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Turn Your Family Vacation Into a Real Education

Learning can happen anywhere, even while visiting Grandma this summer.

By GreatSchools Staff

Are you headed off to Grandma's in Idaho, taking in museums and culture in New York, sailing to an exotic island or going camping close to home this summer? Whatever your family vacation, don't forget to include educational opportunities and teachable moments as part of your plan.

"Non-school times are wonderful for showing your child that learning happens anywhere and everywhere, and is, in fact, an integral part of life that can be fun, and can be shared," says Susan Perry, a Los Angeles–based social psychologist and author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Offbeat, Enriching Learning Activities for Ages 4-14. "Don't over-structure the learning, rather let it happen naturally. And be assured, it will happen if you expose your child to new sights and new experiences."

Here are some simple ways to include education in your summer vacation:

Enlist the services of your junior travel agent.

Why not include your child as your junior travel agent in the trip planning? He can learn how to compare costs of airplane flights or rental car companies and do research about the places you plan to visit on the Internet or in books at the library. Teach him how to use a map to find cities and tourist attractions in the places you plan to visit. If you are traveling out of state, look up information about the state, such as the state flower, state bird and interesting attractions. Have your child write to the state tourism bureau to ask for information.

Make reading part of your vacation.

Reading helps to prepare your child for the trip and to pass the time while on board and when waiting for trains and airplanes. Are you going to Idaho, Pennsylvania or a foreign country? Go to the library or your favorite bookstore to find a tour book, and read a story or novel that takes place in the spot you plan to visit. If you are going to a foreign country, start to learn common phrases in that country's language.

Get out the maps and globes.

Work with your child to locate where you are going on a map or globe. Measure the distance between traveling points in inches and then translate into miles.

Incorporate what they've learned and what they will learn.

Did your child study the Civil War or the American Revolution last year? What will she be studying next year? Try to incorporate visits to the battlefields of Gettysburg, the Freedom Trail in Boston or other places she's studied or will study in your vacation plan.

Learn how things are made.

Wherever you are traveling to, seek out factories that have tours so children can learn how things are made. For example, in San Francisco, you can visit a teddy bear factory; in Arkansas, a glass blowing studio; and in Hawaii, a macadamia nut factory. For more ideas of places to visit where things are made around the country, check out Watch It Made in the U.S.A. by Bruce Brumberg and Karen Axelrod (Avalon Travel, 2006).

Comments from readers

"Thank you for the suggestions. My daughter loves reading. She will spend the summer in S.C. The local library has a summer reading program. She will be able to check books out for the summer while avoiding late fees. I would like to know if you can suggest any books or what I can do to help her improve her spelling. She is weak in that area. She will start 9th grade in September. Thank you,"
"This article was awesome! Thanks!"
"Thanks for all the info. My husband and I are planing on taking our children to Florida this summer.This has giving me some great ideas on things to do during our trip,that will be both fun and educational."
"So timely! I am taking my daughters to Albany in a couple of weeks and hadn't thought about what to do while we are there. Now I will research and plan a more exciting trip! Thanks!"
"Great article! Reading is a very important part of vacationing but writing is as well. I recommend while riding in the car or plane encourage your child to write in a journal describing the vacation. Or, if they are to young to write, you write while they describe the events. Also, increase your child's language skills. Talk about and describe new words that they will discover while on vacation. Then, draw a picture of your vacation."
"Overall the article was very informative, and I am sure that I will put some of the ideas to use during in the near future. MRI"
"I scrap book, so I include the thoughts and dicate my daughter's words, but I have my son write in his thoughts in his writing during the trip and at a particular time, so they are recorded and hopefully his children will see his writing at eight years old."