Making the Most of Vacation

Summer’s in full swing, and the kids are likely in full “I don’t care about learning” mode.  My opinions on THAT subject are a matter for a whole other post.  You can interrupt that slide, though, with vacation.  There are tons of activities that you can enjoy with the kids that are motivating, inspiring and yes, even educational, as you plan and enjoy a family vacation.  No vacation plans at your house?  You can do most of these activities as they relate to planning a dream vacation, as well.

It All Starts with Planning

Get the kids involved with planning the journey.  Most vacations are family affairs, and you want to have the kids excited about the process (they’ll usually behave better when they’ve invested time and effort).  These ideas work for planning an imaginary trip just as well as a real one.

Start with a family brainstorming session.  You know the budget (or set a pretend one), and have a general idea of where you’d like to land.  From there, get family input on what they’d like to do.  You’ll likely hear ideas ranging from swimming to amusement parts, from hiking to sightseeing.  Negotiating and compromising are very important life skills, and they actually will help your child function better with educational and employment tasks, as well.  There are very few learning or work settings where people are never expected to work collaboratively or be on committees.  Any skills you can promote in that regard will be a help to your kids.

Once you have a general destination (or at least a direction) in mind, it’s time to turn the young ones loose on researching possible attractions.  Even the youngest kids, who aren’t ready to research on their own, can get involved.  Look online or at travel information together.  I remember my  youngest actually choosing the hotel for one of our trips-she was about three and looked over a brochure we had picked up for free at a travel agency.  She spotted a picture of a children’s slide at a kiddie pool in one of the hotels under consideration and latched right on to it.  The hotel was already on the list of our possibilities, so we figured “Why not?”  To this day (and she’s now nearly 21), she remembers that vacation and how thrilled she was to have “picked the hotel”.  It made the trip memorable for her even at a time when memories can be quite questionable.

At any rate, getting the kids involved in researching and making choices about your destination, accommodations and itinerary will not only help them feel that they have a say in the trip, but also will provide ample opportunities for watching and learning about research skills.  These, of course, are needed as they move through school-related tasks from elementary through college, and then as they set out to learn things they need as adults.  Sound research skills are vital to becoming informed consumers, knowledgeable patients, and active voters and citizens.

After getting a rough outline of the trip, it’s time to do some serious planning.  Kids will exercise math skills and logic skills, map skills and more as they plot a course across counties, states or country on a road map, apply budget constraints to their ideas, and figure out how long it will take to go from one point to another.

As you travel, it’s time to have the kids keep track of the money being spent and help make decisions about “extras” along the way.  Give everyone a small budget for their own desires, like souvenirs, and many lessons will be learned about delayed gratification and wise spending.  Many children get their first taste of budgeting when they spend their allotted vacation cash on some trinket the first day, then find something they wanted even more on the third stop.  Just make sure you don’t “rescue” them too much, or the lessons quickly get lost.

Everyone should keep a journal about the travels, as well.  Writing a quick paragraph each night before retiring might be the best way to get the job done, and when the trip is just a memory, the record will be a great souvenir.  And if this is just a dream vacation, the journal can be all the more fun to keep-what would have been the perfect day if you were really visiting these destinations?

So you see, summer family vacations, real or imagined, can be great opportunities to keep young minds active and to build not only academic skills, but life skills.  Enjoy your trip!

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I would love to hear from YOU!~  Please leave your comments and questions below!

Tablets for Kids-If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Seems like everyone and their cousin has a tablet these days.  Many models have become quite affordable, and some people just seem driven to have the latest technology no matter what the cost.  One piece of fallout from this digital revolution that’s creating portable computing is that our children are exposed to the devices at younger and younger ages. How do you feel about tablets for kids?

I had a lunch outing with a young mom the other day, and was delighted to see that she brought her two-year-old son.  Of course, being two, he got a bit antsy before we ladies were done with lunch.  Twenty years ago, I would have jiggled the baby, tried a few distractions from my diaper bag, then had to excuse myself before the tyke started howling and disturbed the whole restaurant.  My young friend just handed him her mini tablet!  When he tired of one game, she helped him switch to another, then finally put a movie on for him to watch while we finished lunch and he dozed off to sleep.  Quite a change over twenty years!

Now, I’m not being critical at all.  Parents are going to use the tools they have available to occupy, entertain, and yes, even educate their children.  A few generations ago, we had televisions, then desktop computers and video games, and now tablets.  The same questions loom, and I’m pretty sure we will arrive at the same answers: It’s not necessarily the technology that’s bad for kids, it’s how we choose to use it.  The scientists can debate all they like, but the fact of the matter is that tablets are here to stay, and developers are very mindful of young parents’ tendencies to want distractions for little ones.  Tablets for kids are here to stay.  How will you choose to respond?

Granted, I don’t have a young child in the house anymore (though someday I may become a grandma).  I do have some strong opinions on the subject, though, perhaps because I’m an educator.

Like television, computers, video games, and all of the other techie toys that we’ve grown so fond of, let’s use these devices sensibly with the kids.  The key, like for most of the rest of life, is moderation and discretion.

I do feel that kids need to learn other strategies for distracting themselves, for soothing themselves to sleep, and for interacting with the rest of the world.  I do feel that it is very counterproductive to ALWAYS hand your child a gizmo when he or she is fussy.  I also feel that we do children a huge disservice when we use these devices as a substitute for interaction and monitoring that parents have always needed to be doing.  In other words, tablets are no more babysitters than televisions were when my children were young.

That being said, tablets and phones and similar items are not going away any time soon, and we need to learn to use them (and have our children use them) wisely and well.  Take the good things and maximize them and weed out the counterproductive aspects.  That takes a bit of doing, but it is quite possible.

One of the first things I would suggest is an app (yes, there really is “an app for that”!) that allows you to enforce usage limits for your child.  It will also give you information about just how much of the time you give your device to your youngster, which is good to have a clear idea about.  One such app is only 99 cents in the Apple App Store and works on all of your Apple devices.  Check out TimeLock .  If Android is more your speed, check out MM Guardian.  I’m quite sure there are others out there as well, and commercials are indicating that the new Kindle Fire comes equipped with such parental controls.

Consider the types of things you have for your child to do on the device, as well.  Find apps that are developmentally appropriate, that contain no advertising, and that limit access to the internet and social media for your younger children.  It’s good to be able to disable those features if they are there.  And yes, these sorts of apps do exist!  One of my favorite review sites for Ipad apps is Best Apps for Kids, where you will find info about apps for children of all ages.  Of course, I have to admit to just a little bit of bias here; I write for the site.  If you’re interested, you can see my opinions of several great educational apps linked at my author page on Best Apps for Kids.  Stop on over to visit, and get some great ideas of what’s out there for your children to enjoy while they learn!

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Got a question or a comment about tablets for kids (or any other educational topic)?  Please leave it below, or you are welcome to email me directly at sfleming1235(at)gmail.com.