Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Spies, Spies, spies

 For our reading curriculum we are using the Digital Reader Subscription from Pioneer Valley. I have always loved Pioneer Valley's books, and was thrilled to discover that this spring they quickly put them on-line to make them accessible to all of us stuck at home without our school libraries. Truthfully, I'm not sure I would have been up for homeschooling a first grader if I hadn't had such a great resource. You are able to input your children's reading levels and they provide your child a digital bookshelf with books at that exact level. 

My third grader stumbled upon their spy series - which is a collection of fiction (graphic novel style) and nonfiction stories about spies. Who doesn't love espionage? Even better - the fiction stories take place in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC - which I have never taken my children to - AND is one of the few museums open right now. Hello, field trip! 

We also happen to be halfway through the first novel in the Book Scavenger series, which has introduced us to ciphers and secret codes. We've also spent the morning writing each other notes in code - just like the books from the Pioneer Valley website and Book Scavenger. 

I had not been to the Spy Museum since it first opened - maybe 18 years ago. At the time I remember thinking it would be awesome to come back with a fourth grader, but that was about all I could remember. I hoped it would give us enough context for connecting with some of our social studies or science content.

We spent forever there - despite the fact that we were starving. Your ticket is only good while you are in the museum and there is not a place inside to get food. My husband and I would have left far earlier if listening to our stomaches was up to us, but every turn seemed to bring some other inviting investigation that needed to be explored. 

The museum is designed for 9 year olds and up, and we certainly felt that. There were a few movies and exhibits I hurried them through, only to hear my six year old say "Hey! They cut that man's head off." GREAT. I also wasn't prepared for all of the context. Join a CIA team to decide whether to bomb Bin Laden? Extremely well-done exhibit that makes you feel like you are in the situation. Yeeeet... there is a reason a six year old and nine year old are not invited into the situation room. Part of why we were there so long was that each exhibit required context. Osama Bin Laden? My 9 year old correctly pointed out that spring 2011 was before she was born - and by the way, why are they going to KILL that guy? Um... where to begin?

I want to go back in four or five years - when both girls know more world history and understand more of the nuances in politics. 

Still, they loved it. The cipher exhibit was a win, as was anything associated with our individual spy missions. We all got into it and were quickly enthralled with the puzzles and games. We bought cipher rings so we can write each other secret messages as well as a secret code book that will let us decode messages from famous people around the world. This will go right into the ancient civilizations that the third grader is studying. 

I give the museum props for their COVID safety measures - they give you a stylus upon entering to use whenever you want to touch part of the exhibit or the computer. These came in very handy. Being there on a Tuesday morning it was practically deserted at first, and we never had that "I can't believe I have to share a space with this guy that can't figure out how to put the mask over his nose." 

So... maybe listen to the 9 and up age recommendation, but even if you don't there is a lot to get out of the museum. A creative high school world history teacher could probably teach an entire class within the museum. Our brains hurt but despite that both girls are home playing spies. Off to use my cipher ring to send some messages... I wonder if decoding "clean the playroom" will be motivation to actually clean it :)

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