Teachers are often privy to their student’s conversations about upcoming family trips. It is common for family trips to include entertaining venues such as theme park attractions, long road trips, beach trips, and overseas adventures. As a parent, teacher educator, and lover of all things social studies I am a proponent of extending family vacations to include historical, cultural, and educational excursions. I am an advocate for classroom teachers and administrators suggesting educational family vacation ideas through class or school newsletters and websites, as well as at parent teacher association meetings. A potential way for schools to integrate the experiences of students and what they have learned on family vacations may be through class or school blogs.
I often share the benefits of experiential knowledge through travel with my undergraduate preservice teachers. For example, I appreciate reflective visits to southern plantations. Because I am African American, my students often regard my interest as peculiar. As I share with them, I am interested in learning and “feeling” how my ancestors lived on a slave plantation. I do not focus on the majestic nature of the plantation house, but rather, I consider the size and how slave cabins are made; the slaves’ distance to the master’s house, other slave cabins, and the fields they toiled; and, the route slaves used to escape to freedom. I have also had the opportunity to share interesting facts with my students.
The Kingsley Plantation outside of Amelia Island, Florida has an uncommon story and the composition of the slave cabins is unique to the natural habitat of the area. Having the opportunity to travel to this location provides teachers with a wealth of teaching ideas. Teachers can follow up and encourage students to compare and contrast slave life on other plantations in nearby or far away regions, trace the slaves’ origin by researching tribes in West Africa, compare life in Spanish Florida to United States Florida, and examine the concept of manumission. There are a multitude of graphic organizers, technology applications, and global learning opportunities that can occur as well. Budding social scientists will glean interesting comparisons and relevant knowledge that is not widely shared in social studies textbooks.
Another exciting adventure my family encountered was visiting Eatonville, Florida during a week-long trip to Orlando. While my children were energized and looked forward to visiting the Disney World, spending the night with dolphins at Sea World, and the Kennedy Space Center, they were equally eager to learn about the small town of Eatonville. Eatonville was the first African American town in the United States to incorporate in 1887 with 27 families. As with the rich history of Kinsley Plantation, Eatonville offers extended learning for blogging, digital storytelling, oral history interviews, comparison of scouting through the years, exposure to the Harlem Renaissance, and analysis of the town’s fluctuating economy where poverty rates were once twice the nation’s average.
Adding learning opportunities to family vacations provide access to unique educational, cultural, and historic venues that offer experiential learning that not only lasts a lifetime, but can spark a new passion or affinity for travel. Furthermore, it provides parents and children with an opportunity to learn and create vibrant projects resulting from the knowledge gained at the sites. While bonding and creating memories with their children, parents are instilling a love for history, critical thinking, and conceptualizing learning beyond a traditional classroom.