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Are We There Yet?

Family_on_Beach_shutterstock_220475764By Deirdre Imus, June 22, 2016
The saying goes that with little kids you take trips, not vacations. A vacation is relaxing; a getaway involving children is usually anything but. Taking a trip therefore requires acknowledging that it’s no longer about what the adults want to do (occupy a lounge chair on a beach for three days straight, stroll through a museum, window-shop in Paris), but must include activities geared toward youngsters.

The first and usually most fun decision about vacation is where in the world to go! Options are endless and can seem overwhelming. In some instances, it’s best to start small. Take a day trip to a nearby park, plan a family picnic outside, and bring along the healthy foods you eat at home. Don’t forget to minimize your carbon footprint: throw out garbage, and recycle glass, plastic and paper materials. Even better, bring reusable items to employ again during the next family outing. While you’re at the park, go for a hike on a well-marked, easy trail; hiking is pretty much just walking, after all, and offers the added benefits of being close to nature.

Summer camp is an essential experience for many young people, but before selecting one for your young’uns, ask some key questions: Does the camp serve a well-balanced menu full of fruits and vegetables, or will your child be eating pizza and hot dogs for lunch? Are the cleaning products used in living quarters made with toxic chemicals that may compromise your child’s breathing, or are they all natural, plant-derived substances that are easy on the lungs? Camps should promote physical as well as emotional well-being.

For parents who decide to supervise their children’s summer activities at home, options abound. A post on the Friendship Circle blog, a website dedicated to providing special needs resources for parents and educators, mom and writer Karen Wang came up with 82 fun, educational summer activities – one for each day her autistic and non-autistic child were out of school for the summer.

Her ideas run the gamut from athletic to pragmatic to artistic. Some highlights:

  • Build an obstacle course with hula hoops, lawn furniture and empty boxes.
  • Read some books on a specific topic, such as insects, and do a related activity like a bug hunt or catching fireflies.
  • Make easy snacks together, like smoothies, and show your children the importance of incorporating healthy foods into their diet
  • Tell a story from your own childhood. Have your child tell a related story from his or her life experience.

Many kids think of summer as a time of freedom, which has its advantages and its drawbacks. Preparing children for this sudden but noticeable change in routine is key. If they’ll be attending the same camp or taking the same trip as last year, go over the daily routine with them, and do practice runs to the location (if possible) so it feels more familiar.

The potential for children to grow and gain crucial life experiences exists as much during the summer as any other time of year. Whether they attend a camp, a specialized skills program, or stay at home with a caretaker, be mindful that children don't stagnate during these gloriously school-free months. If you decide to take a family “vacation,” no matter how meticulously you plan ahead, plan too for the unexpected, and embrace it. The best memories are often borne of what can feel like the lowest, most humiliating moments of a trip. Summer is nothing if not an opportunity to grow and make lifelong memories, which for kids of any stripe can make all the difference in the world. 

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