A national parenting survey* in 2019 showed that 76% of New Zealand parents worry that they aren’t able to spend enough time with their children.
Holidays are especially important to families with busy schedules because they allow for dedicated together time, but this means many parents opt for camping or beach trips where they can guarantee the kids will have fun. However, cultural trips and city breaks needn’t be off the cards: there are strategies you can use to keep everyone engaged without having to spend the whole break at the park.
Getting your kids excited about the destination in advance will help make a city break go more smoothly. Encourage them to learn more about the different countries and cities you’re visiting, showing them pictures and videos to pique their interest. If you’re travelling further afield, get them excited about the different foods and ingredients they might try, and if you have fussy eaters in the family, try food from the region ahead of time to get them used to different cuisine.
Read stories set in the place you’re visiting, or children’s non-fiction books about the locations, such as M Sasek’s This Is series. If you can find age-appropriate films set in the place you’re headed, watch those too. Paddington is a good choice for London, and for Salzburg, The Sound of Music. If a different language is spoken at your destination, get them excited about learning basic words and phrases, whether by practising with you or by using a language-learning app independently. If you can relate their favourite games to your location, get them thinking about the holiday in advance — for example, perhaps you can play dominoes and say the numbers in French.
Preparing children for the different language, food and key sights they’re going to see while they’re away will make them more excited about spotting them when it’s finally time to travel. Their understanding — and therefore their engagement — will be much greater if they know what to expect ahead of time.
During the holiday itself, you can help your children to stay engaged and excited by encouraging them to journal and scrapbook along the way. Encourage them to collect the different tastes, smells, sights and feelings they’ve experienced, and let them focus on whatever it is that has interested them, even if they aren’t the highlights the adults might pick.
If you plan to visit museums and galleries, many have activities children can do on the way round to keep them engaged and entertained, but if you want to visit somewhere that doesn’t offer this, make your own. See how many dogs they can spot in art gallery pictures, for example, or see if they recognise the city in any of the paintings.
Relating to their experiences
For heavier experiences that you don’t want to miss out on as adults, try to find ways you can relate what they’re seeing to their own experiences. For example, at an exhibition dealing with social history or war, relate the long-lasting impacts of an issue to bullying, which is something they will have learned about at school. People who have experienced bullying live with the impact for years after the event, just as people who have lived through war or experienced injustice do.
Finding ways to relate difficult issues to things children have experienced will help them to engage and want to learn more, and giving them a focus on the way round an exhibition will keep them having fun for longer. Collecting and processing what they have seen and learned will lead to a richer experience all round.
The idea of a cultural holiday or a city break can seem daunting when you have kids, but it can be a valuable way to spend time together. With some advance preparation and some strategies to keep them engaged while they’re sightseeing, you can be sure the whole family will have a great experience.
This article was written by Sally Sykes with additional content by Kidspot NZ. Sally is a freelance writer who left her corporate job for a life of freedom. She regularly travels with her family and absolutely loves camping in the great outdoors.