River Greenfield, 5, scaled the steep rock face like a seasoned pro. Wedging his feet into a tiny ledge he looked down and waved to his mother, Jessa Greenfield.
River and his twin brother, Terran, were climbing the Minnehaha Rocks at Shields Park, thanks to a new organization called Exploring Families.
For several years, home-school mom Kelly Clark had been compiling lists of field trips and organizing outings. While exploring opportunities for her own kids she found many businesses offered discounts and special tours to larger groups, so she started emailing friends she thought might like to join them.
“My database grew to 500 families in five years,” she said. Seeing the need, she formally launched Exploring Families this year after doing it informally for several years.
The business offers its members tours, field trips and special events. Clark said the goal is to help kids and their parents explore, discover and learn outside of school time and beyond the books.
“We specialize in a great variety of educational activities with a STEM focus (science, technology, engineering, math). Most of our activities are free. Members can attend as many activities as they want and memberships start at just $5,” she said.
While the majority of members home-school their kids, the group is open to everyone.
Rock climbing outings appear frequently on Clark’s extensive activity calendar. After unbuckling from his harness, River said, “It’s not scary. I could see the top of the rocks.”
His mom laughed. “They’re monkeys,” she said, and donning a helmet, she gave rock climbing a try.
“Go, Mommy!” River and Terran yelled.
In addition to exploring the outdoors, families can find plenty of educational opportunities indoors. One of the most popular activities proved to be a trip to the Apple store in downtown Spokane.
Marcie Holder said: “My kids were able to make little films. Apple employees showed them how to add transitions and special effects. They were given wristbands that were actually USB flash drives, so they could download the movies at home.”
Other outings have included visits to CoralProps coral farm in Green Bluff, gardening classes at the Plant Farm and tours of Spokane Turbine Center at Felts Field.
For Daniel Swanson, 11, one adventure in particular made a lasting impression. “We got to go on a tour of a mine in Idaho,” he said. “It was fun because it was really deep and there was a stream in it.”
Asked if it was scary, he replied, “Not really – except when the lights went out.” He also said he’d gladly do most of the field trips again.
Members agreed that the services provided by Exploring Families are a godsend. “There’s so much to do out there,” Holder said. “It’s great to have someone do the research and organize these trips. There’s been so many things my kids would have never seen.”
Clark is clear. “I don’t provide transportation or supervision – this isn’t a camp.” She does provide information about fees and stroller accessibility. RSVPs are required because some places have limits on the number of people who can participate.
She sends out regular event invitation emails and maintains a website featuring the full calendar of events. Parents are free to choose which activities fit their schedules or interests. “Seventy-five percent of the field trips have no charge,” Clark said.
Sheila Huggins said her daughters have enjoyed the activities. She talked about the trips to the Apple store and to the Plant Farm. “They made computer creations one day and nature creations the next. There’s minimal effort for the parents and great fun for the kids.”