Reflecting on our trip to the Northwoods

I love family vacations! Lots and lots of uninterrupted time with people we love in a beautiful setting… what could be better?

on the dock

We made record time on our drive up to Wisconsin. We spent the drive reading books, looking out the window, jamming to the radio (ok fine, it was all children’s music and our dance moves were probably alarming people in the other cars…), and watching B’s favorite movie – Mary Poppins. 7 hours – in the car with a preschooler – flew by. A good omen, for sure.

As I reflect on this amazing week… I’m struggling with how to best share everything with you. In contrast to our typical outings, this was non-stop learning and doing for 6 full days. Sharing everything would be impossible. So, I’m going to share a few highlights and a few photos. If you have questions about something I have or haven’t covered here, please feel free to ask in the comments!

Early in the week, there was a hurdle for my city mouse… dealing with all of the wildlife. While B was thrilled to see chipmunks, deer, and other furry creatures, she wasn’t so sure about the many dragon and damsel flies, spiders, and other “creepy crawlies.” Tony and I tried to model observing these creatures and commenting on what we saw nonchalantly (“wow, those wings are really long and shiny”). When she was upset or scared, we empathized but didn’t make a big deal out of it. By the end of the week B followed our lead and was happily observing anything that crossed her path. This was, in my opinion, B’s greatest learning experience of our vacation. She was clearly practicing her science process skills of observing and comparing. More importantly, she faced a challenge, persevered through it, and turned it into a learning experience. There are few skills that will better prepare students for school and life than that!

looking for fish

Another highlight of the week was watching B interact with the other kids in our group. We were vacationing with 2 other families. All together, there were 4 kiddos ages 2-8. In case you missed it, B is an only child! We live in a busy city neighborhood where she’s constantly required to share space and materials while out and about but, quite frankly, our home is her castle. The toys are all hers, she largely dictates our schedule (thankfully she likes to sleep in a bit just like her mom and dad!), and if she’s competing for attention it’s only with my chores. My husband Tony is also an only child so I don’t worry much about the stereotypes but I was curious to see how she’d do in a cabinful of pseudo-siblings. Luckily, all of the little ones did great! I’m sure the fact that we had 4 awesome kids with us was part of it… but I’d also like to think that some of the teaching and modeling the adults provided helped. When there were conflicts over toys, I first watched and gave the kids an opportunity to work it on on their own. If needed, I encouraged the use of phrases such as, “when you’re done can I have a turn?” and helped everyone find ways to wait patiently for the other child to be finished.  In one super-proud-wife moment, I found Tony helping the littlest kids to take turns on the one-and-only lakeside swing. Both B and her friend S wanted to swing but had to wait turns. Tony suggested that whoever was waiting could dictate the “type” of push that the other would get (underdog, rollercoaster… maybe there were more?). Not surprisingly, the girls loved this turn-taking game and revisited it throughout the week!

on the swing

Finally, I think a great lesson for me this week was a reminder of what kids (and adults for that matter…) who are primed for learning look and act like. I strive to keep our life simple and to offer B lots of opportunities for free play every day, but the reality is that we have a full life here in the city. Although we make an effort to simplify and slow down, we’re surrounded by others rushing busily to and fro (…and sometimes, against our best judgement, we join them). Nature is present but not abundant. Sensory experiences are available but often need to be planned for.

sand and water

Up north the pace was slower. There was LOTS of time for free play and it was all child directed. There weren’t many toys and most of the toys were open ended. All of the kids were spending time in nature – staring at the lake, comparing pinecones, dragging sticks around. Sensory experiences abounded – sand and water play happened every day, multiple times a day.  Swinging, running, and climbing were nonstop. Not surprisingly, I found that B was cool as a cucumber, flexible, open to new learning, and relaxed throughout the week. We can’t have vacation every week, but I can make an effort to recreate some of the conditions that I think contributed to a chilled-0ut, ready-to-learn preschooler.

walking with dad

So now… I’m already looking forward to our next vacation!

What did you and your family learn during summer vacation?

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