Spring has sprung (hurrah!) and summertime is oddly just a couple of months off. A co-worker reminded me this week that school is out in 2 months. What?

As the rituals of summer near I’m reminded of the power and value in creating memories that break the mold of routine. Trips, time away, adventure, and creating a sense that the world is truly as big as it is. This starts and gains value right from home at the kitchen counter…

Recently, I’ve seen a series of online parenting articles about how family vacations throughout childhood are “anchors of happiness.” That they make and enhance a child’s life. At first glance it seems like pressure. It’s just been Spring Break, or is this week for you, and the pressures of watching families on Facebook fly off to Aruba are real… But I think there is something more essential to talk about here. Not the need or want to plan a luxury vacation, but the pristine opportunity to think on and prioritize exploration with our children. Clearly children notice and in my heart I know it’s meaningful.

The simple exercise of moving around our city or county or state or country or continent to different places with our children, during breaks from school and work, is magic. From planning a trip with your children to taking an actual vacation, there are a lot of data driven benefits – enjoyment (joy!), memory-making, cultural exposure and simple protected time away from school and work together to reflect on what matters.

In one article I read about family-vacationing, I saw this:

  • Only 25% of kids say they talk to their parents about something of great importance to them in a weeks time

Ohhhhhh, no! I decided to vet the above data with my 10 year-old. Puffed up with great pride that just in the last week I’d brought up the temperature of space, talked about the implications of a recent political scandal, worked on his school project together and generally been a stimulating conversation partner and “master mom” I said, “do you think we talk about things of great importance every week?” He paused and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

OH, no. Gotta get out of Dodge…

Why Plan A Vacation Now?

  • Planning brings you/your kids more happiness! – Dreaming up activities, memories, wandering, exposure, and demonstrating by design that protected time with your children matters.
  • The actual vacation can bring enjoyment, fun, and play (all of us know by experience it can also bring the opposite when things go awry).  As parents we can feel “attached” to our children, especially so, in waters of new experience. Carving out new paths on the planet can perhaps boost bonding.
  • Vacations may help advance brain development in children, claims someone. I would generalize that claim to say this: showing your children different parts of the world, different people, and observing those variations, does enhance brain connections. To me as a pediatrician, this has nothing to do with “vacation” and everything to do with just stepping out of your routine and into the closets of new experience.

There’s no time better than the present, of course. But the present time can also be shaped by making plans for time that’s different from the everyday pattern. The following ideas are ways to make trip/excursions/staycations/vacations more engaging and meaningful to your children and family.

1. Trips: The Chance To Invest In Experiences

  • A report by the Journal of Consumer Research found that vacations or experiential gift are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient’s perspective. Trips are perfect birthday surprises.
  • As much as all kids want that next new toy or technology, they will get VERY excited to go somewhere and wait for it. I know this in my core from experience.
  • Remind your kids of previous vacation experiences — detail the horrors of it (!!) and the fun you had —  to get them excited for the next.
  • When you think back to your childhood you can probably remember at least one trip you did (big or small);I think our own memories of childhood adventure are the most potent endorsement for that claim that trips during children are “anchors of happiness.” It’s a sense of building a fence post in timeline of life that stands out among a pattern of the same thing, day in and day out.

2. Start Planning Now

  • A 2010 Dutch study found that planning for a vacation makes you and your children happy. It doesn’t have to be a long extravagant vacation. In fact, multiple short trips actually provide more happiness than one long trip because of the pre-trip anticipation boost of happiness.
  • Travel with children is about memories, explorations, wandering, protected family time, and cultural exposure, too.

3. Ritualize It

  • The word “vacation” doesn’t mean you have to travel out-of-town – it’s of course just a break from your every day routine. It can be a trip to library, small or big, every spring break. It may even be visit a different library each time. Make it a pattern — and spin the pattern a little each time (new library, new activity at the library, I dunno, wear a wig to the library!)
  • We know when kids have an event like a vacation planned, the idea of counting down until it can bring a lot of joy. We used to do toilet paper roll count-downs. Literally each ply of toilet paper was a day until we left (marked with a bight marker) and every morning we pulled off another ply.
  • Even if it is a small trip – make it an annual event —  that they can always be looking forward to. Build that recurring “anchor.”

4. Involve Your Children In Trip Planning

  • Let them choose some activities on your trip or time away to make it extra exciting. You give them Tuesday morning, let’s say, and they get to choose whatever they want for that portion of your time away. This is a wondrous thing…..really.
  • Get them outside – every day — when away.
  • Play with them when you can! Get out of your own book and build something with sand castles, playing at the beach, etc. observing and celebrating your child’s direction and skills is a huge chance to build their self-esteem. And bonding galore.
  • Involve them in the planning, cost, travel and/or ask them to choose something they’ve never done before. Help them decide between the cost of a night out to dinner or a night at the museum, for example. Helping children understand what goes into leaving your home and routine, I think, makes it all the more meaningful.

Bon voyage! Enjoy your protected family time and give your kids the memories this week and this summer, no matter if it’s down the road or across the ocean. Of anything I know more and more in my core as I get older it’s this: there is always somewhere new to explore.

Looking for Vacation Ideas?

  • ParentMap.com – Seasonal fun ideas in Washington.
  • Red Tricycle – From staycations to family vacations, this site has a lot of recommendations and ideas for what to do and where to go.

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