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Educational Helps - School’s Out, Education Isn’t

Written by Laurie Detweiler

Summer is a wonderful time to take family field trips, whether it be on an extended vacation or just a day trip near your home. It has been our habit to take day trips on a regular basis, particularly when the boys were young. Some families find it helpful to set one Saturday a month aside for family field trips. When we moved to Pennsylvania, one of the first things we did was purchase numerous guide books to the surrounding area. There are a few guide books that are particularly helpful:

                Fodor’s produces a number of guides for children

                Frommer’s also produces a number for children

                The Unofficial Guide to …

                Where to Take the Kids in …

                Off the Beaten Path in …


Usually the best place to find these is at a local book store. (Sorry, we don’t sell them.) We have found it very helpful to buy guides geared toward children because they give you programs and information that is geared to children. Some of them even have information broken up by the age of the child. Of course the Internet has become extremely helpful, too. Most cities have tourist sites that will tell you all about what they have to offer. It is also a good idea to contact the visitor centers and have them send you information about your interests—that is exactly why they are there.


Another wonderful thing about the Internet is that many places today actually have virtual tours you can use. If you can make yourself familiar with a place before you go, you are certain to have more fun when you are there. Many art museums even offer a virtual tour that includes the paintings in the galleries. Become familiar with a few before you go to build up the excitement for your children. An activity we have really enjoyed is a scavenger hunt. They are really easy to put together, using the virtual tour. Come up with clues about particular things that you want your family to see and find out who can find them first. For example:


Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


1.                   This plane was used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the primary Japanese Naval Fighter in World War II.

2.                   Many people consider this the best fighter of World War II. It was originally developed in North America for the British.

3.                   What year was the first manned Lunar landing?

4.                   In what year did the first aircraft travel the speed of sound?

5.                   Name one of the first two aircraft to make a flight around the world.

6.                   This plane was the first aircraft to fly nonstop coast to coast.


Bonus points are given if you can tell what history card each one goes with.


Doing something like this is not hard to do and only takes a little planning. All children like to be detectives. This will help them to pay closer attention and learn some things along the way. Another source of information that will prove helpful is the Museum Guides in the Veritas Press catalog. It is even fun to let them be detectives before they go. Instead of telling them where you are going, the week before you go, let them wake up to a new clue at breakfast each day and guess where it is. One fun way to do this is to use your old plastic Easter eggs and put a different clue at each person’s plate. Another way to do this is to print an image from the Internet or cut it out of a visitors guide. Glue it onto a piece of construction paper, then cut it apart into puzzle pieces. Each day they get a new piece to the puzzle and try to guess where they are going.


We have found that the reason trips generally do not happen is because people do not plan, or they go somewhere only to realize when they get there that they needed to make a reservation in order to enjoy a particular event. Two years ago we traveled to San Francisco before speaking at a convention. We were so glad that we purchased the guides, as we never would have known about one of the adventures that turned out to be the favorite of the trip. At particular times of the year these enormous elephant seals come to two beaches in California to deliver their young. We signed up for a nature walk through the Ano Nuevo State Park where the elephant seals land. Had we not signed up for this in advance we never would have been able to take the tour, as it books up months in advance.


For some of you we apologize in advance; this may be old hat. But we have had enough people ask us about our family adventures that we decided to share with you how we go about planning a trip. Let me say, we use the same process for a day trip as an extended vacation.


1.                   Decide where you want to visit. Many times we are looking for places that have something to do with what we studied in history or are going to study the following year.

2.                   Look through the guide books to see what is in the area you are going to visit and make a list of all the things you would like to do. Remember, if this is an extended vacation, pick out all the different places you want to see, then get out the map and see what order in which you need to see them. For day trips one activity is generally enough. You can always go back.

3.                   Once you decide on a particular place, go online to see if there is anything special going on that day. Many places have calendars posted so you can see if there is anything you need to book in advance, or even see if there is a reason you do not want to attend on a particular day.

4.                   Once this is done, plan your upcoming day. This is a great time to plan scavenger hunts and make yourself familiar with the museum.

5.                   The other thing with children to plan ahead is meal time. We usually enjoy these times to investigate new places to eat. We usually look at the guides to see if there is anything interesting, and as our children have grown up this has changed also. We also enjoy asking local folks about places to eat. We have eaten at many unbelievable places that we wouldn’t have dared to enter without a local recommendation. Chains are fine, but we would much prefer to eat the cuisine of the local area. Or you may want to find the local park to pack a picnic.


We hope that this has been helpful and that you all enjoy your summer!