10 ways to learn on vacation

Kids are natural learners, hardwired to soak up everything around them.

Changing their regular learning environment can really spark enthusiasm and retention. Why not take advantage of that and throw some learning fun into your vacation or holiday. Here are ten ways to learn on vacation.

1| Compare & Contrast.

You can compare and contrast just about anything. While on vacation some great choices are comparing the country or city you’re visiting to your own.

Things you might include in your studies are:

  • Population.
  • Economics.
  • Cultural norms.
  • Food.
  • Weather.

Try making charts, graphs, or my personal favorite a Venn diagram. Any method you use to get your kids thinking about places in new ways will help them learn and grow. The best part is they start applying this approach to other aspects of life and take their base of knowledge deeper.

2| Connect Learning to Whatever You’re Already Doing.

If you’re visiting the beach you might study marine habitats or shoreline ecology. Or, let your child take the lead by choosing their favorite sea animal then take pictures and keep ‘field notes.’ Later, at home, do crafts, activities and writing assignments about that animal.

When visiting family, interview the grandparents, and ask what life was like when they were the age your child is now. Make a family tree or a timeline of your grandparents’ life. Let your kids see where they fit into it. For me there is nothing better than combining travel, learning, and family connection – it’s literally our tagline: travel, learn, connect.

3| Study the Local History.

Each and every area of the world has its own history. Often, we only learn history from the perspective of our own culture but learning history in a new area helps us see through a new lens. There are so many directions to take:

  • History of a city or country.
  • History of a group of people.
  • History of a building. For instance, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is a great example.
  • History of a social movement.
  • History of regional food. YUM!

For example, my family is currently learning about the Akha Hill Tribe people of Northern Thailand (and surrounding countries). Many Akha people are stateless, a term and issue we’d never heard before now. It’s made for many fascinating, eye-opening dinner time conversation.

4| Get Art Smart.

Art is woven into literally every aspect of human-kind.

People like to think of art in two ways:

  • Either grand masterpieces adorning the walls of stuffy old museums,
  • or the messy little paint splatters of a youngster.

But art is for everyone and it can be fun learning experience. A quick internet search for ‘museum scavenger hunt’ yields a great activity to engage the whole family.

Even viewing Picasso’s greatest works can offer something for all ages. For the younger kids a simple talk about shapes, creating with shapes, lines, and color (or lack thereof) is a great starting point. For older kids, Picasso is a great introduction to symbolism and expression of the current events at the time of rendering. Every place you go has art, often specific to that area. It’s found not just in museums, but in sculpture gardens, local coffee shops, and on street art.

5| Learn the Lingo.

If you’re going on holiday to a place that speaks a language different than your own; learn a few words to help with communication. “Yes, no, please, thank you, how much”, and “where’s the bathroom?”, top the must-know list. My children, while still monolingual, can say thank you in ten languages. There is no shortage of language learning tools. Our favorite cheap and fun thing to do is purchase a preschool alphabet workbook,  then find a local to explain the letter names and sounds. If you can’t find someone to do this, YouTube is your friend. Imagine our surprise to learn that in Greek the letter P is pronounced /r/.

Traveling to a place that speaks the same language can present unique learning opportunities like:

  • Colloquialisms & regional language not used elsewhere.
  • Different uses of the same words. In the UK I was quite embarrassed to discover that what Americans call pants; Brits call trousers; and what the British call pants are actually, well, look it up!
  • Etymology, the history of words.
  • Accents, everyone has an accent!

For instance, my Aunt in Boston doesn’t have a living room and a basement, she has a parlor and a cellar; both of which she pronounces with absolutely no R’s. But to her, I’m the one with the accent!

6| Play the Five Fun Facts Game.

Wherever you go and whatever you do while on vacation, find five facts about your location. Make a journal, notebook, or worksheet for each child, then have fun filling it with short and easy to add facts.  You might plan this before you go or make it fill in the blank style. Or, let it all unfold naturally as things come up. For example, if we were taking a vacation to Washington DC, we might make a Five Fun Facts Journal that included information about the places we are visiting: the Washington Monument, Smithsonian Air and Space, The Capitol Building, The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, and the National Archives. Next, we’d write out five facts we intend to learn about each place.

The Washington Monument

  1. Height __________
  2. Building materials __________
  3. Year construction started __________
  4. Time it took to build __________
  5. Number of steps __________

Be sure to leave some space for other information, pictures, and drawings. This is a great way to be intentional with learning on vacation.

7| Make an Educational Video.

Don’t think your teens want to learn on vacation? Challenge them with making a vacation video homeschooler style.

First, give them the tools they need.

  • A copy of the vacation itinerary.
  • Teach them to storyboard and make short lists.
  • They likely already have a video camera on their phone, but if not lend them the family GoPro.
  • Ensure they have access to video editing software. A free phone app could work.
  • Set a post-vacation deadline and schedule a viewing party.

Don’t forget to set some parameters on what to include:

  • It should tell a story.
  • Include information on the history of the area.
  • Incorporate facts about where you’re going and what you’re doing.
  • Create a set of interview questions.
  • Be sure to ask permission to film people beforehand.

This is a great way to engage older kids and it makes a nice vacation keepsake.

Now that you’re starting to see the possibilities of learning on vacation; when and how should you plan to incorporate educational activities into your holiday?

Here are a few approaches.

8| Study Before You Go.

Once you know where you’re going and what activities you’ll be doing, there’s no reason to wait learning about your destination. For instance, years ago a friend planned a six-week summer vacation to Europe for her family. It was set up a year in advance and as a result, she prepared the entire year’s homeschool curriculum around the trip itinerary. Her kids got to learn about the destination and then go experience it- epic!

9| Learn on Location.

Schedule in a little learning time each day on your vacation. This reminds the kids that learning happens everywhere at any time. Another idea is to budget a little vacation money to purchase some learning materials at your destination. Gift shops everywhere have books, puzzles, and games to supplement learning. Some of our most well-loved learning materials are those bought on vacation. The kids think of them as precious treasures from beloved trips.

10| Follow Up Once Home.

Sometimes you just need a true break from homeschooling and should enjoy your downtime. If you’re anything like us something on vacation will spark your curiosity and you’ll *need* to learn more. Go with the flow, let vacation inspire you and your kids’ learning. Once you’re back, go to the library and find books and biographies that connect to your topic. Use photos from your vacation in projects. Read, journal, lapbook, do arts and crafts projects, track your trip on the map. Go wherever the topic takes you and have fun.

Traveling can teach powerful lessons to your children. Read more here.

When you shift your philosophy to ‘everywhere is your classroom’, even a trip to Disney World is an opportunity for educating your children.

When I think of Disney, I think:

  • Physics of G-force on roller coasters.
  • Chemistry of pyrotechnics.
  • Literature like Huckleberry Finn and Winnie The Pooh.
  • History in the Hall of Presidents.

Don’t get me started on Epcot! But seriously, homeschooling is a magical journey of learning. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Guest Blogger Regina Kay is a worldschooling mother of five, full-time global explorer, and travel writer at www.fulltimefieldtrip.com, where she brings you real-world tips to make your life easier and your travels exceptional.
Regina Kay

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