School is out for the summer and many families are planning their vacation. The logistics of pulling off a family vacation are huge—scheduling time off work around swim lessons and day camps, booking hotels and things to do, buying airfare or mapping out a road trip, and packing. While the emphasis often is on the destination, sometimes it’s easy to forget all the fun that can be had in planning the trip and getting there.
We know three young brothers who daydreamed and “planned” their ideal family vacation. They would start in Lincoln and head to Omaha to visit the zoo and grandparents. The next stop would be Kansas City to visit aunts and uncles, dogs and Legoland. From there, the minivan playing The Hobbit on tape would venture to Texas for a chance to swim with the cousins and then travel through the mountains and desert with all the natural wonders to stop and explore before arriving at the California coast. When asked what they would do in California, the response was “we just think it would be cool to GO there.” Their plan was not about the ultimate destination (although they surely could find a few fun things once arriving); it was about the journey, the time with Mom and Dad in the car and the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild as they planned the adventure.
While reality intervened and altered the 4,000+ mile trip, there are some lessons to be learned from these boys. The process they undertook, as well as some of the activities they proposed, will positively affect their growth into adulthood. As the brothers worked together to plan their trip, they were expressing curiosity and developing cooperativeness and confidence, all part of the set of socio-emotional skills that will one day help them to be successful in school and the workplace.
You can foster the growth of these skills with your little ones this summer, too, as you give them opportunities to make decisions on fun family activities. Of course, you can let them help plan the big vacation, but there are smaller staycation options that provide the same fun skill-building prospects. As you’re driving in the car, describe what you see out the window and ask them to do the same. If you visit the zoo, let the kids decide which animals to see and in what order. Give them the map and help them plan or just follow their ideas and priorities. Taking a hike in a park? When the trail splits in two, let the kids decide which path to take.
The trip—whether it’s a day at the zoo or a long summer vacation—is a time for the littlest travelers to have fun with their families, and see and learn new things. Don’t pass up these opportunities to strengthen family bonds while building important social-emotional skills that help youngsters do better in school and beyond.