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School Vacations: An Opportunity to Learn while Playing
As a child, I remember breaks from school as day after day of swimming, playing softball, running around with friends, outings to a park or the beach and the rare trip to a faraway place. I also remember day after day of sitting around bored and doing nothing. What I don’t remember is learning much. Of course, vacation should be a break from the day-to-day school schedule or a nice visit with family. But vacation also can be an opportunity to spark intellectual curiosity that can carry over to school and life.
Here are a few steps to guide your child to an enriching, educational and fun vacation:
Find out the major themes to be covered in school. If you know your child’s teacher(s) will focus on natural geology or medieval times during school year, you can better guide your child’s fun activities.
Explore your child’s interests. This takes some work. Children will often stick to activities they or their friends have “always” done. With a library nearby and the willingness to explore, almost any subject is game, regardless of available budget. Explore new interests through reading and study. TV shows and DVDs are often influential and provide details on how to get started.
Make a list of potential activities. Here are a few examples but brainstorm with your child – the more unique and engaging, the better. Be sure to include a few that may be a stretch for your child. After all, we do the greatest amount of learning outside our comfort zone. And choose activities that are age-appropriate.
- Nature activities – bird watching, photography, oceanography, rock collecting, gardening
- Sports and exercise – karate, skim boarding, hiking, rock climbing, biking, ice skating, sailing, Zumba
- Food – crabbing, fishing, berry picking and then cooking your bounty
- Quiet time – drawing, painting, reading (especially about the other activities)
- Volunteerism (not your typical fun activity but rewarding none the less) – food and clothing drives, clean-up activities (beaches, lakes, playgrounds), reading to younger children, petting and holding shelter cats and dogs
- Travel – Whether it’s a day trip to a local park or farm or a luxury trip to Hawaii, travel provides an opportunity to learn about transit systems, maps, trip planning as well as the interesting characteristics of the destination. Seeing the local zoo, natural history museum and art museum helps children understand deeper aspects of any city and its people and culture.
Share your child’s interests. The more you support your child’s new-found interests, the better. However, be sure the activities planned are something your child truly wants to do and not something you did as a kid or wished you did that will allow you to relive your childhood. But if your child really wants to do something you are skilled in, all the better. Just leave room for your child to learn.
Include one or two of your child’s friends in your explorations – only if your child wants to do so. This will give your child an opportunity to share his interest, newfound expertise and just have fun.
Make new friends. Provide ample opportunity for your child to meet new friends to go along with their new interests. Sometimes children can get into a rut being with the same friends, day in and day out, carrying over relationships and the existing “pecking order” from school. Vacations or new activities allow children to break out of these norms and redefine who they are and what their interests are.
Discuss your learnings. Perhaps keep a shared journal with sketches, references, contact names, etc. This will enable your child to continue their explorations after their break is over.