Home Education Magazine - November-December 1998 - Articles
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Meet Travis The Traveling Bear!
Travis H. Bear [the 'H' is for Homeschool] is somewhere in the United States. He is traveling across the country, visiting for a week with a homeschooling family in each of the 50 states. At each stop, his host family will: mail a postcard home to us so we can keep up with his travels; take him to some of their favorite places and take pictures; make an entry in his journal, writing about where they live and their homeschooling, what they did while he was there, and putting in pictures; and then they will send him on to the next family. His journey will end up taking well over a year after factoring in mailing time.
I remember reading about a project along these general lines some time back, probably on a homeschooling internet bulletin board. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but didn't pursue it. Then in mid-May I had major abdominal surgery. Suddenly I had lots of time to sit around and think of all the things I could do when I wasn't 'sitting around'. I brought the idea up to my seven year old son, Tony. He was adamant in his initial refusal - he was absolutely not sending one of his animals anywhere! We talked about it for a while and discovered that he didn't want to send one of his own because he worried that the plane might crash or the boats sink. I said that we could buy a new animal to send and that won him over. I'm still not sure whether he agreed because his animals would be safe or because we were going to buy something new!
I told my husband about the idea and he was very excited. We debated over what kind of animal to send to best represent Austin (and/or Texas). Some of our ideas were coyote, wolf, and the armadillo (but these aren't really representative of Austin or Texas). We thought a lot about sending a bat. They're a big tourist attraction here because Austin has the largest colony of Mexican Freetail bats on the continent. They roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge (over Town Lake), right in the middle of downtown. We decided against that because I wanted to go with something that could be easily seen in photographs - and, I didn't' know how people would feel about opening the box and finding a bat! We finally decided on a teddy bear.
We took a trip to K-Mart and found one that was just right - good size, light enough in color to show up in detail in pictures, and at a great price (under $10). Tony named him Travis on the way home from the store. His reasoning was that Travis and traveling both started with the 'tr' sound. It's a great coincidence because Austin is in Travis County. Next we went to the office supply store and bought a box, a lightweight 3-ring notebook, packing tape and mailing labels.
We had pondered the logistics of sending Travis around the country and what type of things we would want each family to contribute. Some of the ideas, concerns and solutions were:
* How long should each family keep Travis? We decided on asking each family to keep him a week and then send him on so that we could get him back in a year.
* How could we keep Tony interested in a project that would take a year or more? We decided on putting in stamped postcards so that each family could mail us something back and help us keep track of the project. Each postcard has a space for the location, the host family name, and then check-off boxes for type of location (urban, suburban, town, rural) and for the weather. We also put up a big laminated US map to follow Travis' journey.
* What did we want to learn about each place and family? We decided to ask each family to include the bear in their activities, take him to some of their favorite places and take some pictures, and to write about where they live and about their homeschooling style.
* How will I add or update the list of host families after Travis is gone? I included a list with Travis of where he will be going. I can mail changes or updates to the next person on the list since I generally know where he is from the postcards. I'm also sending Travis updates to everyone participating. The project was arranged via email, so it's easy to keep that going.
* What if someone couldn't afford to send Travis on to his next destination? We put in emergency return postage so that he could be sent home. We would then send him on to the next host family.
A big part of the project was finding people to participate. We had gone on an email-arranged camping trip in September of '97 and met families from Utah, Colorado, California and Washington. I also had a homeschooling friend who had moved away to Kansas. Then there were a couple of people from out of state that I had met at a homeschooling conference in Dallas.
I sent the first email to this group on June 2nd. It explained what the project was and what I wanted the participants to do, including warning them that there would be some cost involved (developing pictures and postage). It also asked each of the families to pass the message on if they knew homeschoolers in other states who might be interested. I received four 'we'd love to' replies the same day. We were ecstatic! That's how I got the first 15 families lined up. I then widened my requests to include people I knew through email lists. I also searched the web for support groups in states that I didn't have contacts in.
Travis went into the mail on June 26th with 37 states lined up! We received the first postcard on July 1st: it was sunny and hot in Nebraska. I just wondered if hot meant the same thing in Nebraska as it does in Texas; it was 102
F the day we got the postcard. Tony is keeping the postcards, and drawing lines from point to point on the map to show the path Travis is taking.
By the time this is published, Travis should be in Hawaii with his 17th host family! He will have already been to Nebraska, Connecticut, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Alaska, Virginia, Washington, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida.
It just figures that I'm sending a stuffed animal on my own dream vacation!
©1998, Julie Hart
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