Carpinteria Science Labs for All My Friends…

After we do our daily exercises in the roadschooling basics (you can learn more about what we’re doing here and a three months in summary here), we usually have the afternoons free to go out and play. Our field trips have included all sorts of outings (Junior Ranger evolutions at the National Parks, museums, hikes, beach exploration, river floats, etc.), but two of my favorites happened while we were in Santa Barbara.

With a nod to Kubo and the Two Strings, a catch phrase in our family has become, “You are a mean Mommy, aren’t you?” to which I always reply, “Yes. Yes, I am.” Because we opted to have school on Columbus Day (but school was held on the beach, so does that really qualify as mean?), we chose to forego studying the basics two day later and instead headed directly to the Physics Laboratory offered at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Our first stop on this phase of our journey was at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, where we had talked about the three basic types of motion (constant, variable, and periodic) as well as requiring each of the kids to use accelerate and decelerate in at least three different sentences throughout the day, which they turned into quite an entertaining challenge. On our way to Magic Mountain we reviewed these types of motion, but today’s lesson was going to focus on Newton’s three laws of motion and the transformation of energy from one type to the next (e.g. potential (a roller coaster cresting a hill) becoming kinetic (picking up speed at the bottom of a hill) and eventually thermal (braking components must get hot as they slow the cars)). It was the perfect venue to explore Newtonian physics and thermodynamics – and it was free as we had already purchased season passes for Six Flags in Maryland and they are transferable between parks. Who knew?!.

When we pulled in, we were surprised to find ourselves in the parking lot nearest the entrance perfectly in line with the enormous orange and blue funnel for one of the water park rides. I always need to take a picture of where we park or make it a point to orient myself or else I will need to walk the endless rows of cars armed with the key remote to home in on our vehicle. Having only one day to explore this park, I was very glad to see that Magic Mountain’s water park was closed given there were so many wicked coasters to check out.  Thankfully, this was as close as we got…


The whole family offered a few surprises in what they would and would not ride. Flight now has little tolerance for having his brain scrambled and, strangely, he reaches his limit for rollercoasters before I do. I would have thought that with a tendency toward vertigo, roller coasters would be a no go for me. Instead it would appear that as long as I keep my eyes open and intently focused, as well as having my legs and/or arms anchored, I can tolerate most rides. Unless, of course, I grey out, which pretty much rocks my world and, sadly, that has been happening more often the longer I live in my body.

As Flight already mentioned and the empty parking lot foretold, there were few lines at the Park and upon arriving, Flight launched Keeper and me to go ride some of the big stuff while he stayed with the girls in the younger kids section. Keeper and I started with Goliath.


We rapidly moved onto Scream and Twisted Colossus, where Flight and the girls met up with us. Before we moved much farther around the park, Keeper and Flight backtracked slightly to ride Twisted Colossus (Flight’s status report: totally overhauled from back in the day, hardly the same ride…) and Goliath. The girls and I played a game of Golf to pass the time:

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Keeper and I split off and waited in one of the few lines to ride Tatsu. He caught sight of the suspended riders dangling from their harnesses, turned to me and pronounced, “NOPE. No way. I am NOT riding THAT.” Apparently, to fall within his safety and/or disorientation tolerances, one must be standing or sitting upright for a coaster. Okay then, lunch it is!

Surprisingly, I was impressed with the (relatively healthy) food selection offered at Magic Mountain. Flight and I dined on sushi and edamame, while the kids had their standard combination of cheese and bread, with maybe a burger or two thrown in for good measure. Certainly no Single Thread, but it was far better than I have seen at other parks.

WoodSprite was intent on leading us to Ninja, one of the few roller coasters someone of her stature might ride.

Although we enjoyed other rides along the way, she was singularly focused until we all rode the Ninja.


The kids seemed to enjoy our lab day – and Firebolt finally became a roller coaster rider. Having waited in many a line with her during other park visits only to bail at the last minute, walking through the car to let the folks behind us ride instead before we regretfully made our way to the exit. This was a huge leap for Firebolt as she doesn’t always like to break away from her comfort zone. WOO HOO!

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While Keeper, Firebolt, and Flight rode The New Revolution, WoodSprite and I took a turn on the Merrie Melodies Carousel before I kept Firebolt company on The New Revolution.


Overall, it was a fantastic Physics Lab experience, far better than any I have enjoyed in all my lab days. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to enjoy such establishments without the pressing throng of my eleventy billion closest friends. As we discussed over an impressive Mexican dinner on our way back to Carpinteria, mid-week, mid-October is the perfect time to take in Magic Mountain and I’m not sure I’d return otherwise.

The next day we completed our mental gymnastics in the basics before we set out for our next field trip. On the way get haircuts, Keeper and Flight dropped the girls and me off in Santa Barbara at MOXI – The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation – with the promise to collect us once they were shorn.

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I had no idea what to expect, but MOXI is brilliantly laid out and perfect for engaging young minds with hands-on exhibits on all aspects of science. We started on the rooftop and worked our way down to the ground level.

The girls’ favorite exhibit on the roof was an enormous drum with a mallet on each side. Each mallet was wired to a heart rate sensor commonly used on exercise equipment. Firebolt and WoodSprite each took one side and they observed their heartbeats played out on the drum.


Unprompted, they decided to conduct an experiment. They wanted to see what exercising would do to their heart rates. They formulated a hypothesis (that was prompted) before running in place and doing jumping jacks before they rechecked their heart rates. Lo and behold, their heart rates increased just as they’d predicted. Basking in the success of their scientific experiment, we headed downstairs to further explore Newtonian Physics.

After a short discussion on the impact of increased mass on potential speed, Firebolt and WoodSprite built racecars. While they were engineering their rides, I was goaded into participating by one of the museum’s volunteers and put down my knitting to take part in construction efforts. Once we had all put the finishing touches on our creations, we raced them on the impressive track. A solid engineer in the making, Firebolt won the race. On both runs.


The next floor down had several arenas that married up science and art. The girls were thrilled to use color in unusual media (Rainbow Brite didn’t make it into Davista) – sure beats the heck out of colored pencils!

Sadly, the boys came to collect us too soon. After trying to register walking on gravel as quietly as they were able (which was not very), we went into the craft laboratory and the girls learned how to weave a bracelet. The entire family was the beneficiary of this particular craft as the girls were then too busy creating to pick at each other (or Keeper) on the ride back to Carpinteria.

Although I kept my eyes wide open on our return trip, I realized I never made the opportunity to do a realistic assessment of Psych’s portrayal of Santa Barbara. On our way back, we did stop at a local yarn store, where I lament not purchasing any new project work.  Sigh…  Based on our proximity to the beach (only steps away), we didn’t stray far from the immediate oceanfront to explore much of the town, aside from our school field trips. Looks like I’ll need to return to Santa Barbara proper at a future time to conduct research in earnest. One does what one must in the name of science…

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