Educational Family Adventures
Preteens are an interesting bunch. Half the time they adore going and doing things with their family and the other half they are bored by any suggestion you make. Educational family outings with the 9-to-12 set need to pass a rigorous set of criteria. They have to be challenging, fun and interesting to an age group that is wildly diverse in its taste – and that changes from day to day!
Why should you take family field trips? There are many reasons why taking your tweens on educational family adventures is a good idea. With the uncertain funding of our schools, field trips are often the first thing on the chopping block, but there are many children who still need that experiential-type learning. Other reasons include family bonding, educational inspiration, a love of learning, historical perspective and knowledge and empathy for the natural world.
Families are fracturing in this fast-paced modern world where time is the most precious resource a family has. Day trips are one way a family can slow down and spend some time together as a unit. Tweens, especially, need this extra time with their families – whether they think so or not! The experience, whether it's a trip to a museum, wildlife viewing area or farm, becomes a part of the family's collective memory, something to share and recollect for years to come.
Have you ever seen your children become fully engaged with something, an idea or activity that entranced them to the point of awe? Their eyes lit up and their faces almost glowed with an inner fire. It's hard to tell what will inspire a child, and that is why I think it's imperative to surround children with experiences rather than just things.
Love of Learning
Learning with field trips is fun, and fun inspires a love of learning. Children who love to learn become lifelong learners. Through taking family day trips, children realize learning isn't always about books or memorization, but it's also about experiencing, firsthand, what our world has to offer. It is a joyous process that builds on itself in an ever widening circle, inviting even more exploration.
History is filled with real people doing real things. I care more about my children having a historical perspective than I do about them knowing dates and places. I want them to know that children have always made mud pies; they just wore different clothes while doing it. Before they can care about the important events in history, children must first realize that these events involved real people. Historical day trips to interactive museums or reenactments do more to foster this perspective than any textbook could.
Love and Knowledge of, and Empathy for, the Natural World
As humanity's abuses of the environment mount, it becomes even more important that our children have a working knowledge of the natural world. Ignorance has ruined fragile ecosystems and doomed animals to extinction; this in turn has affected our own health and well-being. By taking day trips to wildlife viewing areas, hatcheries and reserves, I am nurturing a relationship between my children and the natural world that will last a lifetime.
Most tweens love heading out into the great outdoors, and if you can add a little excitement to the trip, all the better. For instance, some tweens might only be lukewarm about a hike along a river, but if you switched that to a rafting trip, it becomes a whole different story. It will amaze both you and your children how different things look from the river – your trip has a whole new perspective, and the excitement will help make it memorable for your child.
A trip to the ocean is always fun. By heading to the tide pools for a bit before you hit your favorite beach, you are adding an educational component to your trip that will be fresh and different for your tween.
A Field Trip Checklist
The following dos and don'ts can help you and your tweens get the most out of your educational family adventures:
- Don't forget to check your gas gauge! I know this one sounds elementary, but I had a friend run out of gas on her way to meet us for a wilderness hike. Luckily, she was still in town at the time and was able to get some fairly quickly. I'm notorious for forgetting to check my gas gauge until the last minute, then searching all over unfamiliar towns for a gas station whose credit card I actually have on me! And of course the children are anxiously asking, "Is it below the line yet, Mom?" the whole time. Not fun.
- Do remember to check the weather. In Oregon, we always check for rain, but remember to check on how hot it's going to be as well. My daughter is very sensitive to heat and an outing can be ruined if we don't take a spray bottle and extra water for her.
- Take extra cash and put it someplace other than your purse. The kids and I once drove 40 miles to go to a special park only to find that I'd left my wallet at home and didn't even have the $3 to pay for parking. (If it sounds as if I'm a bit disorganized, I am. But I'm getting better!)
- Take snacks. Kids are always hungry, so take snacks to guard against unplanned food expenses. The pricing differences between convenience and grocery stores is staggering! Besides, what would my car look like without snack wrappers strewn everywhere?
- Have a car safety kit (for organized people only). Include in the kit: blanket, flashlight, map, cell phone, phone numbers of contact people, first aid kit and basic tools. (My own personal kit includes two McDonald's toys, an old hairbrush, some candy wrappers, a flashlight with no batteries and chocolate. Hey, you never know!)
- Have directions with you. (Self-explanatory. I add this here because, yes, I have forgotten them!)
Dealing With Moody Preteens
Another aspect you need to factor in with tweens is their changeable attitude. One day they can look forward to a family outing and the next day they are dreading it. To get around this takes a little bit of parental ingenuity.
On a recent day trip to the mountains with our tweens, we made an unexpected stop at an alpine slide. The unexpected delighted them to no end and both were more than willing to go along with the other educational stops we made, such as to a small antique shop on our way to the hiking area.
Tweens love surprises more than any other age group. A little surprise will go a long way in ensuring cooperation with your other ideas, and most of the time, they end up enjoying them as well.