Family vacations are a great time to connect with each other and to share some incredible experiences out on the road, but how can you make sure that the places you are visiting are really making an impact on your kids? Don’t underestimate how much learning can take place while you are having fun. After our first trip I realized how much my kids were absorbing, and so I made a conscious effort to create and capture those teachable moments. After 10 years and 14 trips with 3 kids here’s my best advice to help you take advantage of those golden opportunities.
Make Conversation- My kids don’t like when I tell them stuff (in all honesty who does?) but they love when we have casual conversation that’s more give and take. When I am traveling with my kids I try really hard not to turn our activity into a history, science, or civics lesson. I don’t want to echo what they are seeing but I do want to know the wheels in their heads are turning and they are engaged. I find that the best way to do that is to just talk-to find out what they already know about what you’re seeing and get their impressions. Kids, just like adults, like to know what they say matters and their opinions are valued. In fact, when asked, you will probably be amazed at how well they can articulate their thoughts and ideas. When they feel good in a situation they are more likely to absorb and retain the important lessons they are soaking up in that great museum or historic site. My son Isaac and I had a great conversation as we walked through the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose Colorado. We talked about the Ute culture admiring their tools, and clothing. I asked Isaac if he knew what some of the things were that we were looking at -not quizzing him, but asking as if he could help me figure it out. Together we walked around looking and talking…and learning. When we got home Isaac insisted I come to his class to show our trip video from the museum. He was really excited to share what he’d learned on our trip confirming that everything we’d seen and talked about had made an impression.
Seize those teachable moments-Sometimes an unplanned situation gives us parents an opportunity to teach our kids an important life lesson. When those situations arise, try your best to take advantage of it even if it requires thinking fast on your feet. Once my kids and I were on a trolley tour in Trinidad, Colorado. Sitting in the row in front of Joel and I was a lovely woman who introduced herself as “Dotty”. When Dotty wasn’t making pleasant conversation with us, Joel (who was 6 at the time) whispered to me that Dotty looked like a man dressed up as a lady. He was right, Dotty was tall with broad shoulders, large hands and masculine features and was clearly a man dressed as a woman or a transsexual. After the tour, I seized the moment and explained to Joel that sometimes people are born one way, but feel more comfortable as the opposite sex and there is nothing funny or wrong with them dressing the way they feel comfortable. I complimented him on his sensitivity in being discreet in telling me. It gave me great satisfaction knowing that I took advantage of a spontaneous moment to teach my son about tolerance, compassion and being respectful. Even today as a testosterone fueled teenage boy, I know that message from years ago still resonates and won’t ever be forgotten even as he grows into adulthood.
As parents we often underestimate our children’s capacity to understand. Whether it’s conversation in a museum or a spontaneous life lesson, it’s really important to engage kids as individuals allowing them to rise to the occasion to have a thoughtful dialogue. Not only will those experiences you share be more meaningful to them (and you), but the lessons learned will last a lifetime.