A Vacation Education

By Pat Fenner
Does the term “summer school” scare you off … or get you yawning? Take a family vacation this summer and use the time productively! Our family has used these ideas at the beach for years, but you can also tweak this for whatever your destination!
A week or two on vacation just about brims over with educational opportunities—and fun ones, to boot! Use these ideas to get started, and then make sure you follow your kids’ delight and interests to build on them. But don’t get bogged down or legalistic about doing any of these suggestions the “right” way. “The right way” is when your children find something they’re excited about and then continue to learn more on their own.
The beach naturally lends itself to oceanography, biology, and earth sciences. Prior to vacation, get to the library and check out books on:

  • oceans of the world,
  • how waves are formed/tsunamis,
  • currents (world/local),
  • tides,
  • estuary life,
  • ocean chemistry,
  • shore life—plants and animals,
  • sea life—plants and animals,
  • marshes/dunes,
  • weather and wind studies, and
  • fresh water/salt water (you can do a neat Venn diagram with your comparisons).

On the subject of history, check out in advance if there are any forts, lighthouses, historic buildings/ports and see what time periods/events they might correspond to. Lighthouse studies can go even another way as you study light, rainbows, vision/sight, sailing … depending on interests and ages of your children. You can also explore ships/sailing/early navigation, leading to a study of one or more early explorers. A quick Google search can get you started, as well as a call to the Chamber of Commerce or local historic society. For both science and history, you can Google “museums” or “history of” with the town’s name, and go from there. One year we found a great marine biology museum that offered wonderful hands-on beach walks; the museum was small, but the walk and talk was rich!
Let’s see … on to math where you can:

  • count/categorize shells, rocks, plants, animals, and graph them,
  • graph/figure out times of high/low tides,
  • plan (and maintain!) a budget and/or estimate and keep track of expenses,
  • figure gas mileage, and
  • figure trip mileage.

Writing on vacation can be fun and easy, too! You may encourage your kids to:

  • keep a journal; use words and pictures,
  • write a short story based on an interesting character from your trip (historical fiction!),
  • create a word search or crossword puzzle of terms used/learned in your studies,
  • create a haiku or other type of poem,
  • do a research report or presentation on an interesting plant/animal/discovery,
  • write a movie script or play based on an incident or experience,

Vacations naturally lend themselves to expressions through art. So:

  • illustrate any of the above,
  • do a craft project using found materials,
  • “have at it” with a single-use or digital camera,
  • create a photo collage from the results,
  • create a lapbook with photos, souvenirs, stories, etc., to summarize the trip.

Follow this all up with books and videos when you get home. YouTube is a great free resource— use the search function to find relevant videos. (But do take some time to preview them, both for content and quality.) And don’t forget games, which not only build fun family memories, but can reinforce concepts learned during your studies.
The beauty of this approach to vacation is that you can tweak it to just about anywhere you go! Beaches or mountains, city or town … with just a few phone calls, some Internet research and planning ahead, you can turn almost any trip into an opportunity for learning, and have your kids spend some time unplugged!
Keep thinking and stay creative … and soon enough you’ll be learning everywhere you go!
Pat Fenner encourages homeschoolers to look “outside the box” from her site “Help 4 Your Homeschool.” Pat and her husband, Paul, have five children. Pat writes about Biblical handling of finances, homeschooling, and other family-related issues. She also enjoys crafts, reading, practicing hospitality, and a good cup of coffee with a friend!

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