reading vs. television

Television has always been a difficult issue for families.  In our family we avoided broadcast TV and watched only parent-approved DVDs while our son was little.  But those rules began to relax when he started to visit his friends.

It felt like TV was a Pandora’s Box; once we let it in, it grew more and more distracting.   But what to do about it?  We didn’t feel quite ready to toss the television set out the window…

To our complete surprise the problem solved itself when we got away from English language programming and traveled.  Like the budding TV addict he was, our son complained bitterly for the first few weeks but then something remarkable happened: he discovered books.vaticanstairwayreading

We let him follow his own curiosity and select books at the English bookstore in Rome.  He found the ‘Horrible Histories’ series from UK author Terry Deary and from then on he was never without a book.

Which made waiting in line, riding trains and planes and all those boring parts of traveling much, much easier for everyone.IMG_0887.JPG

tubereadingIamSpartacusTry it at home – turn off the TV and explore a book with your kid.

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a perfect museum

LaSpecolaBirdsMuseums are one of the greatest inventions of all time.  For a homeschooling family they are high-quality on-demand interactive curriculum providers.  Think of all you could learn if you just went to museums five days a week!

11. Stay off the beaten path.

Italy is packed with museums of every size and description.  In Rome we lived across the piazza from the Italian National Pasta Museum; down the street was an underground museum showcasing ancient ruins uncovered by workmen repairing the foundation of the theater above.  There’s an enormous system of museums devoted to just about anything Roman that you could wonder about.  And of course there’s the Vatican Museum with one of the greatest collections of art and antiquities in the world.

Most parents know from sad experience that museums can be tricky.  After our first disastrous trip to the Vatican Museum we learned that such an enormous collection was just too overwhelming for our kid.  Thereafter, we broke our visits into smaller chunks spread out over a few weeks or looked for smaller museums off the main tourist path.

We also learned that museums were more fun for all of us if their collections appealed to our son’s interests; like most eight-year-old boys that meant anything creepy, crawly or weird.

After a bit of research, we hit the museum jackpot in Florence at Museo La Specola: the oldest scientific museum in Europe with collections dating back to the seventeenth century.  It’s a manageable size for an afternoon visit with a somewhat dusty yet charming assembly of taxidermied creatures – including a hippopotamus that was formerly a Medici family pet!  But La Specola’s most famous and spectacular displays are life-sized anatomical wax figures modeled from dissections of real cadavers by eighteenth century Florentine sculptors.  They were created for the purpose of medical study with glass eyes and human hair wigs.  Naked, realistic and gruesomely beautiful, they lie on tattered silk cushions staring out from their glass cases.  Art students sit and draw them for hours.IMG_8089

When you know what sparks your kid’s curiosity then somewhere you’ll find a museum dedicated to it; take time to look online and get off the tourist trail.  Museo La Specola is not for everyone but for us it was a perfect museum.