Whether it is over to the next town to visit relatives, or a vacation involving hotels and restaurants, children of all ages should be involved in the planning of, and preparation for travel.
Children can and should read about destinations before they get there. Younger children can watch videos. This is not only great authentic reading (or pre-reading) practice, it allows children to have expectations and ownership for the trip. Not only does this increase reading skills and knowledge, but improves behavior.
Looking at pictures of grandma and her cane can lead to conversations about how grandma can’t chase young children around her house. Books about the ocean lead to increased knowledge about our oceans, and the required rules to enjoy them safely.
Depending on the age and abilities of your children, they can also be involved in researching and planning a trip. One of the most interesting and fun hotels I stayed in was found by my ten-year-old daughter, researching a place to stay overnight on our way home from a gymnastics meet. (She also knew what my budget was and found a hotel within this range – authentic math practice.)
All children can and should help pack for a trip. Packing lists can be made by parents to be followed by children (pictures work for pre-readers). Not only are lists reading practice (and writing for an older child who can write the list as well) but teach children that there is preparation, organization, and planning for travel. Older children can do most of the packing themselves with some supervision. For teenagers, that’s another story, just be happy if they pack for the right season. (Pick your battles here!)
This is a new twist on an old travel game. For years parents have entertained children on long car rides by having them look for and check off a license plate from all 50 states. As many kids now have access to on line information through phones and tablets, you can add the task of looking up and naming the capital of the state, population, etc. Authentic Math Bonus: additional points for each plate can be added based on larger population, geographical location, etc. The more you add, the busier the kids are, and the more reading they are doing.
Here is another math idea for children while eating at restaurants. My mom actually came up with this idea when I was a child and had discovered shrimp cocktails. To make us aware of how much we were spending at restaurants, she played a game called “Guess the Check.” After the first time, we would expect this, and my brothers and I would listen to everyone order, check the prices on the menu, and add up the cost in our heads. Not only was this a great way to develop authentic math skills, but it also made us aware of what we were ordering/spending at a restaurant. After a conversation about family budgets and eating out, my order of the expensive shrimp cocktail ceased (except when my grandparents came to town and were treating – that is what grandparents are for!)
This is the time of year when families tend to travel with children. It is also the time of year when parents are often faced with the fearsome gift shop. (Full disclosure: I love gift shops, but my husband is definitely afraid of them!)
Giving children a budget before a trip is not only a great way to teach math, but also a way to cut down on whining. Win, Win! With young children the number can be how many souvenirs they can buy (remember that young children don’t even understand that everything in a store is for sale, so you can pick a few things in your price range and let them pick one). For older children, they can have an amount they can spend during the trip. You can even include calculating tax (and finding out the tax rate where you are traveling) with teenagers.
And remember it is also OK to say no souvenirs. If this is not in the budget, it’s not in the budget.