Creating Learning Adventures out of Family Vacations

Here are 3 tips for creating a fun learning adventure for your family vacation.
By Michael Rhattigan

Ages

Infant-13

Creating Learning Adventures out of Family Vacations

Today's column is the final installment of a three-part series on summer learning for kids. Part 1 & Part 2 covered why summer learning is important, as well as useful resources and strategies for summer learning. In this column, I share 3 tips to create a fun learning adventure for your family vacation. (It's possible!)

1. Apply the "pre-teaching" principle. In the education world, we've seen that teachers who "pre-teach" may help their kids learn better and build more confidence than those who take a "remedial" approach. Pre-teaching provides additional assistance to kids who may struggle with a particular topic, before the rest of the class is taught that lesson, so those children are starting at level ground during the class. (In contrast, remedial teaching addresses kids who are falling behind during class-time, and provides additional assistance afterwards.)

How can this be applied to your family vacation? Let's say your family will be going to Yellowstone National Park, and your older child loves learning about geology, whereas your younger child will likely find less to engage with after Old Faithful makes its appearance. If you pre-teach your younger child by providing additional books and games about Yellowstone's Super Volcano beforehand, chances are, s/he will show more interest during the visit, rather than feel overwhelmed or bored. Check out the guide below, which provides some supplemental facts and activities regarding Yellowstone that you can use with your kids

2. Create a "mission." Little family squabbles seem like a natural part of spending an extended amount of time in close quarters with your loved ones. However, you can help align everyone's interests and pep up motivation by creating "missions" for your family to achieve during your vacation. These activities may resemble the project-based learning (PBL) that your kids engage in at school, with a lighthearted and fun twist, and are also on-trend with "expeditionary learning" approaches that combine an immersion experience with follow-up discussions and curricula.

If you have younger kids, an example mission might be, "Let's team up to find and take pictures of objects/signs/places in New York City that begin with the first letter of our last name, and create a photo collage once we're home from vacation." For older kids, a mission like "Let's create an environmental video documentary of neat ecology facts we learned and photos of the biosphere that we experienced on our family trip to the Everglades" could work well.

Bonus: This approach works best by incorporating the three steps of 1) planning & research, 2) experiencing & documenting, and 3) synthesizing & creating. Practicing these skills in an informal and fun environment will help your kids when it comes time to apply these skills in the classroom, too.

3. Be creatively cross-curricular. As with the "mission" idea suggestions, your kids can engage in fun projects without even realizing that they're integrating reading and visual art skills, or science and writing skills. In an ideal world, you could enlist your kids to help map out the best schedule and route to avoid heavy traffic jams -- and perhaps identify the portions of the trip where it's more efficient to bike or walk, instead of drive. This not only helps develop their geography and math skills, it also keeps them active.

Even if you're planning to take the majority of your family trips as stay-cations to a nearby beach, you can still incorporate cross-curricular learning opportunities. Before hitting the beach, helping your kids learn about how SPF works, know when the sun's rays are most direct, and calculate how often to reapply sunscreen is a lesson that ties in math and science, and cultivates a lifetime of sun safety awareness.

And with that, I hope you and your family have a fun and educational summer adventure!
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