By Amy Taylor Special to Published Jun 11, 2014 at 5:27 AM

It's kids and family week here at and, more than ever, we'll feature articles and blogs about children's health, education, travel, fun and more. Kids and family week is brought to you by Aurora Health Care.

I looked with envy at my girlfriend’s Facebook post from Nantucket: "This place is great, the most beautiful place on Earth. I love it here!" She was at the Nantucket Wine Tasting Festival. She, glamorous, I, back in Wisconsin, in comfortable shoes, was about to embark on the Wisconsin Trip with 80 fourth graders from my children’s school. I confess – her trip sounded better.

I recently chaperoned the annual fourth grade pilgrimage to the State Capitol. But, this trip includes seven other nearby destinations in Southwest Wisconsin all really worth doing this summer with your kids. Our excursion included an overnight with my triplet girls. I was assigned all three of my own children as my charges. "Great," you say, that should be easy. Yes, I do know their habits, but since when do kids save their good behavior for their parents?

Waking children at 5 a.m. for anything always entails surprises. Despite setting the cereal bowls out on the counter, there are always diversions in my calculus. Pulling out at 5:45 a.m., the first eruption ensues over my attempts to separate the conjoined skateboards blocking the garage door. "Who left them like this? I say in frustration." I spill coffee all over myself. The girls feel sorry for me, and drop their blame game. The hurried shouting gives way to pity, and someone gets me a towel. We are finally on our way. I am starting to feel outnumbered and I haven’t even joined with the 77 other children.

The trip begins with the Capitol in Madison, moves to the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum, and Aldo Leopold Nature Center, and finishes at the end of the first day at Pendarvis, an historic community about an hour from Madison. The second day we head to Bevan’s Mine, Rollo Jamison Museum, and Cave of the Mounds. Like the limestone rock formations we see, each destination revealed new layers that make up the heritage of our great state.

We pledged to give up our technology: no phones, and no TV later at the hotel room. Lush green pastures and big red technicolor barns begin to melt away my fears and fast pace. I picked up my daughter’s Wisconsin Passport while on the bus. It’s a mock up of the real ones and a gift from the teachers. Did you know the American Water Spaniel is the state dog? Why? Although a rare breed, they were developed here as hunting companions during the 19th century. I began to immerse myself in all things Wisconsin. The Civil War, glaciers, drumlins, lead mining and cave formation are my focus over the next 24 hours, and seeing it through the eyes of my children becomes a wonderful unexpected surprise.

We pulled up to the Capitol, the kids, not sensing the cold as we adults do, skipped steps on the way up, and bounded to the top. Our Madison Capitol is called one of the most "magnificent in the country" by our guide. It cost $7.5 million to build in 1917. Today it would be a $2 billion job to rebuild this spectacular building. As my foot stepped over the 100 million year old starfish fossil inlaid into the stairs on the way up to the Governor’s office, I was struck by the feeling that museums are intended to inspire – our lives are short, but our legacy is long.

The kids were allowed to stop and touch the starfish. While doing so, we learned that Wisconsin was at one time eons ago, a sea, about 400 million years ago.

I often wonder as the winter wind is whipping around my house and the temperatures sink by the tens, below zero, how the first people survived here. Trappers, traders and wigwams are the focus at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, with an emphasis on the immigrants that founded our state in the late 1850s. We step into a replica of a Woodland Indians house constructed 1,000 years ago. Just one small room would be filled by 10-15 people and kept warm.

We are also treated to a "tour" of a mine. The Cornish, the men from Cornwall, England, that worked the lead mines in the Southwest part of the state brought thousands of years of technology with them from the Phoenicians. They’d worked the mines for hundreds of years in England, and set up shop in Pendarvis to work the strikes of lead mines in the 1840s. What remains at Pendarvis is an idyllic haven at the bottom of a verdant valley. Set in between shale and limestone formations, the remaining homes built in the early 1800s are small, peaceful, and utilitarian. There are regular tours at Pendarvis, conducted by informative guides--ours was a geologist and an architect. Pendarvis allows children to see how life was at the time Wisconsin became a state and through the first part of the 20th century.

At the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum, I’m immediately drawn in by the dramatic lighting, the Huey helicopter "flying" above my head, and the IED’s which have devastated so many lives. But, it’s the story of the Civil War soldier who won the Medal of Honor that brings me to tears, and stops my children for the longest time. Sergeant Jefferson Coates held his company together in defense of the Color Guard until his men were attacked from the flank, and a minnie ball shot through both his eyes. Despite being blinded, Coates continued to load muskets for his comrades and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his "unsurpassed courage in battle." A minnie ball is like a bullet the size of a golf ball shot by a musket. He continued to load muskets while blind? I shall not complain about my feet hurting today. We all walked away humbled and quiet.

Safety remained at the top of my mind while at the 1845 Bevan’s Lead Mine. I’m not much for traveling down a dark shaft, but the modern day descent down 50 feet gives a great picture of what miners encountered. This is the chance for your kids to put on the red hard hat and ride a 1931 mine train (above ground) in Platteville. Mining began with the Native Americans who found lead ore. Eventually, miners switched to mining zinc. The last mine in the Platteville area closed in 1979, but even now underneath the towns and farms of southwestern Wisconsin, you’ll find lead and zinc ores, and remnants of the life and culture that mining brought.

The Rollo Jamison Museum, a block from the Bevan’s Lead Mine, is the place where you’ll realize that items familiar to you, are a curiosity to your children. For instance, they were fascinated by this thing called the typewriter. Few of today’s fourth graders have even seen one. "How does it work? Do you just press down? What’s that?"

"The keys, " I replied. My girls, although my father was a writer, and his father was a writer, and I am too, a writer, had never encountered the typewriter. Our example was a 193s Smith Corona. Also of interest to my girls was the hand cranked coffee grinder from the 1930s. Rollo Jamison was a local boy who loved collecting, this collection of mostly 19th and 20th century household and farming items was most relatable for the kids.

Hands-on involvement and a beautiful illuminated globe suspended in the middle of a darkened theater captivated the kids at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. The center is named after the founding father of wildlife ecology. At the nature center kids learn about glacial melting and experience the process first-hand by hiking on drumlins and doing experiments in which they re-enact how glaciers shape the land. As we hiked, we saw burial mounds and imagined what it must have been like for Native Americans to use the hills as lookouts.

The second day culminates with the magnificent Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark 20 minutes west of Madison. Considered by scientists to be "the significant cave of the Midwest," this last destination proved the highlight of our tour. Over 1,700 feet long, the cave is huge. Beautifully lit, dark and cold, I asked our guide if this cave was stable. (One can’t help but wonder, could this cave collapse? Did someone say "earthquake?" ) He laughed and said, "if a natural disaster struck, this is where I would want to be for safety." I’m feeling better about the cave now.

The story of the Cave begins with the creation of the rock that forms it 488 million years ago. During this time, Wisconsin and much of North America was covered by warm seas where shellfish thrived. These shellfish remains accumulated and formed the limestone, which formed the basis for the cave. A large crack in the surface of the rock was called the "cave’s lifeline" by our tour guide. Over time, large cavities were dissolved in the stone and as the water tabled dropped, the water drained out and the cavities filled with air. Voila Cave. Well, consider that it takes 100 years to form one inch of cave material or speleothems. Remember those stalactites and stalagmites? The ‘tites hang from the ceiling, the "stalagmites" with a "g" rise from the ground. This is that marvelous sensation of parenthood, the re-living of your life and your education, this time as a witness with more wisdom, and with the joy that knowledge brings to your children.

That night we spent at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point ranks as one of the best night’s of sleep I have ever had in my life, not because of the quality of rest, or the not-so-steady steady hum of the mini-fridge, but because of the recognition that this was a milestone in the lives of my three fourth graders and their mom. I very likely won’t be somewhere alone with my girls where they have no distractions and I don’t either for a very long time. Our focus was shared, our experience, our own together. Although we were all exhausted, I longed for the closeness that reading together brings.

I opened the book, and all three girls jumped in my queen-sized bed, one nestled by my legs, one under my arm, and one at my feet. I am moved to experience the world through their eyes, young, expectant, and enthusiastic. I tell them how much I love them. Soon we are all asleep.

Amy Taylor Special to

Amy is currently a freelance broadcast professional in Milwaukee with experience anchoring and reporting television and radio news. Most recently, she has co-hosted "The Morning Blend" on WTMJ-TV, and has also co-hosted the morning show on 99.1 The Mix radio station. Both of these jobs are part-time fill-in work.

She also has experience writing, editing, and reporting her own stories. She's worked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa covering everything from turkey production to Mississippi River flooding. In Chicago, she attended Loyola Law School while freelancing as an anchor and reporter for CLTV-News and as a field producer for CNN.

That experience put her at a crossroads: choose Law or Broadcast. She chose Broadcast, and accepted a job at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee where she anchored the #1 rated Morning News for six years and also joined a morning radio show which became for women the #1 rated "Reitman, Mueller, and Amy Taylor, too."

After four years having too much fun on that show, Amy and her husband welcomed triplets: Tess, Jillian, and Chloe. Crossroads again: she chose triplets. Ten years later Amy is loving motherhood and always looking for ways to combine her love for writing, reporting, and interviewing people with her life as a wife and mother.