Last August, my four-year-old found himself crouched low in a tide pool on the coast of Maine, his younger brother beside him, as they plucked shells from the chilly water and gleefully lifted them to show me.
“I found a slipper shell!” squealed my four-year-old.
“And I found a scallop shell!” chorused his brother.
“Can we bring them back and keep them in our treasure pockets?” my older son wanted to know.
As the sun sank low, we returned to our boat, pockets jingling with treasures. We were on a weeklong family vacation, and the boys had been hunting for shells since day one, inspired by a book we’d brought along.
Vacation is a break for all of us. It’s a break from the monotony of the normal work week. It’s a break from laundry and housework and swimming lessons and home. It’s a break from distraction, all in the name of family.
But around here, it isn’t a break from learning. While I’ve never bought into the concept of meticulously planned summer homework and assigned projects, I’ve always made a conscious effort to maximize authentic learning opportunities as they arise.
Going to new places and experiencing new things are always great ways to foster a love of learning and to enhance your child’s experience. And you don’t need to do much planning or preparation to take advantage of it.
Here are five easy ways to make sure your family vacation is both educational and fun:
1 | Use paper maps
I was taken aback to learn that my boys thought any printed map was actually a treasure map from the “olden days.”
Paper maps may now seem like a thing of the past with the prevalence of GPS and navigation apps, but you can print paper maps at home or source them from AAA or rest stops along your route. Get kids of all ages involved in planning your route by looking at maps of the area in advance.
For very young children, teach the purpose of a map by pointing out the basic features, like a compass rose, a scale, or the key. Show them how you use the map to help plan your trip, and refer back to it throughout your adventure. Also, point out how different maps have different purposes. Some maps show topography, other maps show charted areas of water depth, and still others show attractions or rest stops.