The following is a post from contributing writer Jennifer Fink of Blogging ‘Bout Boys
I am not one of those homeschoolers who believes that every moment has to be “educational.” My kids play on the computer –and let me tell you, most of their games are not officially classified as “educational.” (Do they learn something from the games anyway? I think so, but that’s not the point of this post.)
But I am one of those homeschoolers who’s instinctively interested in the world. I (and the kids) watch documentaries on TV, not because they’re educational but because they’re interesting. We head to the woods because it’s fun, not because we’re embarking on an official nature study. We tend to weave learning into our summer vacations in just the same way.
On one of our first camping vacations, we headed to Nelson Dewey State Park, in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. Why? Because in the course of researching an article, I’d learned about the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, and I knew that my boys – especially the fishing fanatic in the family – would love it.
I was right.
This summer, we’re embracing my 6-year-old son’s love of the Titanic. It’s a love that began with a rummage sale book. The book, which I’d grabbed because it was about the Titanic and in good shape (and 25 cents!) sparked his imagination. Since then, we’ve read numerous Titanic books, watched Titanic documentaries and the James Cameron movie and planned a road trip to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
It’s an ambitious trip, to be sure, especially for a single mom of four boys! But he’s my fourth and last child, he’s in the throes of an obsession that will likely never return again, and I can just imagine his eyes when he actually gets to walk the Grand Staircase.
Plus, I’d love to see the Titanic Museum.
The museum, though, is 12 hours from our house, which is WAY too long to do in a single sitting. (Especially for a single mom of four boys!) And I’m on a serious budget. (See: single mom of four boys.) So I brainstormed a camping road trip. We’ll be visiting (and camping at) Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Mammoth Cave National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In each place, I’m going to give the kids time to explore. And learn.
Want to plan your own learning vacation? Here’s how:
Consider your kids’ interests
Is your kid in love with the Civil War? Try a Civil War battleground. Got a baseball lover in the family? Consider the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and consider taking in a game or two at different stadiums along the way.
Look at what else is along the way
Once I determined that the Titanic Museum was within driving distance, I began to look for other interesting places along the way. I knew about the Indiana Dunes National Park from yet another article. Then I remembered that the Mammoth Caves are in Kentucky, which is between Indiana and Tennessee. I looked them up, and realized that I could tweak our route to include a stop at the caves, which I have been dying to see for years.
Let learning happen
The best learning, I’m convinced, is natural and interest-driven. My kids never do the so-called educational scavenger hunts that some museums offer, simply because such activities strip the inherent fun out of the activity for them. Instead, I let them wander and explore, and we question, ponder and learn as we go.
Gather supplemental materials
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to sneak in some additional learning. I’ve already downloaded a National Parks app onto my iPad. I figure that will give the kids something to look at during the drive! I may also check out some books about our destinations ahead of time, and leave them strewn around the house.
Involve the kids
One mom of two boys appoints one the official navigator for their journeys; the other is in charge of the budget and expenses. Talk about natural, real-world learning!
Let the kids document the vacation
My kids love taking photos when we travel. Other kids might enjoy making a scrapbook or keeping a journal. Still others might want to blog the entire trip.
Have you ever taken a learning vacation with your kids? Tell us about it! And if you have any tips for surviving a road trip with 4 boys, I’d be happy to take those too!
Jennifer L.W. Fink lives and works in southeastern Wisconsin. Her four boys are now 13, 10, 8 and 5. Jennifer blogs about boys, education and parenting at Blogging ‘Bout Boys. Her writing can also be found in Home Education Magazine, Scholastic Instructor, Parents and other national publications.