Family Travel Education: 11 Inspiring Ways to Plan a Trip With Your Kids
Photo by Vanessa Loring
Travel planning as a family provides an opportunity for nurturing the hopes and dreams of the good times you’ll share together in the future. It is also an excellent opportunity for fostering child-led learning. When young people help direct their studies you will often find that there are fewer battles — a welcome addition to these tumultuous times. As kids and teens answer questions and work on projects that they are genuinely curious about, they are usually more self motivated and inspired.
Why Use Travel Planning as a Family
Thoughtful travel planning opens up countless opportunities to engage your children and teens. It can be used to enhance traditional education and you may happily notice that your kids are inspired by the travel plans. They may choose to focus on the destination in relation to their regularly assigned curriculum too!
I have spent my adult life as a teacher; school administrator; volunteer working with children, teens, and families; and the last 13 years, as a homeschool parent. We travel as often as we can and we get some of our best ideas from other travelers and educators. I’ve learned lots of tips and techniques along the way and I am excited to share them with you!
11 Top Tips to Inspire Learning Through Travel Planning
We will be diving deeper into most of these topics in later articles, but here are a few ideas you can start to use today. They can help reduce tensions and bring more joy and curiosity to schooling from home. Read on to find a couple of gems that might resonate with your kids. Then use them as a jumping off point for your family to school from home through travel planning.
1. Explore Future Travel Destinations as a Family
Start by dreaming of where you would like to visit in the future. You can imagine bucket list destinations or actual places your family hopes to visit when quarantine restrictions allow. If it is an expected trip in 2021 or 2022, a thoughtful assessment of finances and vacation time comes early in the planning to help narrow down locations. Maybe it is a camping trip to a nearby national park, visiting relatives in another state, or a big international trip. If finances or health restrictions prevent travel, plan a virtual vacation! There are so many activities you can enjoy from home while learning about your destinations.
2. Organize Your Year
Now that you have narrowed in on a dream vacation, there are multiple ways you can organize your time before departure. Some families schedule activities into the school day, others set aside one evening a week to share what they have learned. However you choose to incorporate it, you will likely be enjoying conversations around the dinner table about your dream destination soon! Here are some examples of how to organize your learning:
A location with a rich history can be explored chronologically. This is an orderly approach and can provide context as you learn together. As a parent, you can take a little time to familiarize yourself with the major historical events and periods of the destination. Create a rough outline and then break your upcoming months/year up accordingly. This will give you a rough guide to work with and prevent you from missing out on your destination’s last couple hundred years of history! You can dive more deeply into each time period as the year unfolds. An interesting and useful activity can be to create and hang an actual timeline to add to as you learn.
We have many more ideas for using timelines in our article, Enlightening Timelines: Ideas to Organize Your Travel Studies.
Another enjoyable way to explore is to use a project based approach. Start by reading a book or watching a travel show, documentary, or movie as a family to familiarize yourselves with the destination. Ask your kids open ended questions to discover what they want to learn more about. Listen to what your kids find interesting and what they are curious about.
These are the gems to nurture that can become rich learning opportunities. You can each choose one topic to start with and add more as you learn together. Your child’s interests and questions can be explored casually at dinner, once a week, or more formally each month. Invite each family member to share with the others what they have learned.
Take a Deeper Dive Based On Interests
Now the fun really begins! Whether moving chronologically or jumping around based on projects, if you let your child’s interests steer the direction this can be a joyful (and often mutual) discovery. From my experience, whatever their interest, just about any activity leads to learning in multiple areas. This happens because it is often necessary to learn new skills in order to reach their self-directed goals.
Depending on the age and learning styles of your kids, you may help them find resources or actually participate side by side in the activities together. However you move forward, this is what our Resource Library is for! Put it to good use for your family.
3. Nature Studies
Do you have a budding naturalist curious about your destination? Do a deeper dive and encourage them to do their own nature journaling at home. The journal can then be brought along on all your future travels as they contemplate the rich diversity of natural wonders on our planet.
A fantastic resource for learning about nature journaling is the John Muir Laws website and associated books. He even offers a free PDF of his How To Teach Nature Journaling book for educators or parents.
As most parents doing laundry know, kids love to collect natural treasures! Nurture this curiosity with age appropriate guidebooks and encourage them to make a mini museum. Carefully chosen and thoughtfully displayed collections of natural objects can be added to when they travel.
There are a wealth of options online like activities or virtual classes hosted by the destination’s natural history museums, zoos, and aquariums. Another online opportunity is the Junior Ranger Program at our National Parks (also often offered online!).
4. Language Learning
There is no way around it– learning a new language takes a lot of time and dedication. But that dedication pays off when young travelers are able to understand the otherwise cryptic signs around them and, especially, when they are able to have more meaningful experiences like talking with local people.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make it enjoyable and the rewards are rich! And, the anticipation of using a foreign language can inspire learners of all ages to stick with it.
Make a goal for how it can be used when traveling– ordering ice cream or visiting with a relative in their native language. If the whole family is learning together, there are many ways to squeeze it in throughout the day with everyday questions and greetings!
To find the best match for your family, sort the resources in our library by Study Skills: Languages to find free language games, private tutors, the best language learning programs, and more. Read, Why Learn a Language Before You Travel and How to Go About It, for even more ideas.
5. Costumes and Characters
Theater loving families can dive in deep as they gain a richer appreciation of clothing and styles of their destinations. Teens talented with a sewing machine, preschoolers with a couple of yards of fabric and a few hats — and everyone in between can have a blast exploring historic forms of traditional dress.
Books like, What People Wore When are a joy to explore and can inspire creating period costumes.
Get everyone in on the action by each choosing an important figure from history (or regional literature), and spend a month learning about them. Have a Meeting of the Minds in character, prompted by a few pre-decided topics. It will be a night you’ll never forget!
6. Fun with Fairy Tales and Literature
Bookworms of all ages can nurture their enthusiasm for exploring by reading about their future travel destinations. Teens and parents can use the unique book sorting site, Whichbook. It allows readers to sort books by unique criteria, including location by clicking on their world map.
Many cultures highlight the contributions of writers by designating their homes as historic sites, or identifying them on maps and plaques. Your teen might find the home or favorite coffee shop of one of their favorite authors and be truly inspired by a visit.
Get lots of tips and ideas about crafting travels inspired by literature in the article, Plan a Literary Trip.
Depending on where you are headed, a deep dive into mythology can open up an entire world of appreciation in art, architecture, literature and beyond — it is certainly worth the time. Then, when you visit museums and landmark buildings on your travels, ask your family members about the symbolism around you and learn from their studies. If you are traveling to places in (or strongly influenced by) the West, Edith Hamilton’s classic, Mythology is the perfect book for teens and adults.
For and in depth discussion of how to incorporate this valuable perspective into your trip read, Explore the Mythology of Your Destination.
If you are looking for Fairy Tales from the place you will be visiting, visit Brightly for a good list of multicultural fairy tales. Depending on your child’s interests, you can encourage their own retelling of the tale from the perspective of different characters in the story. They could tell their version verbally, in a picture, as their own new illustrated book, or acted out with stuffed animals or puppets.
Do you have a young chef who wants to learn more about either the contemporary or historical foods of your destination? Whether recreating a Roman meal for the family, making hardtack and home-churned butter with a parent, or mastering a dish from a local chef’s cooking show, cooking can be one of life’s great joys and a great way to learn.
Visit the website The Food Timeline to delight in the most comprehensive online collection of historical recipes. It will tantalize curious chefs of all ages! Math, history, and practical life skills are a few of the areas that will improve with time in the kitchen.
While traveling, let your kids help choose the restaurants. They can coordinate a visit to a local market. Or, consider a cooking class at your destination (or online) as a special birthday or holiday gift.
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Your Free How-To Checklist: Extend Your Vacation Into a Year of Discovery!
If you have a young builder, there are many ways they can explore your future destination in advance. Young children can build large models of important buildings with refrigerator boxes and craft supplies or with a good set of wooden blocks.
Older kids and teens may want to build and decorate their own to-scale model. Check these plans out for ideas about how to get started.
Similarly, ambitious teens may want to try building a model using AutoCAD and their architecture toolset. Autodesk offers a free student and educator version. Anyone new to the software will want to check out the learning section of their website or choose from a host of other online resources.
When you are on your actual trip, and visiting the landmarks of your destination, let your kids show you around the buildings and teach you what they have learned!
9. Art History and Appreciation
If you have a visual learner, a focus on art and art history can be a delight! A fun place to start is exploring the artistic techniques of an artist from the area.
You’ll find lots of multicultural art projects for younger kids in Around the World Art & Activities. Depending on your destination, school age kids might enjoy this Art History Around the World class or Global Art Book.
Because of the visual nature of art, videos and movies are a perfect way to learn more. We are big fans of the YouTube channel, Smarthistory. They have over 3,000 videos and essays about exhibits at museums and cultural sites all around the world. They are all short, so you can take a few minutes and use the videos related to where you are going and what your kids might like. The videos are usually filmed on location in the actual museums are a great way to take a mini tour from home.
Alternatively, if your kids like a quicker pace, they might prefer the YouTube channel, The Art Assignment. It is a PBS Studios production that looks at art from modern perspectives, often tying in food and particular destinations. There are also plenty of assignments to engage in since the goal of the host is to help her viewers know that “you are an artist”!
While you travel ask your child open ended questions about the art you are seeing. Look for the techniques and influences that your child explored prior to departure. Delight in your child’s curiosity!
10. Visiting the Capitol
Older kids and teens may have an interest in political science (hooray for them!). Our youngest tries to visit the legislature/parliament buildings of many of the places that we travel to. Depending on the trip, we have admired buildings from outside, taken guided tours, and watched (sometimes heated) legislative bodies in session. This has enabled him to understand important current events from a personal perspective since he has actually been in the chambers where these events take place. It also nurtures his innate curiosity about different ways humans govern themselves.
If you visit the websites of legislatures, executive offices, and supreme courts of your destinations, you will usually find a lot of useful activities. You’ll likely find coloring books, virtual tours, booklets, and even ways for young people to get involved in politics or government themselves (if they are citizens). Time invested before travel can transform an otherwise dry viewing from the gallery into a rich and powerful experience of government in action.
Do you plan to see original political documents in museums or government buildings? Again, this can be boring or transcendent depending on your understanding. A great launching point to learn about these types of documents for curious older kids, teens, and adults is the website Constitute. It was created as a collaboration between the Comparative Constitutions Project and Google Ideas. Users can read, search, and compare the constitutions of the nations of our world. A comparison between the constitution of your nation and that of your international destination is sure to spark further interest and learning. Families can even use a Google Doc to copy preferred passages and make their own constitution.
11. Ancestry Research
Do you have a budding genealogist? A wonderful travel related activity for older kids and teens to enjoy with their elders is ancestry research. It has inspired many transformative trips for families, whether to see living relatives or to visit the ancestral villages and cities of our predecessors.
As anyone who has done it knows, the research itself is excellent for teaching critical thinking skills and for gaining an appreciation for original source documents. This type of research is much more challenging than you might think!
You will find a complete step-by-step guide in our post, Heritage Tours, How to Plan Your Ancestry Travel.
The Joy of Planning the Trip Together
As you use travel planning, you will be able to learn from your kids and get their input on crafting your travel itineraries. And, it can all lead to precious family vacations in the future!
Many of these topics can be joyfully explored through games. We have gathered a fantastic collection in, The 20 Best Games for People Who Love to Travel, and also in the game section of our Resource Library.
These tips to learn through travel planning are jumping off points and we hope you’ve found a couple of ideas that resonate with your family. Are your kids interested in music, dance, or sports related to your destination? We have included many of these in our Resource Library. Please any of your suggestions in the comments so others can learn from you!
Wishing you many fun days ahead sharing what you and your kids have learned!