Minds in Bloom is thrilled to welcome Laura Merrick to the blog today! Laura’s family has chosen a life of constant movement, traveling the U.S. east coast and beyond by boat, so she’s sharing her tips for teaching and learning while on the move.
Recently, our family took a leap of faith and fulfilled a dream of selling our house, quitting our jobs, and moving onto a sailboat to travel down the east coast of the US and beyond. Previously, I worked as a School Psychologist and a Special Education Coordinator, and now I am a “boat mom” teaching my two young girls, ages 3 and 4. Since we are always on the move and traveling to new and different places, I’ve had to get creative about different fun and creative ways to engage my children in learning while “on the go” and on a budget. Here are a few ideas and resources that may be helpful if you are trying to incorporate education and learning in a more non-traditional setting.
Visiting museums provides excellent hands-on activities for children; however, they can be a bit pricey, especially for the whole family. We bought an ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Center) Passport Membership for $60, which allows our entire family to get into hundreds of museums across the country. The membership easily pays for itself after visiting the first museum. The only “catch” is that you have to be 90 miles from your hometown, which works out perfectly if you are traveling to new places. Many of the the museums also have an IMAX theater or a planetarium that are included in the program. Some of our favorites have been the Virginia Children’s Museum in Portsmouth and the Museum of Art and Science in Daytona.
The local libraries in towns and cities across the country offer some really interesting and FREE children’s programs. We have participated in a Storywalk at the local park while in Vermont and in Storytime Yoga while in Vero Beach. Most of the programs are held around 10:00 AM and are during the weekdays. Even if you are not able to catch an actual “story time” program, you can check out the local library with your children and read new books to them.
Arts and Crafts
Our family loves to make crafts. We have very simple supplies on hand at all times and can easily incorporate a craft into a book we have read or a topic that the girls find interesting. Our “art kit” includes: pipe cleaners, glue, glitter, popsicle sticks, paint, crayons, construction paper, Velcro®, beads, and tape. Reusing materials, such as paper towel rolls or plastic bottles, can be a creative way to make fun crafts. After visiting a turtle rescue center in Topsail, NC, we made turtles out of water bottles and discussed recycling and littering. We have also had fun making crabs and turtles out of shells.
This is a great way to practice writing and to make a keepsake of your travels. If your children are in the early stages of writing, like my girls, then you can have them draw pictures and then dictate what they want to add to the journal. However, for older kids this is a way to keep them writing over a family vacation.
Many cities hold a farmers market on either Saturday or Sunday morning. These events are lots of fun for kids and give them an opportunity to learn about different foods and listen to local music. Some farmers markets even hold children’s programs, where they provide the materials to make a produce basket and give the kids money to spend at the local vendors. This provides the added bonus of teaching about money and counting change.
Local Events and Activities
Check out the local paper or Macaroni Kid for listings of the weekly activities within the town you are visiting. We have been able to find many different activities geared towards children by just picking up the local paper…such events we have been able to attend are a Celtic festival and many arts and food festivals. Depending on where you are, Macaroni Kids has a calendar of all activities that are family- and kid-friendly.
Teaching children about compassion and gratitude may be the most important lesson I can teach my children while we travel. We have tried to learn this skill by making small little tokens of appreciation for the local police department, fire department, or hospital. Pinterest provides so many wonderful ideas to incorporate with pieces of candy and cute sayings. We especially enjoyed making hand prints with Tootsie Rolls. In the future we plan on doing some trash pick-up in open spaces, like playgrounds, and visiting nursing homes.
There are many different companies that make snacks that can be used for learning numbers, letters, and making words. Cheez-It® letter tile snacks is one of our favorites. Before the girls can eat the cracker, they have to either be able to name the letter or put letters together to make a word. Taking a more STEM approach, marshmallows and toothpicks can be used to make different structures and objects.
Manageable Travel Toys
Toys and learning tools need to be easily stored and highly engaging. I have found that bringing a painted cookie sheet with magnetic letters can create LOTS of different learning games, and it is easy to store away. Recently, I have also come across MagnaTiles®, which are wonderful manipulatives to promote building and abstract thinking. Legos® are another option, but for us they tend to get lost too easily!
We could not go without books while we are traveling. Since we do not have much space to store books, we try to revolve them based on the girls’ interest. Right now we have a larger inventory of space and ocean books. In addition to reading to your children and having them read to you, you can also have them make up their own story about the pictures in a book to stimulate the creative mind.
This list gives just a sampling of the teaching and learning that can be done easily while on a family vacation or if you have chosen a life of constant moving. If you would like to see different ways we have incorporated some of the above ideas and some other ideas, you can visit “What about School?” and “On the Move with Kids”.
Laura is the author of Releasing the Bowlines, which chronicles her journey of life aboard a boat with her family, as well as Discovering Hidden Potential, an educational blog. Previously, she worked for 10 years as a School Psychologist and more recently as a Special Education Coordinator. She is currently “boat mom” aboard SV All In and does part-time educational consulting focused on Response to Intervention, Special Education, and parenting. You can follow along on Facebook and Instagram. You can also check out her TPT store, Discovering Hidden Potential, for more learning products.