Monday, May 30, 2016

Vacation Learning

Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer so I thought it was a great time for a re-post of an article I originally wrote for homechool mosaics under my "Family Driven Homeschool" column.  Enjoy!

Vacation Learning – Before, During & After

One of the things I deeply enjoy is vacations.  Growing up my family took great car trip vacations of which I have fond memories.  As we started having children, I wanted to create some memories for our children as well.  Some years we’ve been able to swing it and other years we’ve vacationed at home, one year turning our vacation in “Camp Reynolds”.

Since we began homeschooling our vacations many times have a little twist that just seems to happen.  We tend to turn our vacations into a learning experience just like we do just about everything – it sort of starts to come naturally.  Sometimes the “learning” part comes before as we prepare, other times it is during as we explore educational sites, and still other times it’s after as we research more about what we saw, did, or learned while on vacation.

I thought this month I’d suggest some resources for learning while on vacation to get you started, with just a word of caution.  Don’t get so wrapped up in the “learning” that you forget you are vacationing.  Sometimes we homeschoolers can start to make events too much like school.  Watch for signs that the “fun” is wearing out and it’s becoming tiresome.  You can also reflect and do more at home if you want to get a little more out of the event rather than ruin the time on vacation by trying to learn too much.

With any of the ideas below try getting some information online, visit the library, or consider purchasing a unit or lapbook study.

The Beach

Lots of opportunities abound here and vary with your location, but some fun studies might include: tide pools, fish, shellfish, dunes, shells and their owners, tides, waves/weather, hurricanes, lifeguarding, fishing industry, rescue and first aid techniques, wildflowers and grasses and more.
At the beach in RI

We’ve done a unit study on tide pools and then investigated tide pools once we were there, identifying what we could.  While in Rhode Island, we’ve also watched crabs and bought live lobster right off the boats.  Of course, that leads to the home economics of how to cook and prepare seafood.  ymm.   When the kids were young, I brought a bottle of glue and paper and we made mosaics with collected sand and other items they “treasured”.

Don’t forget to take advantage of any learning centers.  Near us we have P.J. Hoffmaster State park which has a great learning center. Here we can learn how the dunes are formed and the protection of them, as well as a lot of information on the animals and plants of the dune ecosystem.  It’s worth an air conditioned hour or two for sure.


So many museums offer specials or even free days in the summer that it’s a great time to take advantage of their generosity.  Generally these are the “no prep” kind of activities where you go and absorb it all.  Be careful, however, to check out the Museums stance on the age of the earth and take that into consideration before you partake and absorb.  For older children, it may be a great way to start a discussion about what you believe and why the museums hypothesis is in error.

If you’re planning a trip, it’s worth a call ahead to see if they have guides and when they are available.  We happened to go to the Michigan State museum in Lansing and a costumed docent guided us.  It made the museum much more interesting as he shared his knowledge “in character”.

Boston tour
Living Museums

This is like total immersion history at its best.  While in MA, we were able to do both Plimouth Plantation and the Mayflower one year.  There is nothing like seeing history come to life and being able to “converse” with the “people” whose lives you just studied.  This was especially great as my kids were able to ask “John Winthrop” questions they had about the colony from our study of it.  What great reinforcement!

Botanical Gardens and Nature parks

These are great places to identify flowers and other plants.  Often these types of places have classes and/or learning lectures.  Fernwood Gardens is one located near us (SW Michigan) that offers many opportunities for learning or just a place to have a nice hike while enjoying nature.

Zoos and Aquariums

Of course the learning here focuses on the animals.  The trip itself often sparks new questions.  From our recent trip to Binder Park Zoo just the other day, we learned that the giraffe’s tongue is VERY long and kind of purple gray.  We also noticed that some of the giraffe’s skin was taught but two had “saggy” skin.  Our hypothesis is that these were the “mommy” giraffes.  We have not looked up the answer to see if we are correct, but I like the thinking (and unfortunately can relate to it!)


Whether it’s in your back yard or deep in the woods, there is so much you can learn from camping.  Lessons like why you don’t touch the tent roof when it’s raining can be learned firsthand, as well as fire safety and how to cook over a fire.  You could even test out an experiment on which brand of insect repellent works best.

The list could go on and on…how about boating, kite flying, biking, cloud and/or storm watching, lighting bug catching, raise some tadpoles or monarchs, amusement parks (how do those rides work?) and much more. 

Whether your budget is big or small you can turn your vacation into a family learning experience that you’ll have fond memories of for years to come.  Happy vacationing!

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