The World is Your Classroom (Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Trips)

Vacations – whether a one-day getaway or a full week break –  are a perfect opportunity for families to relax, rejuvenate, and create lasting memories. Vacations can also be a fantastic way to enhance your children’s education and reveal how learning can be an unforgettable adventure. By incorporating into your vacation plans what homeschooling has taught you about learning from real life, you can transform your trip into a valuable and enriching experience for the entire family. Here are some practical tips and ideas to help you make your vacations educational and fun:

1. Choose Destinations with Educational Value:

When planning a vacation, look for historical landmarks, science museums, and interesting geographical anomalies. Perhaps a famous battle was fought or a discovery made in the area you plan to visit, or maybe someone famous lived there. You might discover the largest oak tree (Angel Oak in South Carolina is astounding) or the tallest pine (the Redwood National Forest in California is breathtaking). Maybe you are driving past the smallest mountain range or the largest! What is the area known for, naturally and historically?

2. Engage in Pre-Trip Research:

Before embarking on your vacation, encourage your children to conduct research about the destination. It could involve studying the history, geography, culture, or wildlife of the place you’ll be visiting. This pre-trip research not only builds excitement but also equips children (and yourself!)  with knowledge that will deepen their (and your!) overall experience during the trip.

3. Plan Guided or Self-Guided Tours:

Many tourist destinations offer guided tours and workshops. Take advantage of these opportunities to immerse your children in hands-on learning experiences. Many are free, but I personally find so much value in tours that I’m willing to spend a chunk of our vacation budget in this way. There is something special about an in-person guided historical tour that brings a time period to life! Self-guided tours are often fun too, whether at the Jelllybelly Factory, a farm, or a museum. Many of our National Parks provide Junior Ranger programs. My kids have always enjoyed learning about the park through the booklet provided, checking off the list of required activities, and earning badges while on vacation.

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”

— Walt Streightiff

4. Document and Journal:

Encourage your children to document their experiences through writing, drawing, or photography. When my older boys were little, we would have them journal about the trip (or dictate to me when they were very young) and  print out photos. After the trip, they would then use these journal entries and photos to transform free travel booklets or cardstock into their own scrapbooks. Depending upon the age of your child, you could have them make a social media post or a digital album with captions describing what they saw and did. Recording their thoughts and observations  helps them develop their communication skills while preserving memories of their educational journey.

5. Explore Local Cuisine and Culture:

Immerse your family in the local culture by exploring the regional cuisine, traditions, and customs. Visit markets, try new foods, and interact with the locals when you can. We have had buffalo burgers in Yellowstone, whole-hog BBQ in South Carolina, clam chowder in San Francisco, and Mexican food in Southern California. Regional food tastes better and gives you a more authentic peek into various cultures. Often you can simply travel to the nearest big city for a day trip to explore a new-to-you culture. Is there a Greek Festival or Highland Games happening near you? We have visited a Portuguese Festival, Maifest (German May Day), and even a Sikh Festival. Each of these places had delicious food (some of it free!) and we felt immersed in the culture, even if only for a few hours. Learning about different cultures fosters empathy, understanding, and appreciation for diversity, enriching your children’s educational experience beyond textbooks – and adds to the fun of a vacation.

6. Incorporate Math and Science:

If you really want to count your escapade as a “working vacation,” consider incorporating math and science as well. Encourage your children to use real-life opportunities to calculate distances, budget travel expenses, and observe natural phenomena. For example, measuring the height of a historical monument, discovering local wildlife, figuring out how much gas your car uses per mile, or estimating the time it takes for a waterfall to descend can make math and science engaging and tangible.

Homeschoolers have the unique advantage of flexibility–including being able to visit places off-season to avoid crowds and save money. You can transform vacations into valuable educational experiences and count these days as “doing school.” By selecting educational destinations, engaging in pre-trip research, planning guided tours, documenting experiences, exploring local culture, and incorporating math and science, homeschooling families can blend fun and learning seamlessly. These educational adventures will not only enrich your children’s academic journey but also create cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Start planning your next vacation and embark on an educational adventure together!