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Make the family vacation an early education adventure

No matter where your summer get-away takes you and your family, time away from the everyday routine will lead to new learning adventures for your young children.

Visiting new places, meeting new people and trying new things away from home are all part of the learning process for children, especially for those under the age of five. Getting the most out of your journey requires some planning, not only to help avoid boredom, fighting and whining, but to encourage different ways of thinking and looking at the world. With the proper planning, family vacations can be a wonderful opportunity to promote positive social interactions among family members.

For most parents, the most dreaded part of any vacation is getting there. Hours spent in airports, in the car, on the plane or in the train can feel like days without proper planning.

But if organized correctly, this family time can be well spent with activities and games designed especially to enlighten and educate young road warriors. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your family vacation:

Pre-trip planning: While planning your trip, involve your children in the process. Look through travel magazines, guidebooks or brochures with pictures of your destination and talk about what looks fun and interesting. Go to the library and check out books about the place you have chosen to visit. Even if you’re just going to see family in the next state over, ask your children what they’d like to do and see there, and create a child-friendly itinerary. This will help your child to feel more secure in the new environment and decrease stressful situations.

Let your child pack an activity bag: Include crayons, paper for drawing, stickers, snacks, drinks, puzzle books, a deck of playing cards and brochures about your destination. To promote good communications between siblings, break out the bag and use these items to encourage positive behavior. Books are an essential bring-along, too. Consider including large picture books, which are great for letting your child tell the story when you can’t comfortably or safely read to him from the front seat.

Play games: Playing games like “I Spy,” finding license plates from different states and spotting letters of the alphabet on road signs are all great ways to pass the time and work collaboratively as a family–and help your child learn at the same time.

Keep an atlas and maps in the car. Trace your route on the map before you leave, and even the littlest child can follow along. Have your children pick places they would like to visit along the way and keep a notebook handy for jotting down their ideas.

Talk about the scenery. Discussing what’s going on outside is a great educational experience for children. Point out a herd of cows, horses in a pasture or a hawk circling above and talk about the animals. Count things you see along the road, such as silos or water towers, cattle crossings, motorcycles or boats being towed. Talk about the color of the trees or the sky — anything to get your child thinking about his surroundings.

Keep a daily journal. Not only does a journal help you remember your trip for years to come, it’s also a fun activity for younger children who can draw pictures or collect interesting scraps (flyers, menus or paper placemats or even exotic candy wrappers) to decorate the pages. Set aside some quiet time each afternoon to add to the journal and talk about your day.

Pack some disposable cameras. It’s fun to see what children view as important memories of your trip, so let them be the vacation photographers. Cameras can also reinforce the importance of counting and numbers–when 12 or 24 pictures have been taken, that’s it!

Buy postcards or other souvenirs for Show-and-Tell back at home. Talk to your children about what stories they might want to tell their classmates about the postcards or other souvenirs when they get back to school.

Wherever your travels take you this summer, be sure to relax and enjoy the time you are spending with your family. These are the memories that will likely stay with your toddler for a lifetime.

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