We have a family tradition of going to the NC State Fair in Raleigh every October. The kids have really enjoyed it over the years and despite the crowds and prices we feel that it’s a positive experience for our family. Sometimes though, the fair is what you make of it. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in rides, turkey legs, and deep-fried candy bars, and that’s okay if you’re just looking for entertainment. As homeschoolers we want to make the most of opportunities, so we make a conscious effort to steer our attention towards the more educational or enriching aspects of the fair.
There are so many different educational opportunities at the fair, one of the ones most people think of first is the livestock and animal shows. In previous years, we have enjoyed seeing all the animals, learning about them, and even milking cows. New to the barn this year was a large incubator where folks could watch chicks hatching out of their eggs. That was one of the things my three year old has been talking about since we left the fair. This year my children had the opportunity to participate in a state fair livestock show for the first time. They showed turkeys which they had raised. They didn’t bring home the ‘blue ribbon’, but it was a great learning experience. They had to learn how to raise and care for the turkeys, proper showmanship, and good sportsmanship. There are so many lessons to be learned from watching or participating in the shows and animal exhibits, from basic animal knowledge to a better understanding of where our food comes from and an appreciation for all that goes into taking care of the animals.
Hand-in-Hand with the animals is the produce and pollinator section of our fair. We love bees and learning more about beekeeping. We have been bee-keepers for a little over a year now but still continue to learn from the experts at the fair. We also enjoy seeing all of the great produce. Much of it is familiar to us, but there is always some new variety that we had never seen. I think getting to see the largest pumpkins and watermelons is one of my oldest son’s favorite parts of the fair. He spends most of our ride home talking about what he can do to grow one of these giant pumpkins. Some of these pumpkins weigh in at over a thousand pounds! There was even a new state record set this year for the largest pumpkin. My son has even started trying to grow one big enough for this competition. He also loves the large watermelons which can get to several hundred pounds. His largest watermelon this year was over 90 lbs and he hopes to enter one in the fair next year. This year he entered his Georgia Candy Roaster into the fair and was proud to get his picture with it on display. Both of my older children as well as several from our 4-H club also participated in a decorating contest where they decorated either pumpkins or sweet potatoes. These were displayed across from the other produce entries. This is a great chance to learn more about the food we eat, new varieties, and have an appreciation for the abundance that is available.
If you have been following along in our history series, you may recall that my daughter has decided that she wants to learn to weave on a loom. When we were in Williamsburg she was able to try her hand at a small table loom and seems to be hooked on the idea. She was very excited about another stop on our fair journey, the Village of Yesteryear. This building features a wide variety or artisans and craftsmen demonstrating their various skills. She was delighted to find a weaver working on a large floor loom. This very kind lady, talked to her, allowed her to sit with her while she worked and showed her the steps in the process. In addition, we spoke to a basket maker, a gentleman making violins, a lady tatting jewelry and other items. There were many more artisans in the building and you could probably spend an entire day in their learning about how things were made and if you wish buying a few of those items.
Another favorite stop at the fair is Smokey the Bear and the NC Forestry exhibit. They have a large animatronic Smokey the Bear that talks to the children (and adults), as well as multiple tents and booths set up to talk about forest conservation, forest fires, soil health, and other related topics. They even have a helicopter the children can sit in and learn about using helicopters and planes for fire control and forestry. The children look forward to stopping here every year and they always learn something new.
Our NC Wildlife and Marine Fisheries departments also have tents set up at the fair. The wildlife tent has animals the children can see, and even a pellet gun range for a bit of target practice. Marine fisheries has games, fish, a sand box to create a reef, and other educational activities about our rivers and sounds. The children enjoy these activities and get a chance to meet some of the folks that work to keep our land beautiful and clean as well as safe.
The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources has several exhibits set up sharing information about our state parks and historic sites. We enjoy visiting these places on a regular basis but it was still interesting to learn about some of the ones that we have not been able to visit yet. This gives the parks and sites access to the public that might otherwise be unable to come directly to their sites or may not realize what they have to offer. There was a map that you could place pins in to show where you had visited. My daughter enjoyed seeing all of the places we had visited and is excited to continue to explore. They even had a hands-on station where they could make small clay pinch pots.
My husband had the opportunity to participate as a historical interpreter for the military through the ages demonstrations that were taking place on military appreciation day. He participated with the Tryon Palace Continental Line Unit with whom he regularly volunteers. The children and I were able to visit with them as well as the folks from the different wars in American history. They had a soldier from Roanoke Island Festival Park representing those that came over and defended that first English colony all the way up through the Vietnam War. It was really interesting to see the progression. Each group had a table with information and was available to talk with the public and that afternoon they did a uniform revue which is honestly much like a fashion show in which each groups uniforms were described and explained. This tied in well with our Revolutionary War studies as well as giving us information that will be useful as we work our way through history this year.
There are many other educational opportunities at the fair and I think it is very easy to have a day filled with fun and adventure while being educational. Another perk to the ones I’ve mentioned above is that with the exception of milking the cow they are all free with admission to the fair. I can’t leave out my favorite part of the fair, Maple cotton candy. I love cotton candy and my oldest can’t normally have it because of the food dyes, but there is a great vendor every year that sells cotton candy made from pure maple syrup. It is so very yummy and while maybe not healthy at least better for you than the regular stuff. We really enjoy our adventure at the fair every year and would love to hear about what you love about your fair.
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