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How vacations make kids smarter

If you thought that your kids lost some of their smarts over summer vacation, you wouldn’t be alone. That’s what most parents think — but it turns out that we might be wrong. A new U.S. Department of Education study found that kids who travel over vacation — no matter where they go — did better in reading, math and general knowledge than their peers who didn’t vacation.

Three Kids Wearing Snorkels

As some of the nation’s schools shift to year-round programs, researchers are watching closely. Although at first glance it might seem that a year-round program prevents kids from losing ground — and skills — they later need to make up, that’s not always the case.

In fact, family travel is a valuable part of a child’s education that “contributes to cognitive growth and stimulates a child’s sense of wonderment,” says Dr. William Norman, associate professor in parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina. “Providing kids with the experience of travel broadens their horizons and opens up their minds to learning.”

Understanding the study

Dr. Norman and other researchers used data collected by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of the Kindergarten Class database. The database contains information on 21,600 children followed from kindergarten through fifth grades, and looked at children’s early school experiences as well as family and life experiences, such as summer activities.

The parents of about one-quarter of those children were asked about summer travel, and academic achievement was measured with a series of standardized tests in math, reading and general knowledge.
Researchers then analyzed the data to determine the relationship between summer vacation travel and academic achievement in children entering first grade. Specifically, the study explored whether going on a vacation, the number of days spent on a vacation and places visited were linked to academic achievement in the areas of reading, mathematics and general knowledge.

The benefits of a break

The results surprised many! Researchers could clearly identify a significant link between academic achievement and taking a family vacation: 

  • Children who traveled with their families scored higher on academic achievement assessment tests than those who did not travel.
  • The number of days spent on family trips positively affected academic achievement.
  • Children who spent time at museums, historical sites, state parks, and even the zoo and the beach had significantly higher academic achievement scores than those who did not.
In other words, you don’t have to take your family to historic Gettysburg or tour the Louvre. Simply exposing your child to a new environment lets him explore learning informally — and makes him smarter.
Check out some of our affordable and relaxing vacation ideas near home for ideas. 

Plan an educational vacation

Some tips to make your vacation experience more educational:

  • Research your destination ahead of time. Hit the library and the internet and learn about what you’ll see and do.
  • Encourage your kids to keep a trip journal while you’re away. Set up a blog and let your kids post about the days’ events. Add photos, and link to exciting attractions. Not only will your kids learn a lot, your family and friends will enjoy reading about your adventures.
  • Take lots of pictures and create an album when you return. Let the kids show it off and talk to others about everything they did while you were away.
 Tell us: What are your tips for making a vacation into a learning experience? Let us know in the comments!

For more tips on kids, travel and education:

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