by Deb Velto, K8 Program Director, Oak Meadow School
Summer is a time for rest and rejuvenation, and a time when our schedules often switch from education to relaxation, as families embark on vacations and other fun activities. Some parents wonder if taking a break from academics will cause a gap in their child’s learning. Going on an adventure, whether it’s a local day trip or a week-long vacation, is full of healthy, unstructured opportunities to practice existing skills and build new ones in an informal and fun context. Here are some ways to encourage continued learning while you’re enjoying summer adventures.
Where will you go on your adventure? Why does this place feel important to your family to visit? How will you get there, what will you do when you are there, and what will it cost? Do some research to find out some interesting facts about your destination. Learn about its history and cultural significance. Together, find out about its natural resources or key features of the local landscape, and then have each family member choose one thing to see or do. Even if you can’t do everything, getting the whole family involved in the planning stages lets children flex important brain muscles. What can you learn about this place before you go that will help you appreciate it more when you are there,
Get ready for it
Give children the opportunity to get ready for the trip on their own. What will they bring? How will they pack? If these skills are already a habit for them, perhaps they could help get a younger sibling ready with the items they need, or help gather the items that the family will need as a whole. Involve your child with making shopping or packing lists. Is any special equipment needed on your adventure? If you are going away for several days or more, how do you prepare your home before such a trip?
Use an atlas or other map to plan your trip. Where will you stop for breaks? How long will it take? What cities or towns will you drive through? Are there places of interest that you would like to see? Make a copy of the map and trace your route with a marker or highlighter. Depending on the size of your family, you might need two or three maps. If your child asks, “Are we there yet?” ask them instead, “Where are we now? How far do we have yet to go?”
Talk about it
Many students today are lacking practice with oral communication. The availability of email and texting has reduced the frequency that people communicate through speaking. Days off provide a great opportunity to talk with each other. Travel by car, train, airplane, or boat offers endless hours to talk about plans, experiences, memories, literature, goals, and life in general. Once you arrive at your destination, encourage your children to ask questions. They may enjoy calling up a grandparent or friend and tell them all about your trip once you get home.
Pay for it
Vacations can be a perfect time to practice money skills, when the moment comes to buy food or souvenirs on your journey. Have a younger child practice making change or counting money at a store. Older children might be encouraged to budget a larger amount of money ahead of time for the whole trip and make choices about what they purchase. Offer them the opportunity to interact with the cashier on behalf of the family, growing confidence and social skills while practicing math.
Write about it
Create a family trip journal! Get a blank sketch book to pass around during your travels. It can be a great way to pass the time in the car or pull it out for some relaxed down time once you get where you are going. Draw pictures, tape in small artifacts, and write about your trip together. You will end up with a great keepsake from your trip!
Bring a camera along to document your experiences. Print the pictures once you get home and create a memory book, or add them to your family trip journal. Arrange the pictures chronologically and write captions so you won’t forget the details. Such books are treasures and can be used as a prompt to tell the story of the day over and over. Older children might enjoy making a slideshow or photo montage of the trip.
Vacations can be fun times to collect natural materials or artifacts that might not be available at other times of the year. Bring home some shells, pretty stones, or sea glass from the beach, or some flowers from a hike that can be pressed in your journal. Then, in the winter, pull out these summer reminders to help create holiday gifts or use for other crafts and art projects.
Practice storytelling and memory recall skills by bringing out mementos to show friends and family once you are home again. Use your family trip journal or photo memory book to remind you of fun stories that are worth telling and retelling.
Summer is a welcome break for everyone, and it can also be a time for learning opportunities hidden within a great adventure. So don’t worry that your “break” will lead to a loss of learning, but instead embrace the chance to watch your child grow through the free-spirited atmosphere that summer provides.