Many school districts around the country are starting the school year entirely, or at least partially, virtually. While this presents new challenges for educators and families, it also opens the door to greater opportunities for family travel since children and teens can conduct their online classes from practically anywhere. That includes one of our spacious cabins in Wears Valley. To help families with school-aged kids navigate their first Virtual Learning Vacation, we asked Mr. N, an international educator originally from East Tennessee, to give us some suggestions. Here are Mr. N’s top 5 tips for a Virtual Learning Vacation.
Research shows that the single most important factor in a student’s educational success is pleasure reading. When kids are allowed to read for fun, they discover new information while building reading fluency. Parents can get Epic! free for the first 30 days and $7.99 afterwards. Your child’s teacher most likely has a class subscription that can be used during school hours for free, as well. This app empowers student reading development at home; books can even be searched by your child’s reading level (you can find this information out from their teacher). Quizzes and videos for e-books are available, but the most important thing is that they are enjoying reading.
With the general adoption of Common Core State Standards in 2010, the main focus of middle and high school English classes shifted from novels and short stories to non-fiction texts. To support student comprehension and vocabulary acquisition, Newsela provides student-appropriate news articles that can be adjusted to meet your child’s reading level. These are great for building your learner’s reading stamina and non-fiction reading comprehension. They follow Lexile leveling which you can convert to F&P and DRA here. Do you know what the best part is? Parents and guardians can sign up for free.
3. Guided discovery
Educational researchers have found over the last several decades that the most effective learning strategies have nothing to do with massive textbooks or boring lectures. Rather, guided discovery (or inquiry-based learning) centers on encouraging students to choose an aspect of a topic to research and present about. In this case, the topic could be the Great Smoky Mountains, tourism, or even Dolly Parton. Your child would then choose an aspect of that topic to research in depth. For example, if you decided to look at the Great Smoky Mountains, they could identify an animal, plant, or natural resource to research in depth. Since you are in the area, you could visit the mountains, take photos of the chosen research topic, and conduct further research on the internet at your cabin. They could present a short speech, write one (or several) paragraphs, or make a poster about their findings.
4. Map reading
One key skill that many of today’s students lack is the ability to successfully utilize a map and compass. You can pick up an affordable compass from the dollar store and a map of the Smokies from one of the national park’s visitor centers (click here for hours and locations) . All you need to do is head off on a hiking trail at your child’s fitness level. As you and your family are hiking, your children can practice following the path of the trail on the map. They can also mark rest points and measure distances using the map scale and a ruler. While definitely from the ‘old school’, it is a valuable life skill that could benefit your kids in the future.
My final tip is not educational per se, but it is nevertheless extremely important for children’s mental health and emotional development. During your virtual learning vacation in the Smokies, make time to rest, breathe, and reflect on both the beauty and the pain of the past months. Your kids, both young and old, need to process the massive changes our society has gone through. While none of us have the solution to our current situation, intentionally being together as family definitely will not hurt. Who knows, it may even be the start of our healing. Examples of appropriate mindfulness activities for your children might include drawing pictures of the mountains or clouds, sitting quietly by a creek with your toes in the water, and doing a simple exercise before bed like “Highs, Lows, and Glows” (instructions are found below).
We here at Accommodations by Great Cabins in the Smokies hope that you have found this interview with Mr. N helpful. While this school year may not be normal by any stretch of the imagination, it does provide new possibilities for students and families to learn in non-traditional formats. We are committed to the health and safety of our guests and staff. We conduct solely remote check-ins, have instituted enhanced sanitizing routines at all of our properties, and mandate mask usage within our office at all times. When we all work together, we can achieve great things.
Below you will find Mr. N’s guide to the mindfulness exercise, “Highs, Lows, and Glows”
Before bed, sit down as a family and turn off all electronics and other distractions. Each member of the family will retell their top “high, low, and glow” moments from the day, beginning with their “high”, or happiest, moment. Afterwards, they say their “low”, or saddest, moment from the day. Finally, for the “glow”, they tell one thing they learned today, whether that be something specific like a fact, or whether it be more general in nature, for example, that telling the truth is important. After the family member has finished, the next person repeats the process with their “highs, lows, and glows” until everyone has spoken.
Summer was made for hiking, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect place to lace up your boots and hit the trails. Here is the list of our staff’s top 3 Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails.
Top 3 Hiking Trails
1. Laurel Falls
If you are looking to experience the thrill of a mountain cascade, look no further than Laurel Falls. Flanked by ‘mountain laurel’ (aka wild rhododendron), this hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains provides a truly stunning experience. The trail that leads to Laurel Falls is completely paved making it great for young families and those who are not accustomed to hiking in the mountains.
2. Alum Cave
The hiking trail to Alum Cave is more difficult than the paved path to Laurel Falls. Nevertheless, this hike leads to a geologically intriguing landmark. The giant (yet shallow) cave is all that remains of a massive limestone deposit that slowly dissolved over millions of years of rainfall. This is a prime example of chemistry in action in nature. For families that home school or that want to extend their children’s learning outside the walls of the classroom, Alum Cave could be an amazing research opportunity for your kiddos this summer.
3. Roundtop Trail
Our final recommendation on the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails top 3 is Roundtop Trail. This hike begins near the Wears Valley community which makes it a great option if you stay in one of our mountain cabins. While this trail is the most difficult of the three, it also the least well-known ensuring your hike is quiet and enjoyable. This trail ends at the Little River in Townsend which is an added bonus in hot summer weather. For more information on the Roundtop Trail, check out this description of the trail.
After a really rough first half of 2020, folks are slowly adapting to the ‘new normal’. Planning a vacation to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge this summer probably means looking for outdoor attractions since it is easier to socially distance outside. Yet, finding family-friendly outdoor attractions can be difficult (and even more so in a pandemic). We have curated a list of the top 3 outdoor attractions for you and your family this summer that are open and ready to welcome visitors. All of these businesses have instituted coronavirus protocols to protect guests’ safety during their visits.
When you want to get some fresh air, what better way to do that than on top of a mountain? The Gatlinbury SkyLift Park is a great place to take your family to enjoy views of both the Great Smoky Mountains and downtown Gatlinburg. To protect the health of guests and staff, they have instituted stringent cleaning routines and require masks to be worn during visits. Make sure to purchase your tickets online to save time and better practice social distancing.
If you are the water-loving type, you should definitely check out Smoky Mountain Outdoors and their rafting adventures this summer. Not only can you enjoy fresh air and take a swim in the river, you can get a solid arm workout, too. Their variety of rafting trips include options for beginners through experts. With regular cleaning procedures and mask requirements inside their retail store, Smoky Mountain Outdoors is a fantastic place to spend some time on your next vacation.
If the thought of riding through the woods on an ATV gets you excited, you should take a look at Bluff Mountain Rentals. Their rides allow you to have an exhilarating vacation while also practicing social distance. Be aware that they are a first-come, first-serve business; make sure to get there early to ensure you and your family can all ride. Their daily rides take place at 10:00, noon, 2:00, and 4:00. You can see their trail map here.
Stay Safe Out There
So, whether you and your family want to see the Smokies from a chairlift, paddle down a river, or power up a mountain on an ATV, there are many outdoor attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg waiting to be experienced. Make sure to stay safe during your visit by wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands frequently, and maintaining social distance. If you need lodging in the area, check out some of our mountain-side cabins and plan your vacation today.
While summer officially started on June 20th this year, many of us had already made the sneakers-for-sandals swap that marks the change from spring to summer here in the south. The change of season often means yard work, visiting the local swimming hole, and trying not to get bitten by mosquitos. For others, though, it means avoiding the stove at all costs. Who wants to stand over a hot pan when it feels like a steam room outside? We here at Accommodations by Great Cabins in the Smokies are here to help with 5 staff-submitted summer recipes that will keep your kitchen as cool as a cucumber this summer.
Spiked Pineapple Slush
-1 large bag of frozen pinapple
-4 ounces of coconut rum
-8 ounces of ice water
Blend all of the ingredients until smooth (~2 minutes) and enjoy!
Warm-Weather Watermelon Salad
-half of a medium-sized watermelon cut into cubes
-8 ounces of halved strawberries
-a small handful of fresh, chopped mint leaves
-4 ounces of blueberries
-the juice of 1 lemon or lime
-1 tsp. of honey or agave syrup
-a dash of salt
Put the lemon (or lime) juice, honey (or agave syrup), mint, and salt into a large bowl and mix well. Then, add the fruit and cucumber; gently toss together and serve.
-1 bottle of cheap red wine
-4 ounces of simple syrup (water and sugar boiled together)
-half of an orange cut into slices
-juice of other half of the orange
-8 to 12 ounces of seasonal fruit cut into cubes (peaches, berries, and melon are all great choices)
-2 ounces of brandy or calvados (optional)
In a large pitcher or punch bowl, add the fruit cubes and slices. Then, pour in the wine, juice, simple syrup, and brandy/calvados together. Stir all together and refrigerate for 2+ hours. Serve the sangria over ice. *You can substitute the red wine and simple syrup for one bottle of muscadine wine.*
-4 to 5 medium cucumbers cut into cubes
-2 cloves of garlic
-1 small handful of cilantro (or flat leaf parsley)
-4 to 6 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
Blend all the ingredients together; you may need to pulse the mixture at first for it to come together. After it is sufficiently blended, refrigerate before serving. You can serve it with a dash of hot sauce if you want to give it a little extra flavor.
-1 thick sliced cucumber
-A selection of cold cuts (salami, prosciutto, mortadella, serrano ham, etc…)
-a selection of cheeses (mozzarella, feta, Manchego, stilton, smoked gouda, etc…)
-kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, and other pickled vegetables
-1 chopped tomato
-1 sliced red onion
-extra virgin olive oil
-juice of 1 lemon
Arrange the cucumber, tomato, and onion on a large platter. Place the drained pickled vegetables and olives in piles around the salad; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Next, add the cold cuts and cheese to the top of the salad. Serve with crusty baguette and a glass of chardonnay.
So there you have it folks; these are our top 5 summer recipes for your holidays. But do you know what would make these summer recipes even better? Getting to enjoy them from the comfort of a cabin with sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Check out all of our properties here.
That’s the Spot! is a secluded, one bedroom cabin in Wears Valley that was designed with love birds in mind. The cabin exudes romance and is perfect for honeymooners or honeymooners-at-heart! Great Cabins in the Smokies is excited to introduce you to this exceptionally romantic cabin.
The main level of this romantic cabin includes a big log bed, seasonal gas fireplace, fully-equipped kitchen, bathroom, and a big ole’ heart-shaped tub. Downstairs, the game room provides entertainment for rainy days. The best part is that you can enjoy stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains from the comfort of your bed. At That’s the Spot! you can literally have a ‘room with a view’.
Located near the top of Bluff Mountain, That’s the Spot! will stun you with its sweeping mountain vistas. Even better, you can enjoy the views *year round*. Down the mountain you have easy access to restaurants and shopping in Wears Valley, Pigeon Forge, and Townsend. You can even take in a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway during your stay.
To sum everything up
Basically, this cabin has it all- views, location, privacy, and plenty of opportunities for romancing that special someone in your life. Give us a call at our office (866) 409-7066 or check out our website for more information on this cabin.