Parenting: Traveling With Kids - Book Trips

The Murphy's have taken several book-based trips, including two invloving Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is David and his family outside the Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri, where the "Little House On The Prairie" books were written.
October 4, 2010 7:41:29 AM PDT
I've long been a proponent of travel as a means of education. When it comes to kids, seeing other areas of the country or world can be a major mind-expanding experience. But there's a way to make a family vacation even more educational than usual: tying the trip in with school topics and specific books.

I've had personal experience with this. My wife and I started reading the true-life adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder to our first two kids when they were in grade school, a chapter a night, until we had finished the whole Little House on the Prairie series. Then, we got on an airplane to Minneapolis, rented a van, and traced Laura's travel. We went to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and saw the indentation from the family's underground mud house, the backdrop for "On the Banks of Plum Creek". We traveled west to De Smet, South Dakota, and saw the pioneer family's homestead, the surveyor's house that plays a role in some of the books, Ma and Pa's home in the center of town, and the graves of some of the family members made famous in the books we'd read. From there, we headed west to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore to mix things up a bit. Tying the trip in with the books gave us all a rich understanding of the history we first heard read aloud and then viewed with our own eyes, and while South Dakota and Minnesota might not sound like the most exciting of vacation destinations, that trip still holds a lot of memories for us, and stands out as a unique adventure. What's more, the kids now know what life in Midwest small towns is really like, rather than just having a precursory (and probably inaccurate) impression from, say, a few movies.

You can take this as far as your wallet can handle. One trip we haven't yet gotten around to yet is linked to All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, which we also read to the kids. The humorous comings and goings of an English country veterinarian can re-lived quite vividly, assuming you have the wherewithal to make it to Thirsk North Yorkshire, in Great Britain, where the original surgery of the author has been restored and now serves as a museum. Again, it hasn't happened yet for us, but we're still hoping.

But there are plenty of educational tie-ins available much closer to home. A good place to start might be back-to-school night. Find out what sort of history and sociology topics your children will be covering. Chances are some colonial history will be covered, and the beginnings of the American Revolution lay just a few states to the north in Massachusetts. In 5th and 6th grade, my son studied all the states, from geography to economy and political history, which pretty much made anywhere in the Continental U.S. fair game for a tie-in vacation. On the goods and trade front, you can see excellent examples of the colonial economy in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. If the kids study Martin Luther King's history and legacy, a great follow-up destination is Memphis, where a museum exists adjacent to the motel where the civil rights leader was murdered, and there are plenty of other sites throughout the south marking benchmarks of the civil rights movement. Are the kids learning about the Erie Canal, and early trading economies? You can consider showing the canal to them, along with Niagara Falls, and Quebec and Montreal, two great cities across the Canadian border where they can also try using a little French.

Even a trip to Disney World in Orlando can take on an element of education with a side trip to the Kennedy Space Center or a ride down to the Everglades.

One nice thing about this is that your kids' teachers will probably appreciate the value of this sort of excursion and be happy to work with you, in case you choose to take your trip during the school year.

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