Kids Are Always Learning (Even on Vacation)

”Do you ask a fish how it swims? Or a bird how it flies? No sirree, you don’t! They do it because they were born to do it!”

– Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Just like Willy Wonka was born to invent new candy bars, kids were born to learn!

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about why homeschooling works easily for kids of all ages. They’re even learning on sick days. And, on our recent trip to the lake, I was reminded (yet again) how kids are always learning – even on vacation!

One of the books my preschool daughter brought with her on our road trip was The Dell Encyclopedia of Dogs.

Dell Encyclopedia of Dogs book
Our dog encyclopedia is well-loved, as you can see.

I had no idea that one book would end up providing a week’s worth of child-led preschool learning in just a few hours in the car! Here are a few of the topics my four-year old initiated on her own:

Reading/Phonics

  • She noticed the encyclopedia is in A-B-C order, just like the Alphabet Song (which she sang more than a few times). She noticed that some letters were grouped together in one section (like X, Y and Z), so we talked about which letters are most and least common in English.
  • She sounded out “D-O-G” and “A-N-D” and dozens of other little words and asked about the trickier ones. 
  • She learned that “aw” says /aw/ and that many letters can make more than one sound. Her brothers and I gave her several other phonogram examples (like “sh” and “oy”). Weeks later, she still remembers many of them. 

Math

  • She counted along with the page numbers in her book many (many!) times, and finally solved the mystery of the missing page numbers (“They don’t write the page number if a picture is in the way!”).
  • She noticed that her counting wasn’t consecutive if she skipped pages. We talked about that and then she made up other examples of non-consecutive counting she called “silly counting” and cracked herself up. “20, 21, 22…. 6… hahahaha!” I was happy to hear this since I know if she can recognize incorrect counting, that means she knows what it should be.
  • When she was on page 13, she realized “only one more page until 14” and “two more until 15.”
  • She then took a break and practiced some addition with her fingers: “four plus two equals…. six! It’s six, mom!!”

Material Science

  • She noticed that if she rolled a corner, it would go back to flat if she rolled it the other way. But if she creased or ripped a page, she found it would never look the same. We talked about material properties and how materials have a “point of no return” after which they’re permanently altered. (She also learned how she’d no longer have that book if she ripped a page on purpose again.)
  • We talked about paper coming from trees, if books are alive like trees, how people plant trees and how people make books.

Animal Science

  • She asked all about dogs. We compared big and small dogs, compared human and dog anatomy, and pointed out ribs, tails and paws on the book’s diagrams.  
  • She compared the dog breed pictures to dogs we know and talked about what makes a dog a dog (and not an elephant). 
  • We saw a picture of a mom dog feeding her litter of babies and talked about mammals and what makes dogs mammals. 
  • She thought some dogs looked happy and others looked sad. We talked about ways dogs and people show their feelings and talked about emotions in general. 

And this is just the beginning! I haven’t even gotten to the part about ancient Egypt, when she found the photo of a blue-painted Anubis sculpture. But, I’m sure you’re busy so I’ll spare you the rest of the laundry list. 

The point is, kids WANT to learn. They can’t not learn (unless we get in their way or squelch their innate curiosity). With or without a resort-sponsored “schoolcation” package, learning can and will happen if you encourage it… even especially on vacation!

Vacations offer time to relax, experience new things and soak life in. They’re the perfect time to experiment with a child-led learning approach.  My daughter learned more in that car ride from a single book than I ever would’ve planned for a “school day” – and we hadn’t even gotten to our destination yet!

So, next time you’re on a trip, run with your kids’ curiosities and questions. Let them wonder freely and see where it leads – even if it’s off the beaten path or not on your itinerary. And if they want to flip through the same book twenty times, let them. You never know what they might learn!

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