Monday, November 30, 2015

Snow Tubing at The Beach Mountain

Last winter I purchased a Groupon for four snow tubing passes and four hot chocolates (a $68 value) at The Beach Mountain in Cincinnati.  Unfortunately due to a variety of different circumstances, we never made it, and our Groupon expired.  Though I could still redeem the Groupon for the $68 I paid, I was bummed to learn that we could not use the money over the summer at The Beach Waterpark.  I held onto that voucher, and my daughters and I had a chance to use it last week.

Prior to pulling out the snow pants and making the thirty-minute drive to Mason, Ohio, I decided to learn as much about Beach Mountain as I could.  I discovered I could not find answers to some of my questions on their website.  Since a snow tubing trip could be fun for Girl Scout troops, I thought I'd answer some of those questions by posting a review of our experience here.
We visited Beach Mountain on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I didn't realize they considered this day a holiday and charged an additional $5 per person.  Oops.  Not only did I have to fork over the $68 Groupon at the gate, I had to pay an additional $7 to cover the cost of our three admissions (this did not include hot chocolate).  They told me I had to pay this difference in cash.  Thankfully I had a few bucks in my wallet.  They do require participants to sign a waiver release form.  These forms are available at the gate, though it is much easier to print it out and complete it at home.  We were the only people in line, and we spent about 10 or 15 minutes at the gate paying and getting our passes. Tubing times start on the hour, and a pass is good for two hours.  More time can be added to your pass for an additional charge.  

The tubes sit in piles at the bottom of the hill, and a "magic carpet" transports you to top of the hill.  It was unseasonably warm that morning, so we were surprised we were alone on the 400-foot run for an entire hour.  We spent about an hour and 15 minutes tubing, and we went down the hill 15 times.  My kids were a bit worn out and hungry at this point, so we decided to head out to lunch.  I will say the three young men working the top of the hill did everything they could to ensure we had a great time.  We did have a blast, and the girls have asked to go again next year!

While we didn't use any of the facilities, and we didn't enjoy any of the food or beverages available for purchase at Beach Mountain, I did snap a few photos to

"All participants are required to be 42” tall in order to snow tube. The Play Area is included with your purchase of a tubing ticket, if you would like to purchase the Play Area only, there is a $3.00 charge per person. Everyone in the play area and on Beach Mountain must have a ticket visible. A small tubing area is provided for anyone under 42” in the Play Area, which all children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian the entire time."

The menu.  There is a heated pavilion near the ticket gate and plenty of picnic tables.  The ticket gate, concession stand, and pavilion are a short walk from the tubing area, but you couldn't hang out in that area and still see your kids while they're tubing.  

The picture below shows standing heaters and fire pits near additional picnic tables.  I did not see any permanent bathrooms available for use, but there were Port-o-lets adjacent to the tubing area.  Though I usually prefer to be in on the action, I would feel comfortable allowing the girls to tube while watching from a picnic table (depending on the ages and maturity level of the girls in our troop, of course).

While this outing did cost a little more than I anticipated, we had a great time together.  It wasn't crowded, and it was relatively close to home.  I would recommend purchasing a Groupon or gathering enough people together to take advantage of the group rate.  

Another option for snow tubing and skiing in our area is Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  According to their website, Perfect North has 23 lanes and 1200 foot runs.  I have not been snow tubing there, but I know several Girl Scout troops from our Service Unit have planned day trips to Perfect North.  While the cost of admission is comparable to Beach Mountain, it's a longer drive from our neck of the woods.  Perfect North has been open since 1980 and is well-established.  There may be larger crowds and longer wait times, but I imagine it's worth it.  Have fun with the kids this winter and stay safe!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Brownie Badge: Inventor at Drake Planetarium

Earlier this summer, I was considering programming options for our younger girls who were beginning their second year as Brownies.  I came across the Inventor Badge program offered by Drake Planetarium which is located at Norwood High School in Cincinnati.  Here is the course description as printed on page 33 of our Council's 2014-2015 Program Events publication:
"Building with Legos and other materials can ignite the imagination and creativity of your 2nd or 3rd grader.  Your girls will invent and then build a myriad of models that will bring invention to life and get them thinking like inventors and engineers, and show how invention improves people's lives.  Girls will brainstorm, design, build, test, evaluate, and redesign and then share their solution.  Girls will earn the Inventor Badge during this workshop.  This program is held at Drake Planetarium and Science Center on the third Monday and Tuesday of each month (except on holidays).  Start time is at 6:00pm and each badge program is 1 hour.  Many of our groups choose to sign up for two badge programs on the same day in which case the program time is 6:00-8:00pm.  This workshop can also come to your site if you have at least 20 participants."
Two badge programs in one evening?  Fantastic!  I then read the description of their Home Scientist badge program, decided this was the pairing for us, and called to get a date on the calendar.  I will admit there were scheduling issues on our end that required me to change the date twice, but I had booked a couple months in advance and gave plenty of notice when switching datesWhen scheduling, I was in communication with two different individuals via email and telephone.  Unfortunately, they presented conflicting information when answering my questions.  Originally I was told the cost is $5/girl per program, but we had to have at least 15 girls (which would be $150 for both programs).  We were encouraged to bring friends, neighbors, and siblings since our group was smaller than the minimum.  I was then told "the cost for the Inventors/Scientists Badge is $125, and this covers up to 25 admissions.  A $50.00 deposit is required to hold the reservation, and this deposit can be paid with a credit card or a check."  I soon learned the $125 for 25 admissions was the cost of one program.  A few weeks prior to our scheduled date, I was contacted by a Drake staff member and asked for permission to schedule another Brownie troop for the first of the two programs.  I agreed.  When I asked about our balance, I was told I would receive a call with that information. 

As the date approached, I called twice to inquire about our balance since the other troop's attendance would potentially affect our program costs.  I was not able to talk with the person in charge for one reason or another, and I never received a return call.  Even after attending the program, I still don't feel like I have correct pricing information to share here. 

The day before we were scheduled to visit Drake Planetarium, I called to confirm our reservations, and I spoke with the program instructor.  She instructed us to park on the street near the school, and she provided directions to the lab.  She spoke passionately about the topics of studyDuring our conversation, I explained that I had Junior Girl Scouts attending this Brownie badge program.  Though these older girls had already earned the Home Scientist badge, they were going to participate with the younger girls for fun. Upon hearing this, the instructor strongly suggested we change the agenda, substituting a visit to the planetarium for the second portion of the program.  She told me it would be easy to do the Home Scientist badge at home, and the girls could earn the Astronomer badge at the Planetarium.  I hesitated because I was unfamiliar with this badge.  Additionally, one major reason I chose this program was so I didn't have to be responsible for the badge activitiesAfter some additional thought, I agreed to change our plans.  I was then asked to send an email providing the badge steps the girls would need to complete to earn the Inventor and Astronomy badges.  This was odd to me since we were paying the Planetarium for an activity they advertised they were prepared to host, and what was she planning to do if I hadn't called her?  But I did as requested.  A quick Google search revealed the Astronomer (Sky Search) badge had been retired, but I was able to find a list of the badge requirements.  Though it meant spending more money, I also decided to order a planetarium fun patch for the girls. 

Upon our arrival at the high school, I was discouraged because the entrance to the lab was not labeled as was described to me. As we asked students for directions, an assistant staff member located us and led our group to the lab. When we entered the room, there was no official welcome or greeting. The girls were instructed to find a seat at a table, and the instructor commented on our tardiness.  We were five minutes late because we couldn't find the lab.


Envelopes containing pieces of paper labeled with vocabulary words associated with the Design Process were distributed.  The girls had to place the words in the correct order on a diagram.  No context was provided, and our girls were completely confused.  The program is intended for 2nd and 3rd graders, yet our 5th grade girls were struggling with this activity 
 This Design Process discussion led into the model building segment of the program.  Each girl was given three cardboard rectangles, a couple of brads, a piece of string, small segments of a drinking straw, and tape.  After an awkward conversation about muscles and their attachments in the lower arm, the girls were asked to design a model of a robotic arm using the materials they had been given.  They were told there was no "right" way to do this, but we soon discovered there obviously was.  This just added to everyone's frustration.  We spent the rest of the time fiddling with the cardboard arm.  Where were the Legos?  Where was the "myriad of models"?  Where were the five badge steps?


We could possibly say the Design Process vocabulary exercise satisfied Step 2 for the Inventor badge (find lots of ways to solve the same problem), but that is a huge stretchThe girls had not earned their badge.  Though we were all disappointed with the first hour, we were looking forward to the program in the Planetarium.

We walked from the lab to the planetarium, and our girls needed a bathroom break.  Once we settled into our seats, the instructor covered many of the Sky Search badge requirements.  The girls seemed to be having fun locating planets and constellations in the night sky.  This presentation lasted about twenty minutes, and then the instructor turned on a video.  Though the film was full of information, the girls thought it was boring because the characters were unrealistic and "cheezy."  I don't disagree.  Once the video ended, the instructor said, "Thank you," and we were ushered out the door at 7:55pm.  

We were terribly disappointed with the entire evening.  The instructor's personality throughout the evening was abrasive.  Her interactions with the kids and teaching style did not foster a rich learning environment.  There were so many red flags leading up to the event.  I now wish we had tackled these badges during a regular meeting and saved the money.  It upsets me to have to write a negative review.  If I'm not going to be honest, I shouldn't be publishing anything.  By sharing our notes from this experience, I hope other troops will think twice before booking programs at Drake Planetarium.  

Our girls will be drawing in December.  I hope you check back soonWishing all of you a safe and happy Thanksgiving! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Junior Girl Scouts badge: Camper

As first-year Junior Girl Scouts, our girls voted to go camping. While we were unable to make that happen for our troop last year, I knew our fifth graders would go camping with the other students in their class this fall.  A co-leader and I served as chaperones on the class camping trip last week.  When we returned home, I glanced through the Camper badge requirements and discovered the girls had completed the steps for the badge while they were away from home.  

STEP 1:  Start Planning Your Adventure.
Our fifth graders stayed two nights at Camp Campbell Gard, a YMCA camp in Hamilton, Ohio, near Cincinnati.  Almost two months prior to the trip, parents and students were invited to a meeting at the school with Sean "Squirrel" Brown, the Camp Program Director.  He presented a slide show that answered questions about the itinerary, sleeping arrangements, camp bed bug policy, menu, as well as what and how to pack luggage.  Parents and students left the meeting feeling confident about spending three days and two nights away from home. 

STEP 2:  Gain a New Camping Skill. 
Our last day at camp was devoted to the Amazing Race.  Trail groups competed in a race modeled after the popular television showThe first clue was revealed to everyone at the same time.  Each time a task was completed, we were given another clue.  Tasks ranged from building a fire, to deciphering a pictograph, to archery, to climbing a rock wall, to carrying a heavy log...and more!  All clues required the kids to work together as a team.  Occasionally the Amazing Race threatened to erupt into the "Amazing Argument," but our kids eventually worked it out, learning some valuable lessons along the way.

STEP 3:  Find Your Inner Camp Chef. 
To fulfill this step, it is suggested the girls make a one-pot meal, cook in foil, or cook a meal on a stick.  One night at camp, the kids were served beef stew.  Even though they did not participate in the preparation of this meal, it counted in my book.  Last year our girls earned the Junior Simple Meals badge, and they were asked to prepare a one-pot meal with adult supervision at home.  Step 3...check!

STEP 4:  Try a New Activity.  
During our three-day stay at camp, the kids had the opportunity to try many different activities.  There was an archery session.  They divided into groups of three and paddled down the river in a canoe.  They hiked to the dam and splashed through the water to find macro invertebrates crawling beneath the rocks.  

The second afternoon of the trip was devoted to pioneer bartering.  The kids were each given three laminated cards, and each card was labeled with an activity.  Some examples include:  apple crisp, ice cream, pioneer toys, candle making, weaving, and survivalFollowing some simple rules, the kids were given several minutes to trade cards with other students in the hopes of getting the activities they wanted.  When time was up, trading stopped.  Lines were formed for the first activity, and we set out for an afternoon of fun.

STEP 5:  Head Out on Your Trip--and Have Some Nighttime Fun!
We spent our first evening at camp by the campfire.  Camp Staff performed a skit about Tice Davids, a slave who escaped from his Master's plantation and disappeared on the Underground Railroad eventually earning his freedom.  Rules were reviewed for the Underground Railroad Program that was scheduled for the following evening.  Our time at the fire ended with the kids singing several "repeat" songs. 

This interactive experience was incredible for our group!  We were divided into trail groups, and each group began the program at a different location.  We rotated stations until everyone had completed the circuit.  Staff members played the parts of abolitionists, Quakers, bounty hunters, and  sheriffs.  Camp participants pretended to be slaves who escaped from a plantation.  During the weeks leading up to camp, students practiced songs, memorized a backstory, and learned answers to questions that would be asked during the program.  

Since we were making our way through the woods at night, one chaperone held a lantern.  If at any time a child felt scared, he or she could seek "safety" by the lantern.  At one point, 13 of our 16 kids were huddled behind our lantern.  As the evening progressed, they regained their composure and returned to the action.  Kids were scared.  Tears were shed.  Through this program, they were able to experience a fraction of the fear and uncertainty the slaves endured as they fled to freedom.  It is important to note that the other groups did not have the same experience.  There were kids who wanted a higher level of intensity but that level was not achieved.  Maybe that's because our group was so frightened that the staff dialed it down for the other groups?  In any case, this was a fabulous way to bring the lesson to life. 

Camp Campbell Gard offers overnight camps, day camps, summer camps, retreats, camp for those with disabilities, horse camp, family camp...The Staff was enthusiastic, our days were structured, and the kids (though exhausted by the time we left) were wishing we could stay another night.  Chaperones and staff debriefed on the last day, making notes of what worked, what didn't, what could be improved upon for next year's trip.  As a Girl Scout troop leader, I loved being part of the experience without having to plan and prepare for the trip.  Granted it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns (we are talking about fifth graders), but I LOVED it!  I've already promised to chaperone again when my younger daughter is in fifth grade.  If you are in the Cincinnati area, I recommend you check this place out!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Free Junior Chef Classes at Williams-Sonoma

While shopping at the mall for my daughter's birthday gift, I noticed a large sign near the doors to Williams-Sonoma.  They were advertising their upcoming cooking classes.  My eye was immediately drawn to the listing for FREE Junior Chef classes for kids ages 5 to 13!  

Class size is limited (in this case to 15), but thankfully I was able to secure the final spots for the Thanksgiving Helper: Soups and Mini Desserts session that was scheduled to take place on Halloween morning.  In fact, there was room for only one of my children, but the store employee told me they could probably squeeze my other daughter in because they didn't want to have to turn away one in the pair.  This was confirmed when I called the store to confirm our spots a couple days prior to the event.  They told me someone had canceled, so both of my daughters had a place at the table.  However, this employee also told me they would have accommodated the second child even if there had not been a cancellation.  While I would not have expected it, I did appreciate their willingness to accommodate our family.

When I called the store to confirm, I asked if our girls should bring anything or wear anything special.  I was told that a mixer would be used, so the kids could possibly get splashed--just wear something that can be thrown in the laundry.  This is important.  Stay with me...

We attended the class at the Williams-Sonoma at the Kenwood Towne Center is Cincinnati.  We arrived about five minutes early.  The 45-minute events at this store begin at 9:30am, but it should be noted that other stores don't start until 10am.  The employees could be seen preparing for the class, but they did not open the doors until 9:30am.  

The class participants were asked to wash their hands before finding a place to stand at a table that was set up behind the registers.  There were name tags and a couple of pieces of Halloween candy on each plate.  I wasn't sure if I was to stay, browse around, or head out of the store.  I followed the lead of the other parents, and we all ended up hanging out behind the kids' table.

The instructor welcomed us and because it was Halloween, she reviewed trick-or-treat safety rules with the kids.  She explained that she had made the butternut squash soup the previous evening because there was a lot of chopping and not enough time to do it during the class.  The kids would be making mini pumpkin pies during their time together.

When the class began, I immediately recognized that my girls were going to be disappointed with this "class."  They frequently help in the kitchen with meal preparation, and they are quite comfortable in the kitchen for kids who are only 9 and 10 years old.  To be honest, this "class" was actually a glorified commercial.  And I mean that with all due respect.  I realize that other children don't have (or want) the opportunity to help in the kitchen at home, and this is probably perfect for them.  I kept reminding myself that we were attending a free class in a store.  Of course, Williams-Sonoma wanted us to buy the products being used in the demonstration.  (And they did offer us a 10% discount).  However, after reading the description of the class and having the conversation with the store employee about the mixer, I had great expectations for the experience.  It just so happened that the reality was quite different.  My older daughter summed it up by saying, "That was a lot of listening and waiting."  She was exactly right.  But let me give you a sneak peek in case you are interested in experiencing the program for yourself.

Each child had a chance to cut a circle of pie crust out of refrigerated pie crust with a circle cutter.  They used a wooden juicer to tuck the piece of dough into a mini muffin tin.  The instructor did a great job making sure each child got to do a job--cracking eggs, pouring pumpkin pie starter into a bowl, and stirring ingredients together.

While the pies were baking, the kids and parents had a chance to taste a sample of butternut squash soup.  The instructor also explained and demonstrated how to make real whipped cream that they'd use to top their mini pies.  As they waited for the pies to finish in the oven, the instructor asked each child what they were going to be for Halloween, and each child shared his or her favorite candy.  Kids devoured the sweet treat, and parents were eager to enjoy a sample as well.

Prior to our arrival, I was contemplating the idea of registering my girls for another class.  I have since reconsidered.  That being said, there were a couple of kids who had attended classes in the past.  This may be a good opportunity for others which is why I chose to write this post.  By attending a Junior Chef class at Williams-Sonoma, Girl Scouts could potentially satisfy a step or two for the Juniors Simple Meals badge or the Brownies Snacks badge.  

Our next Girl Scout event is coming up in mid-November.  I invite you to check back with us soon!