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Learning Vacations

- Educational Travel

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Mayan temple ruin, photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Mayan temples in Mexico: great learning opportunity! Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Sometimes the only purpose of family travel is simple R'n'R, rest 'n' relaxation...

But more and more parents are looking for vacations to be a learning experience, too. What better way, for example, to soak up history than in London, or Paris, or Colonial Williamsburg?

Not that you need to travel to famous locales: any destination offers opportunities for learning, with the right attitude.

Broadly speaking, educational vacations come in several styles:

  • Informal learning while traveling: families can "learn as they go" by visiting museums or historic sites, or they can study-up in advance. iPhones, iPads and laptops can help fill in background and facts.
  • homeschooling through travel: some families embark on major odysseys
  • escorted tours: several types of tours, such as "family adventures", aim to combine learning with fun

Informal Learning While Traveling

Whether you're observing signs of wildlife on a camping trip, or exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico, anywhere can be a good place for your kids to learn about nature, history, culture... whatever fits.

Not all of us, however, are gifted teachers; we need help, which fortunately can be easily provided on the trip. Devices such as iPads can provide instant access to knowledge. There's also much to be said for those time-honored repositories of knowledge-- books.

For a family trip to the Yucatan, we brought along some terrific books on Mayan history found in the children's section of the local library. We learned a lot about the people who'd built elaborate cities centuries ago. (Staying in a place with no tv helped this learning along.)

Regular travel guidebooks can be great resources, too; but with kids on the trip, it's worth some extra effort to get books with many pictures.

Meanwhile, families who are sightseeing in major cities can benefit from a trend taking place in many museums to put out the welcome mat for kids. Families visiting an art museum, for instance, might find: brochures with kid-friendly activities such as scavenger hunts; free audioguides programmed with special kids' material; and perhaps even an app or two.

Tours That Include Learning With the Fun

Several types of escorted tours welcome children and combine education and fun.

  • Family Adventures
    A nice niche in the travel world, Family Adventures are escorted group tours that take families to some of the world's most fascinating places. Yellowstone National Park, the Galapagos, the great cities of Europe, African safaris... these trips have terrific itineraries, knowledgeable guides, and special activities for kids, and all details and logistics are handled.
  • Ecotours
    In some regions, many ecotourism companies offer trips that welcome families and that include an introduction to wildlife or marine life and ecology.
  • Tours Through Organizations
    A number of organizations offer educational trips that welcome kids along. For example, The Sierra Club has extensive travel programs including some family trips. Also, organizations such as aquariums often plan group trips.

Bottom line: more and more families these days want to add a learning component to their vacations. And the good news is that you can have "education vacations" in many different enjoyable styles.

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