What will our kids remember? How can we maximize the few years we have with them? As new parents, my wife and I mulled over these questions on a self-imposed planning retreat years ago.
As we began to list the experiences we wanted to share with our children — experiences that would enrich them and help shape their perspective — we created a worksheet to help us visualize & maximize the years we’d have with our children. Of course, life often doesn’t go as planned and requires tweaks along the way. But as we returned from our family summer vacation in Canada, I recalled with thanks the intentional approach we came up with on that planning weekend.
Here’s a few things we try to keep in mind in planning our family vacation:
1) Plan Experiences that Broaden Your Child’s Perspective
Studies show that people who invest in experiences are happier than those that invest in things. Already we have seen the value of broadening our children’s perspectives through travel. It a bit of a game at our house to watch movies, news or shows and pick out the places we have been.
Learning becomes less theoretical and abstract when a child can return to a classroom having walked Capitol Hill, swam in the Great Lakes, seen a mummy & ancient artifacts and touched moon rocks. Science, history, geography, etc. cease to be discussions about abstract concepts but rather personal relatable life experiences.
2) Build in Down Time
How many of us have taken a vacation that wore us out? Or have been on family vacations where everyone is stressed out trying to make sure we maximize the fun? How many of us have returned from vacation needing a vacation?
With each vacation we are intentional about planning in face time with the relationships important to us. We look at the overall pacing of our time away to ensure that for every so many ‘high-energy’ days, we plan in ‘low-energy’ days. We don’t just want to co-experience external activities, we want to make sure we have time to experience each other — play games, laugh, listen, and strengthen our relationships.
Scripture talks about the role parents should play in teaching their children as they go about the everyday tasks of life and as they travel. Vacations can be a unique opportunity for intentional focus, encouragement and instruction in a child’s life. It’s a time to expand their vision, teach them to dream and focus beyond themselves.
As a practical tip, a refreshed family (especially with younger children) is also less-likely to become agitated on those high-energy days.
3) Invest in Family Vacation Time
Our goal for summer vacations is to prioritize time to build lasting memories with our children and celebrate life together. We’ve tried to look at vacations as an investment of time and resources in our children’s life. Watching how fast children grow, we realize that we have a finite number of opportunities to make a lasting impact in our children.
So far, through the judicial use of frequent flyer points, planning and budgeting we’ve been able to share some fun experiences with our children — without breaking the bank. But the goal is lasting memories and intentional, purposeful focus.
We still have a few years to go, I hope we are able to keep it up. And I imagine that one day we may make it to Disney. No doubt many family memories have been made there. But in today’s media-saturated world, it can already be difficult for young kids to distinguish between fantasy and reality. And with a little planning — for the about the same expense of a week at an amusement park — a family can experience a new nation or culture, walk the halls of our history or reach out to literally touch the stars.
As school starts up and the summer winds down, it is not too soon to start thinking about next summer. Where would you like to go? What experiences would inspire your family to dream big? Share your ideas and past summer vacation tips in the comments section.