Miss being somewhere that’s not your house? Take your kids on vacation at home
“You don’t need to take a plane to see the world,” said a travel and lifestyle expert. Instead, pick a day for a virtual trip and put your child in charge of planning.
At the beginning of quarantine, parents tie-dyed like there was no tomorrow. Their production of friendship bracelets was matched only by the number of scavenger hunts they organised on the fly.
In the quest to keep their children busy, they left no stone unturned. (Or untumbled in the rock tumbler, or undecorated with paint markers purchased hastily on Amazon.)
But nine months later, they are over it. Mums cannot make another pillow fort. Dads are banana-breaded out.
And now they’re staring down the barrel of winter break with one question: How on earth are we going to entertain these kids?
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging against holiday travel, a family vacation is off the table. Unless, that is, you mindfully set about re-creating the best parts of one at home.
SO YOU MISS EXPLORING NEW COUNTRIES
“You don’t need to take a plane to see the world,” said Oneika Raymond, a travel and lifestyle expert and correspondent for NBC New York. Instead, pick a day for a virtual trip and put your child in charge of planning.
“Let them choose a city to research, then help replicate what they find,” she said. “They could say ‘okay, we’re going to Shanghai; we’re going to eat dumplings at this particular place’. Find a recipe for dumplings together and decorate the table like in the restaurant.”
If you’re not in lockdown, plan a family walk through a different neighbourhood and try a new cuisine, Raymond said. Or just whiz through a few countries online with geography-based games like GeoGuessr.
It’s nice for kids to learn the word “playa” by building sand castles on one, but technology can fill in the gaps until it’s safe to travel again.
Raymond, a former French teacher, recommends a handful of apps to immerse children in a foreign language: Gus on the Go, which uses storybook characters familiar to younger kids; Memrise, which features clips of native speakers in their hometowns; and Lirica, whose instruction-via-hit-song will appeal to tweens.
Older kids may also like Language Learning With Netflix, a Chrome extension that adds subtitles and a pop-up dictionary to familiar shows.
SO YOU MISS MUSEUMS AND CULTURE
Dust off that accumulating pile of kids’ artwork and hold an exhibition, said Bar Rucci, a graphic designer who runs Art Bar and The Creativity Project.
“Cover the walls in kraft paper, tape the art on top, and label each piece with a title,” she said. “Use a few rooms so you have ‘wings’ for different artists or styles, then have the rest of the family stroll the gallery. Or invite masked friends at 10-minute intervals.”
To mimic the hands-on investigation of a place like the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco, dig into the “Science Snacks” available online in English and Spanish, said Jessica Parker, the museum’s director of teaching and learning.
“Let kids choose what they’re interested in,” she said. “You can search and filter by what you have in the house. Combine a few experiments to make a Science Olympics, then challenge grandparents or cousins you can’t see this year.”
When “Hamilton” was released for streaming, Liz Gumbinner, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of a parenting network called Cool Mom Picks, “attended” from her sofa with her family of musical theatre fans.
“We got dressed up, served frozen lemonades in our Broadway souvenir cups, and ate all the Twizzlers and Junior Mints we’d normally eat during intermission,” she said. “Most important? Be sure to turn off all phones.”
SO YOU MISS THEME PARKS
“There’s a sense of wonder at Disney World that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Carey Larson, who has visited 30 times and helps families plan their trips in her role as Kingdom Konsultant.
But for younger kids, you can replicate at least some of the delight.
If your children have been before, said Larson, look through pictures together so you know what details to re-create; if they haven’t, stick with simple Mickey-themed imagery.
Have kids pack a backpack and hand them a Magic Band. (“Someone always has an old one if you ask on Facebook,” she said.) You can watch the parade and fireworks on YouTube, as well as “POV rides” that feel as if you’re there in person.
“The trick is capturing the senses – what you see, but also what you can smell and taste,” said Derek Cole, a Disney fan who built immersive Disney-inspired sets as the director of a summer camp.
When Larson “rode” Splash Mountain with her six-year-old, she hid a spray bottle under a pillow and re-created the exact moment he would’ve been splashed.
For meals, print out Disneyland menus, which can be found online. “A lot of it’s stuff you probably have already, but if your child gets to ‘order’ it, it’s more special,” Larson said.
The My Disney Experience app has recipes for more esoteric treats like the famous Dole Whip, a frozen dessert with a cult following. And Cole has a hot tip: “Rumour has it, the Tio Pepe brand of churros at Smart & Final are the same ones they have at Disneyland.”
SO YOU MISS ACTUALLY SEEING YOUR CHILDREN’S FACES
Between distance learning and Zoom karate, kids have been heads-down on devices for months. But it’s easy to get them on the other side of the screen, said Carol Greenwald, director of children’s media for Boston public media producer WGBH.
“What does your kid know how to do really well?” she said. “Bake cookies? Do a somersault? Have them make a video showing you how.” Kids can also film their own stand-up comedy show or commercial.
“Make up a silly product or use something at home,” said Greenwald, co-developer and senior executive producer of Arthur, the longest-running children’s animated series on television.
Have siblings make a podcast together – “One thing that’s super fun for kids is making sound effects using their voices or what’s around the house,” she said – or shoot a scene from a favourite book.
“I’m seeing Max being sent to his room, falling asleep, getting into a boat and then having a wild rumpus.”
Introduce aspiring animators to Scribbles & Ink, a digital interactive experience that lets kids add their own drawings to a story to create an adventure. Or for a heartfelt holiday present, have your children record themselves playing reporter.
“When my son was in elementary school, he ‘interviewed’ my mother about what life was like when she was his age,” Greenwald said. “It was lovely and I actually learned some things about her I’d never known.”
SO YOU MISS BEING SOMEWHERE THAT ISN’T YOUR HOUSE
Things feel fresh on vacation because you’re breaking patterns, said Caitlin Ramsdale, managing director of Kid & Coe, a vacation rental company specialising in family-friendly homes and hotels.
For preschoolers, a change of scenery can be as simple as pulling the bed out from the wall to create a new space to play, she said. “Even just changing a toy’s location can make it feel new again.”
Most kids love room service, Gumbinner said. “We have ‘hotel day’ once in a while, which involves bringing a tray of food into our bedroom and eating in robes on the floor in front of the TV,” she said.
“As long as the kids help clean up afterward. There’s no housekeeping service at Hotel Mum.”
Book a spa appointment – in your kitchen, that is – by making a scrub from raw sugar, coconut oil, vanilla extract and lavender essential oils, said Amy Retay, director of spa operations at The Breakers Palm Beach, in Florida, where the Spa Petite caters to guests as young as six.
“Children’s skin can be sensitive, so put it on hands and feet, not faces,” she said.
And while you’re at it, get in on that kitchen spa action, too.
“What’s most special about family vacation is that kids get to see you relaxed and unplugged,” Gumbinner said. “Whatever you can do at home to get into that groove is really worth it.”
By Holly Burns © The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.