Sharks and Fish and Rays, Oh My!
Almost every child I know loves to learn about sea creatures. It does not seem to matter whether they live near a coast, on a mountain, or in the Midwest; they just want to know more about swimming things. Thankfully, there is a wealth of fantastic resources for them to learn from. You can choose library books about various types of sea life, read a textbook about ocean animals, watch a video about deep sea fishing, visit a nearby river, or your local state park. But one of our all-time favorite things to do is visit an aquarium and watch the sharks, fish, rays, and octopuses, ourselves! I think our girls get this love of fishies from their dad, who spent part of his childhood in Hawaii, while his dad was stationed there with the U.S. Army.
We have always tried to give our daughters as many hands-on experiences as possible during our homeschooling journey. They have been puddle jumping since they could walk, and checking out the fish at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) building at our state fair for just as long. I have a distinct memory from the trip we took for Emily’s first birthday. Kurt took her with him to the creek in the state park and set her down so she could stand in the shallows and feel the water trickling over her feet. After her little sister was born, my parents got our family a membership to the zoo, so we could take the girls to see the animals, and the fishies, as often as they wanted.
As they reached the middle school years, we took them to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the southern tip of Lake Michigan – twice. It is the closest natural beach to our home, andmade for a wonderful introduction to learning about the vast, powerful magnificence of a large body of water.
As they entered the high school years, we went aquarium exploring. While they have been to the Indianapolis Zoo more times than we can count, we wanted them to have a greater appreciation for sea life than we could give them near home. While they had petted the dog sharks many times, we wanted them to experience even more diversity. So we started dreaming, and planning, and visiting!
I was working nights at the time that Kurt and the girls started watching episodes of River Monsters. When Emily heard about the Arapaima fish that live in the Amazon, she was off on a mission to learn more. When we found out they had Arapaima at the PPG [Pittsburgh Plate Glass (Company)] Aquarium at the Pittsburgh Zoo, we knew we had to add that to our list of road trips to take. We still rank the PPG Aquarium as one of the best we have ever visited. Their variety of “swimming things,” along with other sea life, is amazing! There are hands-on opportunities to enjoy here, including a ray petting tank.
Then we took a long-awaited trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. While there, we went to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is a rescue hospital and rehab facility, and the home of Winter, the bottlenose dolphin from the movie, Dolphin Tale. We also went to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, while Kurt serenaded us with the Veggie Tales song, Barbara Manatee, almost all day long. After a week of seeing dolphins, tortoises, lizards, and pelicans, we flew home, thankful that we had not had a shark encounter.
The next year, we took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. While not known for their fish, they do have a lovely Manatee Springs rehab facility. If you want to see more fish, visit the Newport Aquarium on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.
Earlier this summer, we visited the MOST amazing aquarium we have ever been in: the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri. This aquarium is next door to the Granddaddy Bass Pro Shop that has been a favorite road trip destination of ours for years. If your children love to watch and learn about sharks and fish and rays…Oh, my! You really need to visit this aquarium!
After our visit, we had no doubts as to why it was recently voted America’s Best Aquarium. There are so many cool exhibits there, and they are not all just fish! The layout of this aquarium is amazing. You end up seeing almost every major tank from at least two vantage points, and some of them from three. There are saltwater fish, sharks, rays, a fishing museum, pictures of past presidents fishing, flamingoes, beaver, and even an octopus! You can get hands-on by petting the rays that swim around the pool at the bottom of the shipwreck tank, or watch the horseshoe crabs and pet them. There are multiple large tanks of fish, sharks, and rays, and even with all the pictures and videos I’ve shared on Instagram and Facebook, I feel like my readers still do not grasp how huge this place is!
The Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium would make an ideal vacation destination for those of you who live in the middle third of the United States, who can drive there in one day or less. Yes, its ticket prices are higher than other aquariums we have visited in recent years, but the price they ask is, oh, so worth it! We spent three and a half hours in the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium, but everyone agreed that we could easily have spent seven or eight hours, if we had had more time. We visited in the afternoon and stayed until 10 minutes before they closed at 8:00 p.m. If we lived closer, we would definitely have purchased an annual membership! If you are really, really into sharks, they have just opened their Out to Sea Shark Dive, where you can enter the metal cage in the shark tank and come face to face with their assortment of sand tiger and brown sharks. Oh, yeah, it’s pricey…probably a good thing it wasn’t open yet when we visited, or Kurt would have wanted to do this, too!
Whether your children are at the I love my goldfish stage, or they’ve gotten to the Show me the Arapaima and sharks stage, aquariums are a wonderful family experience. Your kids won’t even mind that they’re learning!
Carol and her husband Kurt are in their 15th year of home education. With one graduate and one high school senior, Carol writes with a practical look at the whole journey of home education. Focusing on experienced based education and frugal ways to teach and learn well, Carol offers encouragement that anyone, even working moms, can homeschool successfully. Carol writes for her local newspaper, the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and reviews books for several Christian Publishers. You can find her love of nature, field trips, and lifelong learning on her blog: Home Sweet Life.