we went on a homeschool field trip.  It is the last remaining stretch of the Great Black Swamp.  It is vast and beautiful.  It is a great opportunity to be out in nature and learning the history of the area at the same time.  Throughout the park there are signs and stations that tell the story of what’s there and what once was.  You can read more about our first visit here.

3. Blissfield Model Train Exhibit, Blissfield, MI 

Tiny little Blissfield has some really amazing railroad history. There is the old depot and the train that still carries passengers through town but the thing I really love is the Model Train Exhibit.  This is a massive scale model railroad with a focus on the Chesapeake & Ohio and Clinchfield railroads in northeastern Kentucky and western West Virginia.  I can’t imagine anyone, of any age, being less than totally delighted by this display.  The detail is extraordinary and the builders strive very hard for total authenticity.

Whenever we have visited, members of the club that built the model are there and eager to point out new or special parts of the exhibit.  They’ve spoken with us about the various types of trains and their functions, the electrical circuitry involved in making the models work, the communications systems used by the real railways, the history depicted by certain pieces of the model and the crafting process for creating the models.  They are invariably patient and kind and knowledgable.

Recently, they had to relocate and they are still in the re-construction process but their website says they hope to be open to the public once again this spring.  The old building was a little cramped and only accessible via a rather horrifying ancient staircase. I have a feeling the new space will be a great improvement.

Extra bonus points – the second best pizza in the universe is available at the restaurant (Lena’s) across the street and a half a block east so after your family has soaked up the maximum amount of history, building and engineering knowledge for one day you can dig into some fabulously cheesy goodness!

4. Robinson Planetarium and Observatory at Adrian College, Adrian, MI 

This planetarium seems to be hosting one special event or another practically every other day.  There are shows based on the ancient folklore of various cultures, shows that focus on the times of dinosaurs, shows that discuss the future of space exploration and opportunities to see what’s happening in space right now and it’s all free and open to the public.

They’ve recently undergone a major re-model and I haven’t visited since it was completed but we are looking forward to a trip very soon.  Their website notes that the new handicap accessibility features will not be fully completed for a few more months so, a phone call may be in order if you have special needs.

5. River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe, MI 

I’ve only recently learned about this US park in Monroe, MI and I’m excited about visiting soon.  The Monroe area and the River Raisin were a big part of what was going on in the Midwest during the war of 1812 and the entire first half of the 19th century.  This park offers several programs teaching the history and nature of the area.  They also have a wonderful website with curriculum materials, background information and stories that will keep anyone enthralled.

6. Fossil Park, Sylvania, OH

“Park” is a bit of a grand term for this slab of concrete.  There is a lovely walkway around the perimeter but that’s about it.  Still, it is one of the most fascinating places we’ve found in the area.  Big loads of rocks and dirt from the nearby quarry are dumped in piles on the concrete and visitors are encouraged to bring buckets and brushes and dig through the dirt looking for fossils.  You will find them.  They are there by the thousands.  The area was once a vast lake bed and so the dirt, taken from such a great depth in the quarry, is full of ancient shells, trilobites and other sea-life.  There are some great informative signs that help you identify your findings and understand which part of our planet’s history they came from.  It’s dirty work.  There’s little shade to be found on hot days, so wear a hat and bring your own water.  For all that (maybe because of all that if you’re a kid who loves to get dirty and find treasure – which, let’s face it, is most kids), it’s worth going back to over and over again.

7. Cabela’s 

Cabela’s is a sporting goods store but it’s so much more.  From the enormous statues in front, that offer great climbing fun, to the extraordinary 2-story displays of taxidermy inside, to the river that runs through the middle of the store and the huge aquariums full of local species your family could spend hours exploring.  My daughter loves to try out the various bows in the archery range and love to look at the stunning hand-crafted coo-coo clocks.  There are nature-related toys and books and video games.  This is a place that will inspire any child to wonder about nature and our relationship with the world around us.  Sit inside the ice shanties and try to figure out why they’re designed like they are.  Climb aboard the boats and give some thought to why a boat built for skiers is a totally different shape than a boat built for fishermen.

Technically, it’s free to visit but I find it’s very difficult to leave without a box of their fabulous chocolate fudge!

Have you discovered a sneaky-teaching gem?  Share it in the comments!

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6 responses »

  1. A few sneaky teaching tips – Put-in-Bay, Ohio FULL of fun ways to incorporate learning. Start with the Miller Ferry ride, point out islands made of limestone & created during the Ice Age. Head to the Aquatic Center (free!) to learn about Lake Erie freshwater species & invasives (+ free fish poles/ tackles for kids), hop the Tour Train narrated history tour (parents can rest their feet), take the elevator to the observation platform of Perry’s Memorial for a 360 degree view of Lake Erie, islands, Ohio & Canada plus the region where the Battle of Lake Erie was fought in 1813 to secure the NW Territory from Grt Britain (War of 1812), tours of Gibraltar Island/Stone Lab, (< a quick boat ride to another island!), plus tours of South Bass Island Lighthouse. Tour two caves, one is limestone, the other is the world's largest celestite geode. Don't forget Eco Camps, Wildlife Museum, State Park, & Wild Tuesdays. Want to learn more? Please visit millerferry.com and visitputinbay.com.

    • They really are extraordinary. If he is a true train-buff there is a whole festival in the fall every year in Blissfield. You can ride on the big train and tour the depot and there are other model train exhibits all over town, in addition to the Model Railroad Club.

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