The end of school is around the corner and that means summer vacation. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to those lazy days where the schedule is loose and the only decision to make is how many times a day we want to go for a swim.
With carefree days of summer also comes family vacation. You know, the one you’ve planned for all year. Getting away with your spouse and children is a highlight of the summer. It’s also a time to focus on one another and enjoy being together without the demands of work, school, and other life pressures.
Our family has long loved to travel together. We enjoy visiting family and friends far away. We love exploring famous national parks. We also enjoy seeing iconic landmarks and places we’ve only seen in pictures and heard about on TV.
In each of our travels, we’ve made efforts to make our trips memorable for our children. I want our trips to not only be fun, but also to shape them in some way. I want them to learn and grow as people through the trips we take. Here are some of the ways we do that:
Learn ahead of time about where you are going: We often spend time with our children learning about the place we are traveling to in advance. Sometimes, if a place we are visiting has a unique history (and most places do) we do an in depth study of the history of the place. For example, before a trip to California, we learned about the Gold Rush. And if the place has a unique landform, such as a mountain, or a feature like an ocean reef, we learn about that as well. Before a trip to Alaska, we learned about glaciers and the animals unique to that northern climate.
Read books together about the location: For most places we’ve visited, I have found fictional stories written for children that take place in the town or region we are visiting. For example, are you considering a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer? Consider reading Brighty of the Grand Canyon. We also read non-fiction books as well. Before a trip to Seattle, I found a children’s version of Boys in the Boat for my son to read. Reading stories helps make the places we visit come alive and engages our children’s imaginations.
Experience the culture together: When we travel, we try to eat the foods of the place we are visiting. Nearly every city and community has a food it is famous for: Boston is known for seafood chowder; Memphis its barbeque; and New Orleans its gumbo. We also look for the places the locals frequent, rather than stick to where all the tourists are. We might seek out a local park our kids can play in and in so doing, we see what a city or town is really like.
Consider the unique interests of your children: Perhaps you have a child who loves to play sports. Why not seek out the local stadium and go on a tour? If you have a junior scientist, see if the city you are visiting has a science or natural history museum. Perhaps you have a child who loves to read. See if a famous author is from the region you are visiting, maybe there’s a museum you can visit such as Tom Sawyer’s house or the Little House on the Prairie museum. Finding activities to do that engages the unique interests of your children will help make the trip more memorable for them.
Create a travel journal: When we go on a particularly special and memorable trip, I have the kids journal their journey. This helps them have something to look back on to remember their visit. If your child doesn’t enjoying writing, consider having them record themselves at each place you visit, perhaps pretending to be a newscaster.
Vacations are fun and enjoyable within themselves but in taking the extra step to learn about the places you visit can help make those trips more meaningful and memorable for years to come. In the process of learning, your children are shaped as people. And ultimately, it serves to draw you closer together as a family through those shared experiences.
Do you have special plans for this summer?