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How to make your beach vacation a learning experience for kids

For many parents and students, the beach is a natural summer destination. Whether you and your child visit the shores of a lake, river or ocean, the sand, sun and water simply cannot be eclipsed by any other summer destination.

A beach vacation is both flexible and relaxing, and this summer it can be educational too. Students of all ages can learn about the natural world with minimal preparation on their parents’ part. How? Here are three tips for an educational beach vacation.

1. Begin with a question

Prior to the start of your beach vacation (ideally one to two weeks prior), speak with your child about your approaching trip. If your family has visited the beach before, ask her about her favorite aspects of the vacation. Does she enjoy swimming, or does she love the bumper cars on the boardwalk? Does she fondly remember the smell of salt water? If this is your first trip to the beach, look for pictures and videos online that can introduce your student to the experience. In both cases, be sure to ask if she has any questions about your destination. For instance, a young child may wonder why certain crabs burrow in the sand, while an older student may take an interest in the geological formation of the beach itself. You can then use one, two or three of these questions to focus your vacation-long educational inquiry.

2. Form a hypothesis

As stated above, limit your “big” questions to three or fewer. This will enable you and your child to explore each topic in depth, and it will also allow you to devote a portion of your vacation to non-educational pursuits; after all, balance is key to an enjoyable and informative trip. For each question, develop a hypothesis. For example, perhaps your student believes that small crabs burrow in the sand to hide from predators or to sleep undisturbed. Once you settle on a possible explanation, document any evidence that supports or refutes this hypothesis. One way to do so is to carry a journal that your child can write in whenever she uncovers new information. Consider letting her choose its design, and select a size that is easy to store in a beach bag.

3. Seek an expert opinion

Whether you do so during or after your vacation, verify (or disprove) your explanation with an expert opinion. If you are visiting a beach that is part of a state park, stop in at its information center. Information centers often include displays on the ecology and formation of the park, and in some instances, there may even be live talks or tours. You can also extend the excitement of your trip by patronizing your local library once you return home. Depending on your vacation location, you may be able to find articles, websites or books that discuss your particular beach, or more generic resources may be sufficient to address your student’s hypothesis. Either way, your trip to the beach is sure to be fun-filled and educational this summer!

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