Vacationing with Preschoolers
We often hear parents say something akin to, “Why should we spend lots of money to travel to fantastic destinations that our preschoolers won’t remember once they’re older? We’ll wait ‘til they’re old enough to remember experiencing these destinations.” This flow of logic makes sense. So, why do some parents take their preschoolers on destination vacations?
- While it’s true that human brain development is such that many early life experiences are not retained in the conscious mind into adulthood, it’s believed that those memories are retained nonetheless, being securely stored below conscious level.
- More important is the long-term lessons that preschoolers learn or have reinforced from these vacations and other early life experiences; they learn about their relationships with others and with their environments. For example, are they safe? Are they loved? Are their wants and needs considered? Is fun a priority? What is appropriate behavior, as a tourist or otherwise? These lessons are learned by repetition, by a series of lesson-reinforcing experiences and observations. For example, preschoolers don’t come to understand that their parents love them because of one single act of love that stands out among a host of other unloving acts. Love is understood in the many daily acts of love, some large and some small: a tousle of a head, a pat on the back, being tucked into bed each night, being comforted each time solace is needed, having opinions sought and valued, and simply spending time enjoying one another’s company.
- Additionally, vacation pictures can be treasures for a lifetime, and the loving or humorous stories of the vacations can be shared and shared again for decades to come. For example, an older sibling may tease a younger sibling by saying, “When we went to (theme park) when you were little, you (funny anecdote from the trip). Ha ha ha ha!”
Given these benefits of vacationing with preschoolers, what are some tips to maximize the benefits that preschoolers can reap from these vacations?
- Consider preschoolers’ preferences when selecting vacation destinations. Most parents don’t need to ask their preschoolers where they would like to vacation as most preschoolers readily volunteer their wishes. However, some parents actively seek the input of their preschoolers; if this is done, parents should ensure that their preschoolers understand that the destination selection ultimately rests with the parents who may or may not choose to endorse one or more of the preschoolers’ suggestions for budgetary or other reasons. This can be communicated in a manner that does not negate the preschoolers’ feelings. For example, “Johnny, we’d love to take a family trip to Australia to see the kangaroos and the koalas. However, that trip is expensive, and we need to find a vacation that fits better into our budget. Do you have any vacation suggestions that are closer to home?” If Johnny can come up with no alternatives, suggestions can be made such as, “Would you like to take a vacation to the zoo? We have one that’s just two hours from home. We could spend several nights in a hotel, eat at restaurants we’ve never heard of before, see all the sights of that community, and, best of all, see kangaroos and koalas!”
- If preschoolers were not actively involved in selecting vacation destinations, they can be surprised with a “big reveal” which creates or heightens preschoolers’ excitement and anticipation. For example, preschoolers may be told that they will find out where vacation will be during dinner tonight. When they get home from preschool, they may find mouse eared-hats on each chair in the dining room. Red and white polka dotted ribbon may adorn the table’s centerpiece . . . a large stuffed mouse, duck, and dog. The entrée may be carved into the shape of a mouse’s head and ears. Small wedges of cheese may be served as the dairy group of the meal. Dessert may be a cake bearing the faces of the mouse, duck, and dog. (In such a “big reveal”, ensure that all children enter the dining room at the same time so that no child knows before any other child. Fanfare should accompany the opening of the dining room doors.)
- After the vacation destination is chosen (and revealed, if a surprise), pre-vacation family activities can be planned around the theme of the vacation. Bedtime books can be read on the theme. Related movies can be watched on select evenings. Some evenings can be spent researching and planning specific elements of the vacation (i.e., gaining preschoolers’ input on lodging, meals, activities, and other elements of the trip). The goal is to heighten preschoolers’ excitement and anticipation and to encourage their feeling of involvement. Throughout all these pre-vacation activities, parents should repeatedly mention that they too are excited for the trip, being able to experience the destination, and, most importantly, being able to enjoy the family time together. It is important to communicate that the best part of the trip for the parents is the opportunity to spend quality time with their children. This fosters the relationships that are at the heart of family vacations.
- Apparel and paraphernalia can be purchased in preparation for the vacation; the shopping can be a family adventure as well. For example, each child may choose a new pair of pajamas related to the vacation (i.e., a pair of pajamas bearing the mouse’s or dog’s likeness). Autograph books (to be signed by the mouse, duck, and dog, among others), along with a variety of colored pencils or markers can be purchased and given to each child. Scrapbooks along with scrapbooking supplies can be purchased so that each child can preserve his/her vacation experience for years to come. When the vacation is over and the family is home, the family can have fun putting their pictures, ticket stubs, and other treasures from the vacation in their own scrapbooks.
By following the tips above, parents can maximize the benefits of vacations with and for preschoolers.