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Q. We're RVing across country to see the Grand Canyon this summer. We want to make it educational, but not overwhelming, for our kids who are 7 and 10. How much historical information can kids this age handle?
A. Such trips with the 7- to 10-year-old set can be a gratifying learning and family bonding experience. While you don't want to shove historical facts down your children's throats, realize kids during these middle years (6-12 years) are usually interested and eager learners.
Prior to your vacation, go to the library and search the internet for books, (nonfiction, fiction, memoir) relating to the Grand Canyon and other historical places you'll encounter along the way. If time allows, ask a children's librarian for a book of fiction relating to area you'll be traveling. By reading aloud to your children a story of fiction, not only do they learn about what they're seeing in an appealing way but you're using the hours of your road trip by engaging the family, including the driver, in a story of common interest. This activity is so much better than non-stop game boy playing or privately listening to audio tapes.
Encourage your children to keep a journal. If they're reluctant to write themselves, you can take down their dictation recording what they've experienced each day. If you can afford it, buy each a Polaroid camera with its instant gratification or purchase disposable cameras having the pictures developed on the road or once home. They can include the pictures in their journal. Encourage your children to collect, read, and organize brochures and memorabilia as you travel. These journals might turn into scrap books. Take paper and pastels crayons along for your children to sketch the historical and geological sights they see. These pictures your children can also include in their journals or scrap books.
As you drive along, show your children on a map the route you're traveling. Check off distances, note geographic and geological spots.
Realize that every historical sight you'll visit has a gift shop that will most likely tantalize your children. They'll want to buy something. Before embarking on these shops, set limits and plan for the inevitable begging that will occur. Decide together what they can buy, possibly a post card to paste in their journal or scrapbook. If you know and they know ahead of time what they'll be buying, you save time and money, not to mention unpleasantness between family members.
Lastly, keep aware of just how much input your children are receiving and how much information is too much. Bombarding them with too much information may turn off the fun of learning. The geological phenomenon with respect to the Grand Canyon can't but amaze even the most reluctant learner. The sites you'll see will hold your children's interest and peak their curiosity for a long time.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.