Avoid the summer slide in learning by incorporating these fun ways to maintain and improve learning while on vacation.
Learning, especially with young minds, is assisted when children see how the skills they are being taught in school are useful and can be applied in “real life.” Abstract concepts are hard for young children to grasp, so applying their lessons not only makes learning more fun, but also gives it some purpose.
Reading won’t be a chore if you ask your children’s help with road signs, airport information, menus, visitor guides, etc. Read about where you are going and find it together on a map. Once you are there, they’ll find it especially fun to read and look at the pictures in the various “rack cards” you see in hotel lobbies about the area’s sites. Since they are invested in the trip, everything they’ll be reading is “real” to them and to the family, which will be a great way to make them an important part of everyone’s experience. Have them read aloud, then also silently, and finally summarize for you what they’ve silently read. Go to one of the sites they read about on a rack card to “apply” what they’ve learned.
During those long hours in the car or on the plane, try telling stories to each other. It’s a sure way to help your children better enjoy reading stories themselves and to get their creative juices flowing. It will also help them listen and organize their thoughts. Start with a topic (take turns picking the story topic) and have each person add two sentences to the story. Children will not only have to listen to each of the other story-tellers, they will have to organize thoughts, remember and think ahead, be creative, and then explain their thoughts to others. Later, this will help them to listen more carefully to what is said and read to them. As they create their story, you can point out elements, which they will then see in other stories they read and hear (introduction, creating characters, having the story move step-by-step in an understandable and organized way, etc.).
At the beginning of the vacation, have your children write a letter to themselves about what they want to see and do. Then, at the end of each day of your trip, write a short travel journal together of what you all saw and did that day. You can write it down if your child is too young or you can help your child do the actual writing. Add pictures by drawing them or loading from your phone—or do the reverse and create a photo essay with captions to help to tell the story. Skills to be learned with this activity differ from oral storytelling because the child has more time to think through the beginning, middle and end of a story. This also helps children to use their imagination but adds some artistic experiences. Consider starting with a short outline of five or six events from the day and then connecting them with verbs and more embellishment. Also, you can buy picture postcards, write something about the place and have your children mail the postcard to themselves. Then, when you get back home, they will not only have mail waiting for them, you can read the postcards together to remember the trip.
Being able to take down dictation is actually a very important skill—think about taking notes in class or writing down tasks discussed in a business meeting. Have your children write short notes and/or “to do” lists for you that you dictate to them about what the family will do the next day. They can also write their own lists: best three things about the day, best three things about the trip, top three things they still want to do on the trip or this summer. Have them write their own “to do” lists, which also helps them learn to organize.
It’s easy to help your children keep up their basic arithmetic skills while showing them why it’s important to be able to do math. For example, whenever you are in the car, you can talk about how many miles it is to where you are going and they can guess how many minutes it will take; the closest guess wins (if they are old enough, they can time it themselves)—and you can then explain what miles per hour is and simple ways to calculate it. Once you arrive, you can give them simple numbers so they can calculate it themselves—you went 10 miles in 30 minutes, so your average miles per hour is 20 miles in 60 minutes. You can also have them calculate miles per gallon between fill-ups, etc.
You can do simple to more difficult math problems with many things during the day, too. If you have to buy tickets to attractions on your vacation, have your children figure out how many tickets you’ll need and/or how much the total cost will be. When you’re buying snacks or paying restaurant bills, depending on their ages, have your children check the receipts by adding up the totals, figure out the tip, etc. What are the hours of the tourist attractions—then how many hours are they open each day, each week. If you are going to two or three different attractions, what’s the average time can you spend at each? For younger children, even simple things can help them with their arithmetic skills—count the steps you are taking from point A to point B; how many steps are there from the elevator to your hotel room; how many floors are there in your hotel; how much deeper is the hotel pool than their height; how many people do you see in the next five minutes who are wearing blue, etc.
Always Have Fun
Combine these “lessons” with lots of everyday things so this learning will always be fun. For example, whoever sees the most people wearing blue gets to pick a candy bar; whoever guesses how many miles per hour you traveled gets to choose the next attraction; if they write a journal entry that night, they get to read it to the family the next day, etc.
When you are back home, teach them some research skills by finding what they saw online and then reading about it—have them summarize for you. Look at the pictures you took and ask them what was the best thing about each one. Invite a friend over to see the pictures and make some food, which was a local favorite that you tried on the trip. Have your child narrate the pictures and explain the food. Add more to the travel journal when you get home, such as more pictures, more explanations, etc. Your children can take their travel journal/postcards to school for show-and-tell.
Try to remember that everything you say and do creates an impression—all year long—and put that fact to good use.
Yvonne Wonder is the Managing Director of Destination Sitters, LLC, a hotel and event babysitting agency with local offices and sitters in nine cities and referred by over 1,000 hotels and event planners across California and the US. www.destinationsitters.com.