By Kristin Guay
Family travel is a time for some much-needed relaxation and family bonding. It is also a wonderful opportunity to exercise and subtly support educational skills.
Parents can use a family vacation to bolster your child's strengths and strengthen weaknesses. If your children like science, have them research the natural environment, animals, or attractions of your destination and keep a journal on the trip. If math is their strong suit, have them help with the budget, determining costs of travel, accommodations, food, and events. This budget exercise can also be helpful for someone who struggles with math because it demonstrates how math is important in everyday situations. The key is to make your child's participation in the family vacation enjoyable and rewarding -- and maybe throw in some educational components as well! Preparing for family travel It doesn't matter if you're going away for a weekend visit or a two-week European vacation -- preparation and organization are necessary, and it is important to have your child involved in this process. Start by gathering reading material about your destination; you can get books and travel guides from your local library. Look through the material with your child and write down areas of special interest: nature areas, exciting excursions, historical landmarks, or interesting museums, shops, or restaurants. Get your children invested in the vacation by having them select one specific area they want to explore. Some families find it helpful to let each of their children select one activity for the family (baseball game, white-water rafting, fishing excursion, special museum, etc.) and have that child be in charge of gathering the information for that event. Not only does the child become more invested in the vacation, but they also have a comfort knowing they will do something important to them. Using the internet Children are accustomed to playing games online, but they may not have experience using the Internet for research. Working with your children allows them to see the benefits of the internet beyond gaming and can be very helpful in the planning stages of a vacation.
Start by showing your children how to find photographs, and even virtual tours, of the area you plan to visit. Many popular family travel destinations have virtual tours (national parks, museums, theme parks) and this not only helps to prepare for the trip, but also builds excitement and enthusiasm.
Have them sit with you while you research reviews and ratings of activities, restaurants, and accommodations. Impress upon your children that gathering all necessary information is important to a family vacation, and demonstrate how the Internet can be used to help with this purpose.
Let them help you check some of the "fine print" when reviewing details. For example, some B&Bs have a minimum three-night stay and some European hotels have a four-person minimum per room. Having your child search for this information reinforces the idea of careful reading comprehension. Learning to fully understand the small details of reading material is something that is taught in schools across all subject areas, and this can be reinforced while planning your vacation. If a younger sibling is too young for a white-water rafting excursion, this is important information that the family needs to know while planning. Use this research time to emphasize the importance of these small details with your children. Travel guides Check your local library or bookstore for travel guides about your destination. You can also get travel guides and maps through AAA. This might be the first time some children are exposed to non-fiction reading material.
Read through this information and have your children select an event, excursion, or activity they would like to do. Put them in charge of gathering all necessary information about this event (with parental guidance). For example, if they want to zip-line in the Smokey Mountains, help them research the cost, restrictions, reservations, and any other necessary information. Doing this with your child shows them the importance of reading comprehension skills and how these skills are not only used for reading fictional stories but also for understanding information that is important to them. Show them a map of the area and explain how to use the map key and calculate miles.
Non-fiction reading material, especially travel guides and maps, are loaded with text features that are important for children to learn. Common text features found in travel material include a table of contents (heading of the different sections of the book); index (where to find information); bold print (signals something is important); photographs (shows how something looks in real life); maps and size comparison diagrams (shows things in relation to each other); heading (provides information about a particular section); captions and labels (information about pictures); glossary (important words); and a diagram (a labeled picture detailing parts of a subject). Children will learn about these features in school, but this is an opportunity to see the value and application of these text features in a real-life situation. Research interesting facts about a destination There are many ways parents can encourage children to learn about a destination. Driving routes and flight plans are perfect opportunities to pull out maps and discuss states, countries, time zones, oceans, and continents. Spend some time learning about the history of the area, special historic landmarks, and interesting people and events. Some children might even enjoy learning about important people and issues in politics of the area. Depending on age of the child, parents could have the children earn spending money for the vacation by gathering important information about the trip. Children can be responsible for learning about special events or activities, history, interesting people of the area, historic architecture, and any other important information. Also have them research the area's natural resources (wildlife, conservation areas, plants, trees, and flowers). They can present their information to the family in order to receive their spending money. Use vacations to teach children about money Have children involved in planning a budget, including their own spending money. They can help you determine various costs such as travel (gas for car, bus fare, plane ticket, etc.), hotel accommodations, costs of excursions and other activities, meals, and general spending money for gifts and souvenirs. Give your child a spending budget of their own that they can use for souvenirs, snacks, etc., and let them keep track of their expenses during the vacation. This can be similar to a checkbook so children can see the money they have in the beginning of the trip, what they spent, and how much is remaining. When they see the amount they have to spend dwindling down, this can help eliminate the "gimmies" for every vacation-related souvenir they see and encourage them to really think about each item they want to purchase. Packing Make sure to provide your child with a few necessary supplies to help them record the family adventure. A small journal, markers, crayons, pencils, and a disposable camera can help them capture special moments. Pack a few good books (maybe throw in a few new ones as a surprise) and some simple board games. Travel-size games are great for car rides, restaurants, and quiet time in the hotel room. Children need to slow down after a busy day of travel, and a new bedtime story might do the trick. This is a special surprise at the end of the day and helps make the transition from a day filled with adventure to a good night's sleep. During the trip Talk with your child at the end of the day and ask about their highs and lows. Encourage them to record this information in a journal so they can remember every aspect of their vacation. Get postcards and encourage children to write messages to friends and family (either with your assistance or on their own if they are able). This activity prompts them to articulate their thoughts about their travels and record any important information they want to remember. Be sure to gather any informational brochures (with pictures) from the trip that can be used in scrapbooks or journals after the vacation. After the trip Help your children create their own memory book. Develop some pictures (or cut some out from various brochures) and create a scrapbook with information and comments for each day and activity. Have them use their journal to refresh their memory of everything they saw, people they met, and activities they did during their trip. After the trip, it is fun to look back at a travel guide of the area and make comparisons on specific destinations, restaurants, and historic landmarks. Many times, vacations go so fast and all the adventures become a blur. Creating a memory book gives children an opportunity to write their own thoughts about their vacation and reflect on all their adventures