Family on the beach

Tips to make vacations a learning experience


Summer vacations are a time to relax, explore and make memories as a family, but they are also a time to learn. After all, experience is the best teacher, and new experiences are what vacations are all about!

Apply a little bit of creative thinking and intentionality to your vacation, and you can turn your next vacation into a richer learning experience for your kids. Here are some tips to get those wheels turning (yes, pun intended):

BEFORE YOU GO

  • Get library books about your destination. Pictures books are great for all ages, and older kids may enjoy travel guides or historical works. You might even find suitable travel videos on DVD.
  • Look at websites of places you will visit together. Ask your kids about which activities or exhibits look the most interesting, then be sure to visit those spots.
  • Watch movies with scenes from your destination to start drawing connections and building excitement.
  • Trace the route you’ll be taking on a map or globe. Point out nearby lakes, oceans, mountain ranges or adjacent states. Show them when you will be traveling east, west, north or south. Ask the kids to estimate how far away you will travel and how long it will take to get there.
  • Build practical skills by involving them in the packing. For younger children, have them lay out outfits for each day that you can approve later. Coach them to think through their needs from morning to night (toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas).
  • Get out that allowance money. Have conversations with your kids about goals for any allowance or birthday/holiday savings before the trip. Consider in advance how much they should bring with them and spend during their trip to stay aligned with bigger goals.
  • If the kids will be entertaining themselves with devices from time to time, load those tablets or phones with free educational games for road trips and airport layovers.

“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.” – Chinese proverb

DURING YOUR JOURNEY

  • Add the local art museum, children’s museum, science museum or natural history museum to your itinerary.
  • Visit historic sites and attractions. Some offer hands-on activities, such as farm chores, dressing in period clothing and partaking in daily activities that children their age would have enjoyed.
  • Let kids make small purchases themselves. It’s good practice for both money management and social skills.
  • Let kids navigate when they can with a map, such as inside a museum or around a theme park, or let them lead the way using walking directions on your smartphone.
  • Give kids a travel journal, or buy postcards on location. (If there is time to fill them out and mail them to friends, grandparents or themselves at home, even better.)
  • Spend time outside hiking, swimming, paddling, biking, etc. Many of our children don’t get to spend as much time outside as we had growing up.
  • Let your kids take pictures with your phone, an old phone, or even a disposable camera.
  • Give each child a small amount of spending money to spend however they want: on ice cream, on a souvenir, or to save until they get home. It can be per day or across the entire trip. (Watch how frugal they become!)
  • Pass the time with good conversation. To think outside the box, run a search for a “random question generator” website that you can pull up on your phone; just make sure the one you select is kid appropriate.
  • Show the kids that adults enjoy learning, too. Share your “aha moments” along the way and discuss what you learned.

PARTING THOUGHTS

  • Relive your vacation to keep the conversation going once you return home. You can put together an album or frame a favorite vacation picture to put in their room.
  • Have the kids write a paragraph about the favorite parts of their vacation or one favorite adventure.
  • Make a meal reminiscent of the featured cuisine where you traveled to keep those palates broadened.
  • Remind them of their travels during upcoming school lessons. For example, fourth grade is usually the year when students study Florida history. Later on, they will delve into world and American history.

Finally, your kids are going to learn while they travel even if you don’t do anything intentionally. They will practice getting along with their siblings in a minivan. They will compromise on where the family eats dinner. They will sit still and listen respectfully during a performance. At some point in life, they’ll learn that without sunscreen, a sunburn hurts. They’ll even learn to be patient before the trip arrives and that life must go back to normal when it’s over. Enjoy the entire journey! 

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