Just because school is out doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. Summer is a great time to give kids a love for learning by making it fun! Some of my favorite learning opportunities happen when we’re traveling and seeing new places, which means summer vacation is a great time to sneak some fun learning in!
Whether you’re traveling across the city or the state or the country in a car, ship, or plane, there are plenty of ways to turn your summer trip into a great learning experience.
1. Prepare Your Kids Beforehand
A few weeks before we went to Zion National Park earlier this year, I got Tater a bunch of maps and books that talked about the Park and the state of Utah. Introducing your kids to the location before you go will give them a sense of what to expect, so their eyes and ears will be open for learning! Maps (if you are a AAA member you can get them for free), library books, and travel shows on Netflix or YouTube are all great ways to get your kids ready for your trip.
2. Rethink Travel Games
I’m the first to admit, on long road trips and plane rides my kids spend plenty of time watching DVDs and iPad movies, but I still pack a bunch of travel games and activities. In addition to a few DIY Travel Toys, I also fill a binder with coloring and activity pages about our destination, photos of various landmarks we will see, and Booklets I print out from the National Parks Junior Ranger program. (Even if you’re not going to a National Park, you can still use it to print out information about landmarks from the state(s) you’re visiting.)
3. Be More Observant
Even on vacation, it seems we don’t notice the little details, and only pay attention to the “exciting” things. But, if they’re observant enough, your kids can learn a lot even in mundane situations:
- Talk about construction styles and architecture as you’re walking down the street (architectural details vary widely between regions, and history plays a big role!)
- Notice the license plates you see in a parking lot (often license plates will feature a state motto or important state feature).
- Discuss how geographic location influences regional favorites on the menu while you wait at a restaurant (why does the South feature catfish, the Northwest feature salmon, and Hawaii offer Pacific mahi mahi?)
- Ask about the landscape and how it’s different from where you live. Introduce geology and geography by talking about mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and even the color of the soil or rocks. (Red dirt usually means iron rich, and gray rock formations could be limestone, shale, or granite.)
4. Take Pictures
Get your kids an inexpensive camera and encourage them to take pictures of anything that interests them. Give them more information about the things that captivate them, and when you get home start a scrapbook using the photos he or she took.
5. Keep a Journal
Encouraging your child to keep a journal of the things you’ve done and places you’ve visited not only preserves the memories, it also practices their handwriting and spelling skills. If your child is too young to write, have them draw a picture or dictate their memories for you to write down.
6. Choose Your Attractions
Children’s Museums, Aquariums, Zoos, and hands-on Science Centers are all wonderful attractions that provide learning while having fun first.
7. Don’t Force It
This is actually the MOST important tip. The goal is just to keep your kids’ minds active, you don’t need them to memorize information. You don’t need to test them, and if they don’t really want to hear about the history of the state or the engineering feat of the bridge you just drove over, don’t push it. Make memories, have fun, and learning will follow.