Vacation is a great way to break out of routine, experience a new place and embrace some adventure. At the same time, small children crave routine and order, so it can be a tricky balance to introduce them to new things outside of their normal life, while also keeping them comfortable and relatively happy.
The Montessori way can help your kids feel a sense of normalcy in a new environment, while also encouraging them to get excited about the adventure you're about to take.
Here are some Montessori-inspired strategies to keep in mind as you plan your summer vacation.
1. Include them in planning
Involve your child in planning your trip, to whatever extent he is capable of helping. A 1-year-old can help you place his diapers in his bag or choose three books for the plane, while a 12-year-old can help design a trip budget or map out a driving route.
In Montessori schools, children are frequently involved in planning field trips and class trips. They take responsibility for things like raising funds for souvenir money, helping select the destination, and budgeting their own food and spending money while on the trip.
Involving your child in planning will give him a sense of responsibility, and a sense that he is a valuable part of the trip community. It will also make him more likely to cooperate with things you want to do if he knows that his top choices also made the itinerary.
2. Share the details
No matter what her age, talk to your child about what will happen during your vacation. Don't stop at, "We're going to see Mickey!" Share the nitty-gritty logistics. Tell her what time your flight is, what you'll need to do to get ready to leave for the airport, and what you'll do first when you arrive at your destination.
This type of detail may seem boring, but children are more successful with breaks in routine if they have fair warning and know what to expect. Talking through what the next day will look like can go a long way toward easing any anxiety your child is experiencing by being in a new place.
3. Enable independence
Montessori highly values encouraging children to be independent. This means letting them dress themselves as soon as they can, putting their toys within their reach, and constantly searching for ways they can participate in the community.
Traveling often leads to parents doing everything for their children, likely because it brings on added stresses and time constraints. Try to set your child up for independence on your trip as much as you can. He will have a better experience, and you will be freer to enjoy the trip as well.
Help him pack his own carry on bag and practice how to unzip it himself if he's still learning that skill. That way he won't be reliant on you to constantly pass him snacks and books.
If you have space in your hotel room or rental house, designate an area for your child's things and help him organize them. This allows him to access his own clothes and toys in one spot, providing a little bit of order, which can be very comforting to a young child.
4. Allow for free time
Schedule in some downtime every day. In fact, it is often best to plan one activity and leave the rest of the day open. While it may be tempting to try to pack in all the fun on a vacation, no one is going to enjoy it if your child is overstimulated or overtired.
It may seem silly to spend your vacation at a playground or reading books together, but children need a little extra time to unwind and release their energy.
5. Get outside every day
Montessori places a strong emphasis on giving children time in nature. Many schools have an outdoor component to the classroom, as well as natural elements integrated throughout the classroom.
Nature gives children rich sensory experiences that can't be matched by even the coolest sensory bin. It gives children the chance to explore more freely, without being shushed or constantly told what to do.
Even if your destination is not nature-focused, search to see if there are any state parks nearby or on the way. This might easily become your child's favorite part of the trip. If that's not possible, spend some time at the playground, or look for a rental house with a fenced in yard so your child can stretch his legs and spend some time in the fresh air.
6. Bring open-ended toys
While it's certainly not necessary to bring a lot of toys with you, it can be really helpful to bring a few open-ended toys. This is especially true if you have a child who wakes up early and you'll have a couple of hours in the hotel room before your day begins.
Creative-minded toys, like blocks or simple art supplies, don't just occupy your child, they also provide a wonderful imaginative outlet.
7. Follow your child, not the schedule
Even if the best children's museum or zoo in the country is on your itinerary, your child (and likely you) will not really enjoy it if she's tired or hungry or just plain overstimulated and done with activities.
Try making a loose itinerary, more of a list of possible activities to enjoy together rather than a schedule. Take a few minutes to observe your child before you decide what to do next—observing children is an integral part of Montessori. While you play and interact with your child constantly, surveying their play is a little bit different. It means fading into the background, quietly watching your child with the intent of gaining insight into her current mood or development or capabilities.
Using this strategy on vacation will help you best gauge what your child is up for and able to handle on that particular day, even if it means the zoo has to wait in favor of a good nap.
You certainly don't need to plan your summer vacation solely around your child, mama. It's your well-earned vacation too and you should include plenty of things that will be fun for you!
The truth is though, no one is going to enjoy time away from the house if your child is miserable. Taking some time to think about what he can successfully handle and what he needs to recharge each day will go a long way toward making your next vacation what it should be—full of happy family memories, relaxation, and a little adventure.