Lots of parents will take their kids on educational vacations this summer. But there is another way to make the family vacation a learning experience: Let them plan the trip.
Julie Fodera, a New Jersey mother of two, has used this strategy, and her kids, ages 12 and 14, have amazed her with their ability to manage a budget, find cool places to visit, and plan an interesting itinerary. “When they know they have a set budget, they suddenly become very frugal,” she says, adding that her daughter proposed staying in a budget motel one night to cut costs.
It may seem scary to turn the keys to the vacation kingdom over to kids, but Mom and Dad will still be in charge. They reserve the right to veto any trip that isn’t safe, feasible, or affordable.
Sit your children down and give them a budget and the parameters of the project. Tell them it’s up to them to identify a destination, figure out how to get there and back, and plan the itinerary. Then, they must sell their parents on the idea.
Give them a deadline to come up with a preliminary idea. They will use research and geography skills to identify possible destinations. Math skills will help them figure out how to fit the trip of their dreams into their budget. Older kids can predict how much gas a trip will require. Younger ones can calculate the difference in price between a standard and luxury hotel room. This project will also require children to work together and to compromise.
Once they come up with a destination, encourage them to create a travel brochure showing off the area attractions they hope to visit. This will help develop language, persuasive writing, and technology skills. Give them some sample brochures to use as a guideline. Give them the option of creating a computer slide show presentation or other form of persuasion.
Require them to come up with a detailed itinerary, researching restaurants as well as activities for rainy days. But be willing to chuck parts of the plan while you’re on the road; vacations are meant to be fun and spontaneous.
Jayne Pearl, author of Kids and Money: Giving them the Savvy to Succeed Financially, says children will have more fun and be more engaged on a vacation they planned themselves. She suggests having the kids build in some surprises for family members, such as an excursion to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont for an ice-cream lover. “It’s very bonding when you plan for someone else,” she says. “You get outside yourself, and that’s what vacations are all about.”
Once you’re on the road, forgo DVDs for family time. Play old-fashioned games like “I spy” and keep a log of license plates from different states. Convince kids to leave their iPods at home; instead, enlist them to burn CDs that include songs for everyone in the family. Turn cell phones off—parents too!
Assign a family member to serve as chief photographer. Have another keep a journal, and someone else pick up mementos along the way. These items can be combined later into a scrapbook.
Don’t obsess over pennies, but have a child keep track of the budget during the trip so that changes can be made accordingly. If you’re coming in under budget, throw in an extra activity or splurge on your next meal. If you’re running over budget, have your kids come up with ways to scale back.
After you return, have your kids give you feedback about the vacation. Did they enjoy it more because they planned it? Would they do something different next time? What did they learn? Use their assessment to tweak the project for next summer.