Brain drain, summer slide—I’ve heard a few different phrases for what happens to kids’ learning skills over summer vacation. I used to roll my eyes at this idea; after all, kids need to be left alone to have fun and take a break, right? But since I realized how long a full summer break really is, and what filling it with TV and video games really does to last year’s lessons, I’ve been scheming up as many ways as I can to set their gears in motion again.
Of course, getting our two young boys interested in summer reading, or anything academic at all, can be a puzzle on its own. But the light bulb finally flicked over our heads when we planned a weekend trip to Lookout Mountain. This trip had all the fun of a family vacation, plus ample opportunities for us to sneak in some brain-boosting activities for the boys (almost like hiding vegetables in the pizza sauce, you know?). From geology to history, from environmental science to the arts, we had a full course of adventure to dig into.
Our first “lesson” began in the caverns of Ruby Falls, deep underground where explorer Leo Lambert first discovered the subterranean waterfall that still dazzles visitors from around the world. We snaked past stalagmites and stalactites (we know the difference now!), curtains and columns, and flowstone of all shapes and sizes. All these ancient geological wonders led us to the crowning feature: the magnificent, thundering waterfall highlighted with a beautiful light and sound show. Our adventure didn’t end here, though. Once we emerged from the cave, we climbed the stairs up Lookout Mountain Tower to take in the views and learn about Ruby Falls’ conservation efforts. Before our next stop, we picked up our rockin’ souvenir photo in the brand new gift shop along with a few extra goodies to enjoy.
Next up on the roster was the Incline Railway for a little history (and a lot of amazing scenery). We felt transported back in time as we stepped up to the charming bottom station at St. Elmo. The handcrafted ice cream from Clumpies was an especially welcomed treat! On board the 123-year-old railcar we watched the landscape bloom out from the panoramic windows as we ascended “America’s Most Amazing Mile.” The boys dared each other to sit closest to the front where they could really feel the steep slope and catch the best views of the valley. Up top, we visited the Centennial Photo Exhibit where we could see the area’s history up close, and the engine room, an engineering marvel that has powered the railway for over 120 years (yes, my oldest son was fascinated to find out, that means without computers!)
Our last activity of the day was to follow the famous barns’ advice and “See Rock City.” We got there just in time to catch the Summer Music Weekends event, which pumped out sweet bluegrass tunes as we sauntered through the gardens, taking in the black-eyed Susans, Becky Shasta daisies… and all the little gnomes and creatures hiding in the rocky crags. They even had a Critter Classroom where a Birds of Prey Show captivated all the kids who could attend! Seeing the huge hawks and falcons up close was awesome, says my youngest, and I’m inclined to agree. The show was led by folks from the Wings to Soar organization, who was super informative and fun to watch. We all learned a lot!
In the last few weeks of summer vacation, it can be hard to fight boredom and brain drain, but I think this trip did wonders for all of us—a little escape, a lot of fun, and plenty of exciting new things to see. If you’re looking for something fun to do before school schedules crank up to full speed, Lookout Mountain is your place!