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How to plan an educational vacation

Vicki Salemi is passionate about writing. As a regular contributor to AOL, MSN and numerous sites and publications she also blogs regularly for CNBC European Business, Women for Hire and Manhattan adventures on her website www.vickisalem...

Trips that teach

To beach or not to beach, that is the question. Maybe it had something to do with my mother's career as a teacher, but when I was growing up it wasn't uncommon for our family vacays to be road trips to full of togetherness, fun, and yes, learning.

Child reading sign in zoo.
Whether it was a visit to Philadelphia's Liberty Bell, Boston's midnight ride of Paul Revere or Jamestown's inhabitant of Pocahantas, it not only created an insatiable appetite for traveling, it created a thirsty ambition for historical knowledge as well.

According to Dr. Helen Eckmann, education expert and co-author of Simple Principles to Raise a Successful Child and Simple Principles to Excel at School, instilling this passion for curiosity is important and it's never too late to instill a school-friendly slant to your family trips. "Every vacation is an educational one. We teach our kids as we go."

And away we go!

So the question is, how do you implement the game plan? The key, says Joan Rooney, vice-president tutor management at Tutor.com, is getting them involved with planning some vacay activities.

"Just don't tell them that they are learning and don't give them "homework" that's for the school year. If you involve the kids with planning some activities, you know they will be engaged. Talking about your favorite part of the day or the "coolest" new fact they learned are great ways to review what they've learned in a casual way that is still fun. Parents should add the new facts they've learned, too because learning is a lifelong adventure."

For instance, on a recent trip to Italy Joan's teenage son was in charge of reading the guidebooks and looking at maps to decide what sites to visit along with the best routes to get there. "He loved the responsibility and the power to help plan our trip around his interests. Did he realize that he was learning? No. And that's a key part of an "educational" trip. It has to be fun first and foremost. Let the kids take the lead on some of the planning and the activities to make sure they're having fun while they're learning." Sometimes, you see, lessons learned may not so much focus on the actual destination but the journey itself.

Keepin' it real

Although you've engaged your child in the planning as well as having thought-provoking discussions on the trip itself, experts like Pat Wyman, author or Learning vs Testing reminds us it's about striking a balance. "You choose some activities and your child chooses…remember that kids still need to be kids and just have some fun in the sun."

Her advice? "Find out what their goals for school are and make sure to include at least one activity related to that school goal - it may be taking a course which will get them credits they need for later; it may be something to raise a grade in a particular subject."

Plant the Seed

Above all, to a fun and educational vacay it's important to remain enthusiastic. "Parents may want to think about a few fun yet educational activities to go along with the trip. For example, if you are spending some time at the beach with younger children, you may want to take pictures with the kids of all the shells, plants and birds." She says when you return home you can make a scrapbook and your child can research appropriate names for each item. So the learning doesn't officially stop once you return home, in fact, that may become part of the educational process itself.

"This type of experiential learning enriches everyone and helps kids develop their natural curiosity while using critical thinking skills," she says. "Summer vacations also help fend off the dreaded "summer loss" phenomena where students lose up to two or more months of learning. An educational family trip can help keep them on the right track for back-to-school by keeping their brains working while they're having fun.

"Loving to learn never dies"

Dr. Eckmann says, "We need to teach children that loving to learn never dies - we need to show them the beauty in life and the patterns of life. We need to teach them to respect their intellect across a wide variety of venues - vacation is a perfect place to help kids find their passion. We want people to have their passion be about finding out how the world connects with us."

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