How to Take a Learning Vacation

As educators, my husband and I are always in teach/learn mode, even when we are on summer break.  We combine our love of history, geology, and adventure whenever we go on a family vacation.  In fact, it has become family tradition that no matter where we go, we will not only have fun, but we will also become well versed in an area/topic/historical event.

Our very first experience trying a “learning vacation” was at Golden Spike State Park in Utah.  Since our son loved trains, we explained that we were going to a special train park and that he would get to explore a real engine.  The kids collected postcards about the historical site, climbed on trains, watched a real steam engine, and enthusiastically read all the signs we took photos near (my husband and I modeled how to read the signs to uncover hidden treasures of information).  Often when teachers and parents show passion and enthusiasm for learning, it is contagious!  After a fun-filled day, we went home and created a scrapbook of our experiences,  and we also watched This is America Charlie Brown, which depicted the events associated with the transcontinental railroad.

Our day trip was such a success that we were encouraged to expand on our idea.  Our next adventure was to my favorite park in America, Yellowstone National Park (in Montana and Wyoming).  We spent three days inspired by geysers, amused by the mud pots, intrigued by the Firehole River, and excited by the wildlife. Our added feature to this trip was to enroll our oldest children in the Junior Ranger program.  Introducing children to all the amazing features of the park through the activities in the guidebook inspired the desire to earn a Junior Ranger patch and sparked an excitement in my children that lasted into their adulthood.

Although our children have been able to visit amusement parks, as adults, they stated that their favorite family vacations included trips were we all learned and experienced adventures together.  They have learned about volcanoes, forests, animals, battles, government, and historical events through engaging summer adventures.

Not only did we have fun, but these vacations were often more economical.  Some of the other places we visited include: the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest in Eastern Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Washington D.C., pioneer villages in multiple states, the Freedom Trail in Boston, Redwood National Park in California, and many more.

Each adventure spurred excitement while motivating our children to read, think critically, synthesize information, and even write about experiences.  Sometimes, our family would write a brief postcard about our day’s events and mail it home to read upon our return.  Often, our children could make connections at school to information they learned on our adventures.   In addition, a great tip before you travel is to get some illustrated books at the library portraying the place you will visit.  This helps children to practice their reading skills while building excitement and helping to plan their adventure. We tried to make sure we visited sites our children were interested in reading about.  Furthermore, comparing video and photo depictions of a place or event to the actual place also encourage critical thinking.

Of course, summer is often when families try to spend more time together, and as they do, parents can encourage their kids to keep learning and practicing important thinking skills in real-life settings. Happy Adventuring!


Amanda McAdams is Director of Elementary Education in Lincoln County, Wyoming.