San Diego: A Utopia For Place-Based Learning



It’s back to school month, and if you are like many moms, the start date always comes with two equal parts: relief, and low-grade anxiety. While buying the final bouquet of yellow pencils and filling the cart with those last few clothing items, we feel that nagging question prickling in our subconscious: have I chosen the right school? Have i signed up for the right actives?

Am I giving my child the BEST education they need right now?

Year after year, the questions come.


The truth is, no matter what schooling option we choose, ultimately, WE as moms (and dads!) are the real directors of our children’s education, rather than a principal or educational expert, doctor––or even a well-meaning mother in law. Only WE as parents know what our child needs most, because we know our child the best. It’s our job to choreograph the schools, resources, and people around us on behalf of our children.

It’s our job to lay before them a feast of educational opportunities that will give them the best chance to grow and learn.

The school (homeschool, private, public, charter, whatever it may be) is just ONE part of this educational feast. We add to that the extra-curriculars: ballet, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, drawing, music, and so forth. We might choose to add in a faith component, involving kids in a community where they learn things related to a faith journey.

But within and around all these skills and information our kids are learning, there is still a bigger picture question about who they are actually BECOMING.


At the end of the day, when we lay our kids down at night and tuck them into bed, we look at their little cherub faces and wonder, who are they BECOMING?

Good citizens?
Kind friends?
Advocates for those who are in need?
Deep thinkers?
Wise leaders?

This is the real stuff of life, the stuff that we must ensure they “get”, somehow or other.

Motherhood is constant assessment and adjustment.

It takes being vigilant to the needs of our children, and watching for times where we, or the educational system, (or both), are failing our kids. We have to ensure that amid all the math, science, drumming and social studies, our children ALSO get people skills, a love for community, a respect for elders and much more. Anyone who’s lived a few decades will attest that these types of things, above all, are the actual  non-negotiables. 


Place-based education is an educational philosophy that has nothing to do with school choices. It has to do with a WAY of learning, an attention to surrounding and the opportunities afforded to a person given where they live. The term itself was created in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker and Dr. John Elsder, and it has taken deep root in the educational community. 

Whereas text and classroom-based education covers the basic core subjects, place-based learning philosophies awaken us as parents to rooting education in all that is local––the history, art, culture, music and environment of a local community, often in ways that schools might WANT to do, but mostly can’t execute due to restraints of time and resources. 

The truth is, most schools offer field trips or outings only two to three times per grade level in any given school year. It’s understandable, considering the mammoth undertaking these trips require: logistics, permission slips, buses, meals, safety officers, volunteers, etc. It’s a production. 

So when it comes to place-based education, where can our children get all that they need?

A wise man, successful tech founder, and father of five brilliant kids was speaking at a conference and said, “My friends, we can’t abdicate our children’s education to a school and imagine the child will have everything they need. No, it’s on us to ensure their holistic education; ensuring their deep connection to local community and history, equipping them for personal growth, teaching them life skills, and modeling for them healthy family habits.

Wow. I wrote that down. I printed it out. I posted it up on my wall. I pondered it for years. Literally. YEARS.


We are lucky enough to live in San Diego, dubbed America’s Finest City. And it is. Between the nearly perfect weather, the deep, rich culture, the incredible arts community, the foodie scene, the natural beauty, and so much more, San Diego is truly one of the best places a kid could grow up. 

So how can we best leverage San Diego as a base of learning? 

Here are some ideas. 


Know the local places and events that might be beneficial to your children’s learning interests OR learning gaps. Think beyond the county fair, circus or latest kid’s concert. Think deeper, richer kind of events:  


Intentionally get to know and celebrate the heroes of a community: fire-fighters, police officers, coast guard, military. In our family, whenever we see one of these public servants, our kids go up to them and shake their hand and say, “Thank you for serving. What is your name? How did you start in your job?” 

It connects the kids to the fact that freedom and safety are not free. There are REAL people who give their time and careers and lives to make our lives possible. We want them to KNOW these people and thank them. 


Without a doubt, it’s easier for us to pop on our favorite GPS app and navigate seamlessly from Point A to Point B, and our kids grow up having little to no understanding of the actual geography of the city where they live. Get out a map (free tourist ones from the brochure stand at any hotel ought to do it!), and spread it out to discuss it with your kids. 

Circle key places in their lives, put sticky notes on places where you want to explore together. Highlight roads you drive. And if your kids are over the age of five, consider putting your phone in their hands to follow the directions next time you go somewhere. Navigate together! 


When kids are little, we take them to the playground, beaches, forests and they are highly connected to nature because it’s what pre-schoolers DO! But when they get to school age, much of that goes out the window. 

They attach themselves to tablets and laptops and their learning becomes very much screen-based and book-based, disassociating them with how things actually feel and smell. And they miss the multi-sensory experience of a morning hike or a sea kayaking trip, or an urban bike ride. Make it a point to create a multi-sensory experience together once a week.

Take it one step further and engage with a local farm like The Ecology Center to help plant, grow, and harvest food, connecting kids to where their food comes from and how it grows.


Carve up the city into 12 areas you’d like to explore together, and put them one on the calendar once a month. Take 30 minutes leading up to it to figure out 3 – 5 stops in each one you could take on a walk in that area with your kids in 1 – 2 hours. Some ideas to get you thinking: 

  1. Make a bingo card for exploring art gallery like National Geographic Fine Art Gallery in La Jolla
  2. Bury a treasure box in the sand on a beach such as Pacific Beach, so that your kids find it after your kids find “clues” along the boardwalk having to do with the history of the area
  3. Explore old schoolhouses, like the one in Encinitas to imagine life “back in the day” and imagine together the founding of the city
  4. Get to know local artisans and make some art with them, such as in Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park
  5. Go to a farmer’s market like the Saturday market in Little Italy, but let the kids handle the cash and transactions for shopping, counting change and checking things off a shopping list they made at home.
  6. Linger longer in the museums. Play with the augmented reality app at the San Diego Museum of Art. Let them dress up like a character featured on a museum, such as Amelia Earhart, when you visit the Air and Space Museum and do photo ops throughout the museum. The trick with kids is to KEEP THINGS MOVING and make it feel like a game. 

Some great areas for City Tours in San Diego: Pacific Beach, Old Town, Encinitas, Little Italy, Gaslamp Quarter, LaJolla, Liberty Station, Coronado Island, Carlsbad. 


The days are long with little ones, but the years are short. Don’t miss them. Make time to make memories together. San Diego is incredible. Really, don’t forget how lucky your kids are to live here. Soak it in, together. Dig it up, together. Explore it––together. 


About Our Guest Post Author:
Janelle Schroy is a mom of four little girls, and she is the founder of the Adventure Clubs app and the
Adventure Family Journal YouTube channel. Janelle and her family are currently traveling to 50 countries over 24 months creating 500 Films for Families, focused on education through travel. San Diego is home base, and her kids are enrolled in Inspire Charter School and they keep up with virtual music lessons from Recreational Music Center in Liberty Station. Follow their film production journey of education on Instagram: @adventurefamilyjournals and @janelle_schroy or subscribe on YouTube.


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