Our Trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Homeschool crowd listening to a presentation at the Open Sea Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Every year, Monterey Bay Aquarium has a set of FREE homeschool days. These days sell out really quickly, so if you are in CA and are interested, I recommend getting on the email list to be notified of the next sign-up period which will probably be in August. We were able to get 3 adult tickets as well as a ticket for Otter for this year. The 4 tickets we received for free were the equivalent of $136, so these homeschool days are quite a treat that normally wouldn’t be in our budget. The extra adult tickets are great if you have a grandparent or older “grown up” sibling who’d like to come along!

During these special days, the aquarium opens up their Discovery Lab classroom with drop-in activities, touch tanks, crafts and plenty of docents on hand to explain and teach a variety of information on sea creatures and the ocean. It’s a beautiful aquarium with a huge variety of exhibits that takes a good 3-5 hours to walk through. Each year there is usually some sort of new or rotating exhibit so there is alway something “fresh” to see, even though we’ve been many times.

If you aren’t in CA or local to Monterey, I highly encourage you to contact your local museums and other similar venues to see if they have a program like this or free/reduced days. We’ve always considered activities like this an important component of our homeschool, rich with opportunities to see and learn new things!

Here are some pictures from our recent visit.

We love the jellyfish exhibits! They are so beautiful…

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The Open Sea exhibit features a HUGE tank full of different types of fish and sharks. The glittering schools of sardines are mesmerizing.

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The kelp forest features a multi-story aquarium with living strands of kelp. All sorts of fish glide among the kelp. There are benches where you can sit, relax and watch the fish. The picture doesn’t even do this exhibit justice. It’s HUGE.

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This year there was a seahorse exhibit. The variety of seahorses is amazing. This one is called a leafy sea dragon.

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In the Discovery Lab classroom (my dream science lab!!!) we were able to investigate all sorts of interesting things like a stuffed sea otter (you can’t believe how soft and thick their fur is), touch tanks, etc. Younger children were busy with crafts and other fun activities. Volunteers were on hand to instruct and answer questions. In the picture below, Bob is teaching us about some of the animals. Afterwards, Otter fed a sea anemone some kelp.

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The aquarium also has a lovely aviary with all sorts of rescued seashore birds. They are quite tame and you can stand within just a couple of feet. Near the aviary there is also a shallow pool where you can touch manta rays. In another area there is a small colony of penguins where you can watch them both above and below the water.

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Otter and I touched sea cucumbers, anemones, starfish and other creatures in a touch tank:

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Some of the fish seem just as curious about us as we are of them as they swim by. This fish paused and stared at me for awhile. I think he’s a dolphinfish.

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After visiting the aquarium we walked up and down Cannery Row to visit antique stores, sample some clam chowder and peek into the shops. We wrapped up the day with a very special dinner at a local restaurant that had  floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay where we could see wild sea otters playing in nearby kelp beds. We had a great time!

Cannery Row

Our recent projects and a trip to Monterey

The kids have been enjoying our geography studies. I think one of their favorite activities (besides watching movies at Discovery Streaming) are the cooking “assignments”. Here are a few pictures of our creations.

Spätzle, rotkraut and roast with gravy for our Germany study:

Spätzle

Growing up, this was one of my very favorite meals as a child that my Oma and sometimes my mom would make. When it was time to study Germany, I just couldn’t pass this meal up, even though it wasn’t listed in our instructor’s guide. It was fairly easy to make and the kids loved it so much that they made a 2nd batch for our lunch.

Spätzle recipe :

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (or water)
  • 3 tbsp butter

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the butter. The “dough” should be fairly smooth and not too thick. Push the dough through the holes of a colander or put it through a spätzle press into approx. 3 quarts of salted boiling water. You will want to make a few batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook for 4 minutes or until the spätzle rises to the surface. You can gently stir it so that they don’t stick. Once they are done boiling, rinse them in cold water.

Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and then add the rinsed spätzle. Fry them up until they get a little bit of color. We like ours to have a hint of brown crispiness on some of them.

We ate our spätzle with a roast I made in the crockpot. I just threw the meat in with a little bit of water and a package of dry onion soup mix. We topped both the meat and the spätzle with a package of gravy that I added some of the meat “drippings” to.

Here is the recipe for rotkraut (red cabbage):

  • 1-2 green apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 to 1 head of red cabbage (shredded)
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Simmer all ingredients in a covered pot for approx. 1 hour or until the cabbage and apples are tender.
Here is another recipe that is a little bit different. There are lots of other variations of the recipe online as well.

The kids also made some other yummy treats when were studying France:

Here’s a blurry picture of our French cheese canapes from WinterPromise’s Fun & Traditions in Many Lands book which made a very delicious lunch!


Here is a piece of the French apple tart that Otter made all by himself!

French apple tart

The kids also made some “quick” Spanish flan, Spanish banana chips (with plantains), a Black Forest cake (for Germany), beef stroganoff (Russia), Italian salad & pasta and more.

We aren’t just doing cooking projects – the kids have also made some crafts. Here are their paper cutting projects for the week we studied Poland:

Otter’s cut paper flower (click the link for the PDF instructions):

paper cutting craft

Emily’s paper cutting project:

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Bear’s paper cutting:

paper cutting

The kids have also been having a great time with science! Otter’s Science has been working out great. There are just enough activities and a good balance of reading, movies and projects. I do need to tweak the schedule some and add some comments about some of the books – but that will come later when I get the new website up and running.

Otter’s brain hat:

Brain hat

Otter’s model vertebrae and nerves from The Body Book:

model vertebrae

Dissecting a brain:

Dissecting a brain

Both boys do most of the projects together with the exception of the Body Book models (which are too easy for Bear). They had a ton of fun doing the dissections and learned quite a bit. What a difference it was compared to the days when Emily had to do dissections! Let’s just say she wasn’t very fond of the whole process…

We also took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for one of the free homeschool days. It’s an amazing place! I guess we were pretty lucky to get tickets because of the overwhelming response by the local homeschoolers. The free days are really a blessing because otherwise the admission prices for all of us would be prohibitive. I’m really thankful to whomever dreamed that up. Here are a few pics of our visit:

Feeding time at the kelp tank:

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Studying some fish:

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The aviary at the aquarium was awesome! The birds are literally within arms reach in some places. They are all rescues (I believe) and very “tame” / tolerant of people. We were all amazed at how close we were to all of them. It was a photographer’s paradise! By the way, my husband took all of the aquarium pictures. 🙂

Another one of our favorite sections of the aquarium is the jelly fish area. I could stay there for hours, if we had the time. The jellyfish are just mesmerizing and beautiful.

A seal napping outside in the bay:

The otters were fun to watch:

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Mission to the Deep interactive area
Emily said it looks like they are sitting in a Star Trek set!

And finally to wrap up today’s entry, here is a picture of one of our local wildlife refuges. The sandhill cranes are here this time of year and lots of ducks have come down from colder regions for the winter. We try to take the kids to the refuges frequently and are always amazed at how there is something different each time we visit. We are really fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of nature that is easily accessible. I think it’s good for all of us and really helps us to better connect to the seasons and rhythms of natural life.

Not only are the kids studying different countries around the world this year, they are also getting to get in touch with what is local and learning about the area where they live. I hope that someday they will all look back on these things I’ve been sharing with you as precious childhood memories and that they will have learned a lot about our wonderful world, both far and near.