Planning: Our Northwoods Vacation

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This week’s curriculum was dictated by our family plans… it’s time for our summer vacation!! Planning for vacation involves a LOT of work on my part. I’m sure any parents reading this know that packing up a family for a full week is a major undertaking.

So, on one hand, I want to capitalize on this adventure and use our school routine to prepare B and make sure she gains from the experience. On the other hand, it is important to me to minimize extra work – my priority is that both B and I relax and enjoy our vacation.

Our school this week will be less formal than usual. We’ll grab a few books that relate to our vacation during a trip to the library, as well as a stack of books for the whole family to read in the car and on the beach. While on vacation, I plan to simply seek out teachable moments, and to draw B’s attention to the similarities and differences in our vacation routine as compared to “real life.”

If you simply decide that vacation week is a vacation… and you won’t be doing school… no worries! This curriculum is designed to fit into the ebb and flow of normal family life. In our case, we’ve just started getting into our school routine and B has been very excited about it. I don’t want to loose momentum with a week off and I know the trip will be full of teachable moments and learning experiences I might like to capture.

If you do decide to plan curriculum around a vacation, your choice of destination will play a large roll in your decision-making. This summer, we’re meeting friends at their cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our vacation will involve hiking, swimming, campfires, wildlife spotting, boating, fishing, and more… all bookended by a 7 hour drive to and from our destination.  The planning I’ve described below is focused on our Northwoods trip, but can certainly be adapted to other types of vacations.  Where is your family planning to vacation?  Let me know in the comments!

Book Recommendations:

Books that are specific to your destination

A major city? An amusement park? The shore? A cabin in the woods? An international jaunt? Family reunion? Camping? Vacation can mean a variety of things… seek out books that are specific to your destination.

We have a copy of Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet by Betsy Bowen. This book has a variety of images of the northwoods throughout the year, as well as brief descriptions about why each is included. We’ve visited in all seasons so many of the images are familiar; this book provides an opportunity to talk about what to expect during the summer months as well as to reflect on past visits. We also read Froggy Learns to Swim by Jonathon London from our personal collection. I’ll be honest… I find the Froggy books annoying. Despite this, my experience as both a teacher and a parent has been that preschoolers LOVE them. This particular one is no exception. B loves reading it and I felt it was worth pulling out prior to this vacation, during which we’ll be doing a lot of swimming.

The Berenstain Bears Go on Vacation by Jan Berenstain

I imagine most readers are familiar with the Berenstain Bears. I loved their books as a child and have looked forward to introducing B to them as she’s reached preschool age. In this book, the bears are headed to the shore. Despite a slightly different destination I found that much of the content of this book parallels our vacation plans. The book begins with the bears packing up the car with gear, a long drive (are we there yet?), and eventual arrival at their vacation cottage. Vacation adventures include swimming, fishing, running along the beach, visiting a museum on a rainy day, shopping at a general store, and eating at a restaurant. The book offers a variety of opportunities to discuss what to expect on family vacation and is written in a rhyming prose that is common in the Berenstain Bears series.  

Suggested activities:

Packing and preparing: Packing for vacation is an opportunity to consider what items are needed for your everyday life wherever you are, and to anticipate special activities that might take place on vacation. I do not recommend you leave a preschooler in charge of packing for himself or herself! However, I do think it’s worth the extra time and work to involve them in packing. B and I will pack her clothing bag together. I’ll make a list of items needed, such as 5 pairs of shorts, 5 t-shirts, a bathing suit, pajamas, a sweater, etc and read it to her item by item. She can gather each from her closet with my guidance and put them in her suitcase. More wrinkles? Perhaps. But what a great opportunity to help B learn to plan for and execute a project.

Additionally, I’ll put B in charge of packing a bag of toys and books for the car. She has a small backpack that we often use for this purpose when traveling. The day before our trip I’ll ask her to fill it with items she might like to play with in the car.

Vacation fun: The planning here depends almost entirely on your vacation plans! I know we’ll see a variety of wildlife so B and I will discuss the animals we might see (deer, chipmunk, black squirrels, fish, dragonflies, woodpecker, eagle) and then look for them as we go about our vacation.

Our family also really enjoys physical activity so swimming and hiking will be a big part of our vacation plan. These are great gross motor activities and offer additional opportunities to immerse ourselves in nature.

Finally, most any vacation involves things like eating at restaurants, meeting new people and dealing with out of the ordinary routines. The opportunities for social learning are abundant.

Notes about your child’s learning:

Social Studies:
Some vacations might offer great opportunities for learning about geography, history, or other cultures. We will certainly explore a different landscape – forest – during our trip to the Northwoods. Additionally, we’ll have opportunities to learn about how communities other than our own function. I expect there will be some opportunities for noticing how a small, relatively rural community functions differently than our familiar urban neighborhood.


The wildlife in the Northwoods offers such an amazing opportunity for science learning. Observing and comparing types of birds, fish, insects, and plants. Categorizing wildlife. Discussing lifecycles when we see adult and juvenile deer. Immersing oneself in nature promotes science learning naturally, no pun intended!


As a family of readers, vacation offers us a great opportunity to model reading for enjoyment! We’ll read and listen to books on tape during our 14+ hours of driving. We’ll also have opportunities to read for pleasure on the beach, on the dock, on the cabin porch… you get the picture! Although we all read for pleasure at home, vacation – with 2 parents available at all times – allows much more opportunity for Tony and I to model and share this habit with B. Even if you’re not a big reader, look for opportunities to model this as a way to pass the time when time is abundant… such as on a relaxed family vacation.


How many deer do you think we’ll see? Chipmunks? Fish? Dragonflies? I’m wondering too and looking forward to counting them with B!


Beyond crayons on the placemat at a family restaurant, I doubt we’ll bring any art supplies on this trip. That said, I imagine there will be some creative expression inherent in B’s play. Drawing in sand on the beach, creating sand castles, exploring objects in nature – these can all offer opportunities for artistic expression. I’ll also make it a priority to express appreciation of the beauty around us to B!

Motor Skills:

Sensory experiences like playing with sand and water and great for enhancing fine motor skills. In addition, we’ll be hiking, paddle boating, swimming and more. Lots of opportunities to practice both familiar and novel gross motor skills!

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