The Travel Channels hit reality TV show “The Kids in Charge” featured several families whose vacations are planned and executed entirely by the children. From making hotel reservations to handling the money; from deciding which souvenirs to purchase to choosing which activities the family will take part in, the kids make all the decisions, and Mom and Dad simply tag along, for the experience and the fun.
If you’ve seen the show you’ve also seen some of the challenges both parents and children face when choosing to make such a drastic change from their usual way of doing things. Lessons are learned, and new insights gained when families are willing to depart from the traditional roles of parent/child, and experience a new way of doing things.
While many families are not willing/able to go this far in allowing their children to help plan the family vacation, there are many things that parents can do to help get and keep children involved, from start to finish.
Deciding when to go
If your schedule is flexible enough, it is always best to include children in choosing the right time for your vacation. Even Elementary School age children often have special events and social happenings that are important to them. Whenever possible, talk with your children about when your vacation should take place. Birthday parties your child is invited to, school functions, sporting and other special events should be considered before selecting the date. By doing this your child won’t feel that they are missing something important while you are on vacation. When you consider your child’s schedule, as well as your own, you will also be sending the message that your child is important to you, and that you consider the things that he/she thinks are important, to be important as well.
Deciding where to go
Call a family meeting, and let the focus be on planning your vacation. Children do best when given choices. Instead of asking kids “Where should we go on vacation?” try offering two or three choices, such as the beach, the mountains, or the woods. Give children lots of information and resources about area attractions, things to do, and places your family might stay at each location. If everyone is not able to agree on a certain destination, let children know that you will all vote at the end of the meeting, and the majority will rule. Letting kids know this ahead of time will help avoid pouting and temper tantrums once the decision has been made.
Deciding what to do
Once you’ve selected your destination, involve children in making decisions about where to stay, what to do, and which attractions to visit while your family is on vacation. The Internet is your best resource for information about the area. Use Google or Map Quest to search your location. Show kids maps of the area that you will be visiting. Spend time looking at websites that feature nearby attractions. Read about different resorts, hotels or campgrounds and decide together which ones are the most appealing. Send away for fliers and pamphlets from local attractions, such as theme parks, zoos or museums. Go to the library to find guidebooks that features colorful photographs, and detailed information about the area. Sit down with your children and look over all the information together. Families can either allow each member of the family to choose one particular place they would really like to visit, or they can vote as a family on all of the places they will go. Be sure to set limits with children ahead of time. If you will only be visiting three places on your vacation be sure to let children know this from the start.
A learning experience
Planning a vacation can be a valuable learning experience for children. Some good ideas for helping your children learn through vacation planning include:
Reading and understanding maps: Helping children learn to identify symbols, read keys and legends, and even figure distances, are simple ways to incorporate learning into vacation planning.
Budgeting and Money: Discussing with children how much your family is willing to spend on your vacation, the costs of various attractions, sleeping accommodations, food, and travel expenses, gives children a chance to practice math skills, and gain a better understanding of how to handle budget and handle money.
History: Incorporating historical monuments and national landmarks into your trip gives you plenty of opportunity to talk about history with your children. Research the areas past. Learn as much as possible about major events, and historical figures that are significant to your vacation spot.
Science: Natural attractions such as mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes, offer plenty of opportunity to explore the world of science. State and national parks are great places to learn about wildlife, and other natural sciences. Children love the outdoors. Study rocks, collect seashells, catch bugs, examine rocks and trees, and keep your eyes peeled for signs of wildlife, such as animal tracks, or markings on the ground and trees.
Your family vacation is bound to be full of wonderful memories that you and your children will never want to forget. While you are on vacation allow your children take their own pictures. Help them collect small souvenirs. Gather fliers, pamphlets and other informational materials while on your trip. When you come home, help children to use their pictures and mementos to create a scrapbook that includes all of their favorite places and events. Help them write a narrative about their vacation, include anecdotes and fun facts about what happened to the family on your trip. These scrapbooks will become precious treasures for you and them in the years to come.