We are very fortunate to be able to take several trips each year as a family. It’s nice to be able to travel when most kids are in school. The lines are shorter and things are generally less crowded. I used to worry about taking all that “time off” from school, but over the years I’ve come to realize that vacations provide an optimal environment for education. Interest levels are high and kids are filled with anticipation and excitement. Whether we are visiting family at the beach in California, or visiting friends in The Big Apple, we try to maximize the opportunities for learning.
1. Leave the books at home. Trust me. I know, it’s tempting to just do a little math here and there, but really, it will still be waiting for you when you get home. Trips usually involve everyone being off their schedules. This makes it difficult to work on curriculum that normally falls nicely into place during our familiar rhythms. The biggest mistake I made was taking our math and writing programs on a fairly long trip to the beach. I figured we’d be there long enough that I could squeeze in an hour a day of seat work. Well, I was irritable from lack of sleep and my girls were eating a lot of junk, staying up late, and anxious to get out to the sand each morning. Trying to do school on that trip made for an epic meltdown- by me! Since that traumatic day, we do not take schoolwork on trips. Guess what? We still get it all done.
2. Learn before you leave! This is huge in our house. Many states have websites built just for kids to learn about that state. You can learn about the state’s history, geography, climate, and flora and fauna. If you are visiting an area with historical sites, there are usually educational materials you can print beforehand. I’m almost always able to find a video that depicts some part of our trip.
3. Kids can help plan. My girls have learned most of their map skills and U.S. geography through road trips. They can help choose the best route, sites to see along the way, and even start to figure out how far your family can reasonably drive each day. I have a child who loves to pack and organize. She usually has a packing list made weeks before our trip. If you have young children, packing provides an opportunity to write, read, count, and sort. Our kids are also usually in on planning what we will do each day at our destination. That way they have input and buy-in. They know what to expect and can look forward to activities with anticipation.
4. Make getting there half the fun. I am very lucky because my kids don’t get carsick. They can read, draw, and knit in the car. Whether we are driving or flying, I always make a special vacation book for each daughter. They include print outs of our route on Google maps, as well as several pages of information about the states we travel through. I include the things they are most interested in at the time. On our last trip to Florida, their books had several pages about dolphins and manatees. I put all of these pages in a three-pronged folder and we bring a binder pouch full of colored pencils. This makes it simple whether we are in a car or on a plane. We also use apps like Wikkihood to learn about the towns we drive through.
5. Talk to people. Lots of people. If you are going on a relaxation vacation, you don’t need to fill your days with museums and historical sites in order for your kids to learn something. Just be friendly and allow your kids ample time to explore. Stop at state lines and pick up brochures. The people in the welcome centers will love chatting with your kids. Eat new or local foods and engage the waiters in conversation about the food or area. We’ve noticed that a lot of people in the tourism industry really enjoy what they do and are impressed when children are inquisitive and conversational. We recently went on a snorkeling trip and learned so much by talking with our guide. He enjoyed the girls’ questions about the sail boat, the tides, and sea life. Often times our girls have been given special attention and opportunities simply because they show a great interest and desire to learn.
Natalie and her twin girls are in their third year of homeschooling. They are classically leaning, eclectic homeschoolers living in Central Virginia. They enjoy traveling and learning about new people and places. Natalie blogs at Homeschool For Two.