Going on vacations is one of my favorite activities to do with my family, all eight of us. No, really, it is. I really enjoy exploring together and seeing new places, having new experiences. Making the trip educational is a bonus.

There are lots of ways to do this. We have the tried and true ideas (if you aren’t doing any of these, start!):

  • Map out the route instead of just Mapquesting/Google mapping it.
  • Read books (fiction and nonfiction) about the places you are going.
  • Request and collect tourist packets so you can plan and engage the kids.
  • Complete the Junior Ranger programs at the national parks.
  • Visit museums of interest in the area.
  • Hit the national parks.
  • Point out interesting facts about the area when you see or hear them.

…But I have some different ones I’d like to throw at you and most of them are free! How many have you tried?

Ways to make vacations educational:


Plan nature outings that showcase.

One of the biggest ways to make a vacation educational is to make sure the kids learn the area. Geography, history, science, and more are all rolled into one if you make sure you learn what makes an area unique, culturally, historically, and geographically. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, effort wise, and it can be loads of fun.


Experience nature differently.

Be sure to not just do the same old thing every time. Even if the habitat if familiar, plan something new for your children. Live in the mountains and are going to the mountains? Plan a hike at a different altitude or an outing that highlights something specific to that area. Go hiking all the time and want to do that on the vacation? Well, be sure to brush up on unique flora and fauna for the area that you can spot.


Collect goodies.

This is a fantastic way to not only make the vacation itself educational, but it will draw out the learning even longer. You can collect leaves, bark, dead insects, flowers, and more (remember, take nothing from national parks). Have a specimen box for collection.

Also, don’t hesitate to “collect” other kinds of items: unusual buildings, historical sites, interesting people, landmarks, works of “art”, maps, and even local food.

How can you collect some of these? Use your camera/phone camera to “collect” specimens that can’t come home with you.

For example, I took photos of the different cliff dwellings at Bandelier as well as photos of a huge saquaro cactus. When we went to Louisiana, I took photos of the boiled crawfish and the plantation.

Have a specimen box for items that can go and a specimen photo album on your phone for those that can’t.


Identify the specimens.

I highly recommend bringing field guides with you, but it’s not always possible. Whether you just can’t fit them in your travel luggage or you leave them in the car since the specific outing doesn’t lend itself to toting them around. Google works great too, of course.

Identify the specimens at the time of location or look them up when you have down time (in the car or on the plane, for example). Displaying the collection when you get home is not only educational and fun, but it’s a great way to be reminded of a fun family vacation. I love seeing the sea urchin tests in our window sill.

In South Carolina, I took photos of the shrimp and grits meal. It was unusual and it tied the photo to not only the trip, but to the location.


Make games (and even competitive ones, especially if you have teens) out of excursions.

Competition isn’t a bad word for children, despite our culture’s attempt at making it so. Having a little sport while learning is usually a fantastic way to engage the kids. Something as simple as, “Who can find the most pinipeds?” or “Who can name the layers or earth the Ranger told us about awhile ago?” can be enough to start the engines.

If you have a bunch of teenagers, I suggest you up the ante a bit. Individuals or teams can gain points for each round. Name a prize for the winner and ground rules. Bragging rights are big.


Reward educational effort.

It should go without saying that you should praise your children for their effort, especially challenging effort. Other ways to reward a child who not only participates in the educational side of the trip, but who do so with joy, is to reward them with something. Ice cream cones for everyone who answers the ranger’s questions. Sonic drink for all of those who can name four animals with chilepeds we saw at the tide pool. Movie veto power for the ride home to anyone who can list four unique plant specimens we talked about on the hike. Just a few examples.

I have been known to motivate by saying, “Only the kiddos who have a great attitude and can answer my questions get something at the gift shop.” Amazing how motivating those words are. Gift shops are to children what big, fat bright lights are to moths.


Send post cards instead of writing a paper.

We’ve all heard about asking kids to write about what they did on their trip. Having them highlight educational aspects is a great idea and one way to make it more motivating is to use post cards instead of paper. Have the kids each send a post card to a friend or family member sharing a few educational tidbits. You can decide what you want them to share or just let the kids go for it. {bonus points for sending them to grandparents}


Look for the unusual.

Be a fun leader and showcase the unusual. Being silly and noticing the silly or goofy or weird of anything unusual draws kids in like bees to nectar. Don’t be afraid to shout, point, and exclaim when you see something that is unusual. It will make the trip memorable. Eye rolling counts as participation in this case.


Make a goofy photo collection that pin points what you learned.

Speaking of goofy… Nothing says fun lie a goofy collection of family photos. If the excursion is a bit more challenging in the fun department, make your own. Dad acting like he’s puking out an owl pellet that you’ve studied. Baby pointing at the oversized tarantula statue. Grandma showcasing a dung beetle with its ball of dung.


Make it a family affair.

Don’t just tell the kids, “Learn!” Have everyone participate. Mom, dad, kids, grandparents, aunts, whomever. If they are on the trip, ask them questions and make them a part of the fun. You could even make it part of the competition: kids against adults or Let’s Stump Grandpa!


Have trophies of your outings.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: traditions tie children to families in special ways. In this case, celebrate your educational outing with some kind of trophy. Doesn’t have to be a big deal, just something to remember the time by for your family. In our case, we have two traditions: As a family, we collect the vintage style reissued post card from the national parks we visit and the younger kids collect the Junior Ranger badges AND for non national park outings, we take a goofy group photo at the end of the activity. It’s a tradition. It never fails to bring a smile.


Remember that enthusiasm is contagious.

Educational can be synonymous to boring for kids, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, not every child will love and appreciate every moment of every educational aspect of an outing, but be sure to spread the love with your attitude. Don’t be the school marm, but instead be the camp counselor.

Enthusiasm goes a long, long way. And it’s highly contagious. Trust me.

You don’t have to do every one of these ideas on each trip, but incorporating some of them on your next family trip will make the most out of educational opportunities.

Vacations allow for so many opportunities for family ties. As a homeschooling family, making the most of the educational ones is natural. But make it fun. And memorable. That’s when the educational aspect will not only make them smile, but it will last. A long time.


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