Post and photo by Britt Reints.
I think educational travel gets a bad rap among parents and kids. While touring government buildings and exploring historic sites may not sound like an average child's idea of a good time, it is possible to plan a family vacation that is both educational and fun for kids. In fact, I'd suggest that building a little learning into your travel itinerary may actually make your getaway more enjoyable for everyone. Why bother with learning on vacation?
The thought of turning family vacation into learning opportunities conjures up images of demanding mothers who never let their children relax; it's certainly not my intention to be like that. However, I have found that my kids actually behave better when their brains are engaged and they're being challenged. A day or two doing nothing but hanging by the pool is great, but too much downtime has my children begging for something to do and picking at each other, neither of which is conducive to a fun family vacation for them or me. For my family, a balance of educational activities and free time works best.Explore their interests
A kid who feels like they're being "dragged" somewhere isn't likely to enjoy themselves or learn anything. Instead, I try to focus on activities and places that give my kids a chance to dig deeper in areas that they've already shown an interest in. My daughter the animal-lover could spend hours walking around a natural history museum, while her brother is fascinated by any type of factory tour. An art gallery might not be the first place you'd think to take a six-year-old, but mine is an avid painter and loved meeting real artists at the gallery studios in Savannah's City Market. Ignore what the pamphlets tell you about "family-friendly" and concentrate on what makes sense for your particular family.Respect their limitations
The key to any good family vacation is to know your limits. Your child is probably not going to participate in even the most interesting activity for more than a couple hours at a time, depending on their age and attention span. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue are mood killers at virtually any age. Take breaks to eat, bring water or juice, and don't be afraid to call it a day at the first sign that someone (even an adult) needs a nap.
I'm a firm believer that life is full of learning opportunities. Helping my kids spot those opportunities on vacation might help them acquire new facts, but my bigger hope is that it encourages them to be forever curious. That, I think, is a skill that will serve them far beyond the end of summer vacation.