7 Hidden Gems in Branson

Fortune seekers, rejoice! There are a TON of hidden gems in Branson, MO. We know that Branson is a hotbed of top-notch entertainment. It’s also home to some intriguing attractions you may not know exist. Let’s explore some hidden gems in Branson…

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is situated at the highest elevation in Taney County and tucked into some of the most breathtaking scenery in Missouri. It boasts world-class golf courses, including the Jack Nicklaus signature course and an Arnold Palmer-designed practice range. However, hidden throughout this stunning recreational facility are secrets of its own- including a concealed room, The Lost Canyon Cave, a spectacular mountain top wedding chapel and a natural history museum. Incredible!

Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum and Homestead

Bonniebrook was home to Rose O’Neill, world-renowned artist and creator of the Kewpie. You can visit this 1870s home (the first in Taney County with indoor plumbing, electricity and telephone!) and learn about the Kewpie craze that swept the world in the early 20th century.

Butterfly Palace

You can have a rainforest adventure right in the heart of the Ozarks! The Butterfly Palace is home to thousands of tropical butterflies in its butterfly aviary. You can feed them or participate in a daily butterfly release. You can also explore a living rainforest with genuine inhabitants. It’s an unexpected surprise in the middle of Branson!

World’s Largest Toy Museum

Take a trip down memory lane at the World’s Largest Toy Museum. The complex is home to countless collections and six museums, including the Stearnsy Bear Museum and the National BB Gun Museum. The World’s Largest Toy Museum will make you nostalgic for your childhood in the best possible way.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine

You serious, Clark? Yep! The World’s Largest Ball of Twine can be found right in Branson at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Branson is also home to the World’s Largest Rooster, a giant fiddle and banjo, and (of course) the World’s Largest Toy Museum.

Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City

This hidden gem truly is a marvel. Originally a tourist attraction on its own, the Silver Dollar City theme park developed around the entrance to Marvel Cave. Included with your park ticket, you’ll travel 300 ft. below ground to the largest cave entrance room in the U.S. A trained guide will share stories during the hour-long tour. You then make your way 1070 ft. back to the top in a uniquely designed cable train.

Runaway Mountain Coaster at Branson Mountain Adventure Park

This family-friendly thrill ride will leave you breathless! Mountain coasters are gaining popularity world-wide, and Branson boasts one of the finest. The Runaway Mountain Coaster follows the natural topography of the land for nearly a mile. It’s a uniquely exhilarating experience that you just can’t miss. Be sure to check out this hidden gem at Branson Mountain Adventure Park.

Branson is packed with amazing and unique attractions for student groups, homeschool families, faith-based groups or any other group looking for adventure.  The hidden gems in Branson are just waiting for you to find them!

NEXT IN THE SERIES: SMOKY MOUNTAINS

7 Hidden Gems in Nashville

Travel is more than just the destination. It’s about the journey! It’s finding and appreciating those tucked-away places others may miss. My next few blogs are going to spotlight some lesser known attractions. I’ll share some of the best kept secrets in great destinations for students, families, homeschoolers and more. Let’s start the hunt for hidden gems in Nashville, Tennessee!

7 Hidden Gems in Nashville

Cooter’s Place

Dukes of Hazzard fans, rejoice! Cooter’s Place is owned and operated by Cooter (Ben Jones) himself. You’ll find tons of show memorabilia and props (including a General Lee!) in this good ole boy’s tribute to Hazzard County. Yeeee-haw!

RCA Studio B Tour

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Hanging in RCA Studio B are the Christmas lights Elvis requested the summer he recorded his Christmas album. He wasn’t feeling the holiday spirit and needed  lights for inspiration.  Nearly 60 years later, the lights are still there!  I guess his Christmas wasn’t “blue” after all!

The Parthenon

As the centerpiece of Centennial Park, The Parthenon isn’t exactly hidden. It is surprising, though, to find an exquisite replica of famous Greek architecture right in the heart of the city!

Men’s Restroom at the Hermitage Hotel

Yes, you read that right. This restroom has been voted the most famous in America! There is rumored to be a secret tunnel hidden behind the wall that runs to the state capital. Allegedly, legislators can sneak a break between sessions. Talk about a hidden gem!

Hatch Show Print

Be sure to stop at Hatch Show Print. The custom poster designs and letterpress that came out of this historic shop captured the magic of the south, and country music in particular.

Batman Building

The AT&T building makes a unique impression on the Nashville skyline. It’s one of the 12 most original buildings in the U.S. and tallest in Tennessee.  Fire up the bat signal and snap a selfie!

Ryman Auditorium

Ok, this one isn’t really hidden, either. In fact, it’s one of Americas’ most cherished landmarks. The Ryman is known as the Mother Church of Country Music and boasts a 125-year history of inspiration and music. Countless legends have started here. You never know who you may run into in these iconic halls!

Nashville is a treasure trove of hidden gems for groups and families alike. Plan a trip and start exploring!

NEXT IN THE SERIES: BRANSON

Great Questions Parents Should Ask Before the Student Trip

Your middle-schooler (who you are SURE just started kindergarten yesterday) is going on the school trip. You are certain he’ll never be able to function without you. He’ll lose his money, get lost in the big city or not get enough rest and end up sick. What’s a parent to do?  Take a deep breath and ask questions! The more you know, the better you’ll feel about letting your child travel. Here are some great questions parents should ask before the student trip.

Who’s in Charge?

Identify who the decision-makers are on the trip. Is there a reputable, insured student tour operator handling the details? Check to see if the company is a member of the Student Youth Travel Association. Will there be a designated tour consultant traveling with students? Is the coordinating teacher taking the lead? Are chaperones provided through the school or parent volunteers? Does everyone have clearances? Knowing who is traveling with your child provides peace of mind.

What’s the Safety Plan?

If this is the first time your child is traveling alone, safety probably tops your list of concerns. Check that a safety plan is in place- including emergency procedures for transportation, hotel and attractions. Ask if the group is using a communication app like Remind or Cluster to keep students informed of changes or challenges. Find out if a nurse will be available for medical emergencies or to assist with medication. A safety plan should be available to any parent who asks!

Which Mode of Transportation?

Typically, students travel by motorcoach or air. If your school trip is by motorcoach, ask for the safety record of the company. You can also find this information at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website.

If your group plans to fly, ask for the I.D. requirements (passport), carrier, and whether it’s a commercial or chartered flight. Will the group be separated or flying together? These may seem like common sense questions, but important to ask before the trip.

What is the Discipline Policy?

We hope our students behave like angels while away from home; the reality is that sometimes trouble finds them. Ask for the discipline code, which in most cases follows the district’s policy. Unacceptable behaviors and consequences should be clearly noted.

As parents, you’ll have many more questions about your child’s student trip- especially if it’s the first. These are great questions with which to start as you wade into the unknown! Arm yourself with answers and know that you’re giving your child an incredible opportunity to experience the world around them.

Helpful Homeschool Travel Apps

Homeschool families and co-ops have a unique opportunity to travel as part of their curricula. Since the best learning happens in the real world, it’s time to get out there and experience it! However, the thought of endless hours in a mini-van can sometimes be a powerful deterrent. Below are some helpful homeschool travel apps to make road schooling easier and the journey more fun.

LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary

This app (formerly the Reading Rainbow app) is a virtual, on-the-go library for kids. It’s an unlimited reading service customized to your child’s interest. Best of all, it’s FREE – love that LeVar Burton!

News-O-Matic

News-O-Matic is a daily news app designed to inspire children ages 6-14 to read non-fiction. News articles covering high interest, relevant topics are added monthly. News-O-Matic is a great resource for encouraging critical thinking and discussion while on the go.

Star Walk

If your travels take you outdoors, you’ll want the Star Walk app. This interactive guide tracks your movements in real time while you to explore the night sky. It creates a sky map of stars, constellations and other celestial objects. It also provides information about what you’re seeing. Star Walk has a ton of features guaranteed to thrill sky watchers of any age!

Homeschool Helper

You may already have this one in your bag of tricks. Homeschool Helper is a management tool designed specifically for homeschoolers to keep track of lessons, grades, tasks, trips and more. It’s handy for use at home or on the road.

Travelmath

Travelmath is super for honing math skills while on the move. It’s not necessarily designed for students, but is great for calculating mileage, fuel charges, flight times and more. You can sneak in a math lesson on your trek.

Homeschooling is the perfect conduit for connecting curriculum to reality. Life lessons are meant to be learned beyond four walls. These helpful apps will make the journey as exciting as the destination!

Homeschool Travel Tips, Tricks and Discounts

Travel has always been an important part of our family life. My husband’s job often requires him to be on the road. When the kids were little, we’d tag along. It was a great opportunity to introduce them to a world bigger than the one they lived in- even if that just meant a two-hour trip somewhere. Those trips always sparked interesting conversation, thoughtful debates and learning. As the children got older and more involved in school, sports and other activities, our spur-of-the-moment jaunts dwindled a bit- although we still make lots of time for scheduled adventures!

Many homeschool families have a unique opportunity to enjoy last-minute trips or well-planned family travel experiences throughout the year, making the world their classrooms. The flexibility to engage in this kind of experiential learning is priceless, although some of the deep discounts associated with homeschool travel are appreciated (wink wink.) I gathered up a few of my favorite tips and tricks for homeschool travel to share with anyone interested in taking education on the road.

Family-Friendly

There are so many great family-friendly destinations that really LOVE homeschoolers! Of course, there are standard favorites like Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, but consider the hidden gems like Branson, MO or Pigeon Forge, TN for your trip. You’ll find stunning vistas and outdoor fun, engaging attractions, and warm, welcoming people who will appreciate your visit.

Know When to Go

Homeschooling allows for flexibility when planning travel. As everyone else is headed back to the brick and mortar classroom in September, homeschool families can hit the road. Off-peak times like September or May mean discounted hotel rooms and smaller crowds- a win for your wallet and your sanity!

Deals and Discounts

Speaking of discounts, there are a bevvy of bargains to be had when homeschool traveling. Check out the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to see if they offer a city pass for discounted attraction rates. Search for “homeschool days” prior to your trip. Often admission to attractions is free or significantly reduced for homeschoolers on these designated days. Find out if your local museum is a member of a reciprocal organization like the Association of Children’s Museums or North American Reciprocal Museum Program. Your membership locally may allow you free entry to countless museums as you travel.

Helping Hands

If you need a helping hand getting started with your travel, there are resources available online to assist. Search for a homeschool travel club in your area or a site like Group Experience, specializing in homeschool travel opportunities in exceptional destinations. If you’ve never planned a trip exclusively for homeschool, you’ll love the convenience of GE’s Homeschool Odysseys.

Homeschooling is the perfect conduit for learning through travel. These moments with your kiddos are fleeting and filled with possibility. Take advantage of precious time and the educational opportunities each adventure presents!

Homeschool Co-Ops Can Be A Great Resource for Families

Homeschooling can be hard. Really hard. What once seemed like an exciting adventure may now leave you feeling isolated, drained or unsure of yourself. If you’ve ever felt this way, it may be time to consider a homeschool co-op.

What is a Homeschool Co-Op?

A co-op is short for “cooperative,” and brings homeschool families together for a common purpose. A co-op can focus on academics, arts, socialization and more. Co-ops provide a forum for like-minded homeschoolers to share interests and enhance education.

Co-ops are typically local or regional. They may meet at someone’s home, the local library, church or a community center. Teachers may be paid instructors or parent volunteers. The co-op may collect a fee for supplies or building costs, depending on the specific situation.

Why Join A Co-Op?

Large Group Instruction

A co-op offers some great benefits. One is the chance to learn in a large group or “classroom” setting.  Younger children can learn basic skills like taking turns or sharing. Older students can practice life skills like public speaking or collaboration on projects.

Shared Expenses

Co-ops allow for shared expenses for equipment and other resources. This may include classroom materials, meeting space or even an instructor.

Enrichment

Homeschool co-ops give access to enrichment that may not be available in the home. Advanced academic instruction, arts programs, foreign languages and more may be available.

How Do I Find A Co-Op?

Google it! Sites like Homeschool-life.com or The Homeschool Mom will help you find a co-op that meets your needs in your area. Co-ops can be found in nearly every region of the U.S. where families homeschool.

You don’t have to go it alone. Co-ops offer enrichment and resources to homeschoolers looking for a helping hand. Do a little homework and find out if a co-op makes sense for your family!

Crowdfunding for the Student Trip

The first weeks of school are upon us and the fundraiser forms have arrived. Ugh. I can almost see the neighbors locking their front doors and hiding behind the curtains. Really, there’s only so much cookie dough a person can eat! If you’re ready to put away the wrapping paper and try something different, crowdfunding may be the answer.

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a relatively new, online alternative for raising funds for the student trip.  It’s the practice of collecting small amounts of money from large numbers of people online. Crowdfunding sites allows tour groups to collect and organize donations from people they know (friends, family, etc.) AND those outside their inner circles (think businesses looking to donate to a good cause). Creating a group campaign in this way helps to ease the pressures of individual fundraising while working toward a financial goal.

Which crowdfunding sites work for student trips?

There are lots of great sites out there to explore. However, there are a few that work really well for student travel.

Fundmytravel is specifically designed to give travelers a platform for raising money. Fundmytravel takes 5% of donations and payment processor fees.

Fundly is free to create and share your campaign. However, they deduct 4.9% of each donation you receive as well as a 3% payment processor fee.

Gofundme is probably the most well-known online crowdfunding site. Gofundme now has a 0% platform fee but charges a 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction fee for payment processors.

How do we start crowdfunding?

Each site gives simple, clear instructions for setting up your campaign. Regardless of which you use, start with an engaging story that inspires giving and lots of appealing imagery. Share and update often to build momentum!

Crowdfunding for your student trip taps into the power of social media and the internet. It’s a great option for the digital world in which we live- and you just may get to see your neighbors again!

Kaleidoscope Adventures’ Stellar Student Scholarship Program

Kaleidoscope Adventures believes that travel is a key piece of a well-rounded education.  It’s a window to the world, promising new experiences, cultures and people. However, many students simply can’t afford to join the class or performance trip. Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in the student travel industry for 25 years, understands the challenges that interfere with opportunity. As a result, KA created the Stellar Student Scholarship Program.

Stellar Student Scholarship

The Stellar Student Scholarship is a 100% paid trip for a deserving student. If you have booked a trip with Kaleidoscope Adventures (or are in the process of contracting), you can nominate a worthy student. This can be someone who has demonstrated leadership, improvements in school or simply needs a helping hand.

Nomination Criteria

• Student must be registered for the school trip

• Student must be in good academic standing with the school

• Student must be active in the community or volunteer

Send Nominations to

stellarstudent@kaconcepts.org

Nominations should highlight the student’s character and reasons for your nomination.

*Please note that only one student per school is eligible

Nomination Deadlines

• September 30th (if traveling October through February)

• January 30th (if traveling March through September)

About Kaleidoscope Adventures

Founded and headed by a teacher, the staff at KA understands what it takes to make student travel a reality for ALL students. For more information about Kaleidoscope Adventures or the Stellar Student Scholarship, click or call (407) 345-4899.

Tips and Apps for Student Group Safety in the Parks

Ready to Wing It? Deciding if Air Travel is Right for Your Group

As the wife of a former student tour operator, I spent many restless nights worrying. Baseball groups heading to spring training in South Carolina or bands making the long drive to Orlando were often the culprits. While it was cost effective, motor coach travel wasnt always the most convenient option for groups traveling long distances. Fortunately, we found The Air Travel Group and a much simpler way of getting from here to there!

Drama / Theater Trips by Kaleidoscope Adventures

The Air Travel Group books airfare for groups of 10 or more traveling together (think bands, student groups, mission trips, family reunion groups, etc.). They provide custom travel solutions for organizations looking to coordinate flights. The Air Travel Group will get your group a free quote and help with the overwhelming task of booking. Best of all, their top account status means access to private fares and better contract terms for your group.
If you havent considered group air travel before, The Air Travel Group offers some outstanding benefits:

Flexible contract terms
Delayed ticketing
Deposit to hold space
Free name changes
Free add/drop

They truly make booking airfare hassle-free and provide tons of support both pre-departure and during travel when those pesky delays or cancellations pop up.

When planning group travel, air transportation is often not considered because its perceived as cumbersome, expensive and fraught with opportunities to make mistakes. The Air Travel Group virtually eliminates these stressors in a click! The service is completely free and worth checking out. Based on destination, size of group and cost, you may find you prefer to wing it!