5 Reasons Family Vacations are Better than Toys
Updated: Oct 14
The other day, a friend asked me what my earliest memory was.
Hmmm... I had to give it some thought. Was it a toy I got for Christmas? The time we had a picnic at the beach? When Mom and I made an angel food cake with colored sprinkles? Or the day I got to row a rowboat all by myself?
It was most certainly the day when we were on a family vacation that my Dad let me row the rowboat all by myself. I was about 5 years old and I was so happy and proud plus, I was having fun making memories with my family.
I started reminiscing about my childhood and all the fun, funny, happy, and memorable times I could remember were all "events with my family" and not "things".
My work gig is that I own Russ-Tee Bucket Ranch in North Conway, NH and realizing that my fondest memories growing up were almost exclusively time spent with family or friends playing, vacationing, and celebrating was an epiphany for me.
I started to wonder if I was onto something - turns out I was.
Have you ever watched a house-full of kids opening presents on Christmas morning? In most households, it's bedlam.
Thousands of dollars of sought after toys and games are carefully wrapped and placed under the tree by "Santa".
It took many hours of shopping, buying, wrapping, working for the money to buy the presents, and about 45 minutes to find yourself engulfed in a sea of wrapping paper with several kids playing with their one favorite toy. You know what happens to the other multitude of toys that are NOT their favorites. It boggles my mind.
Every year at Russ-Tee Bucket Ranch, I get a worried phone call from a grandmother somewhere in New England. They fret and stammer to me on the phone that they have NO idea what to buy their kids for birthdays and holidays - never-mind their grand kids.
Grandma drones on for a while longer about the cost of toys and that she wants to get them the perfect toy but know their parents will get them what's #1 on their list.
Finally, she gets down to business. She wants to book my ranch for a vacation but she frets that the grand kids won't be excited about a vacation.
Fast-forward to the first day of the family vacation. The younger set is very excited about going away, the tweens are pouting about leaving their friends, and the teenagers are miserable and tweeting/texting/Facebooking their friends about this God-forsaken place called North Conway.
Day Two of Vacation: Kids of all ages meet me at the door to tell how their Dad tried a rope swing when they were Saco River tubing or they all caught frogs when they went on a hike, or they went on the ferris wheel alone for the first time!
Although my sample size is tiny, I have been welcoming guests for almost 28 years and I have yet to see kids that are not enjoying their vacation time with their family!
I'm in good company with my thinking that vacations are better than toys.
Britain's bestselling psychological author, Oliver James, writes about the relationships between children and their parents. He has noted that around one in five gifts we give our children are not actually wanted or valued.
Parents, friends, and relatives still continue the cycle of buying too much which results in bins, shelves, and closets getting filled with unused and unloved toys.
The US Department of Education says YES!
They did a study of the effects of vacation on the academic achievement of children from Kindergarten to 5th grade. They paid specific attention to the areas of reading, math, and general knowledge.
The results of that study showed that children that vacationed scored higher on academic achievement tests and they get a bonus boost in achievement if the trips were educational in nature.
At a glance:
Children who traveled with their families scored higher on academic achievement assessment tests than those who did not travel
The number of days spent on family trips positively affected academic achievement
Children who spent time at museums, historical sites, state parks, and even the zoo and beach had significantly higher academic achievement scores than those who did not
According to Dr William Norman, Associate Professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University in South Carolina, family travel is a valuable part of a child's education that "contributes to cognitive growth and stimulates a child's sense of wonderment. Providing kids with the experience of travel broadens their horizons and opens up their minds to learning."
I love the way this expert thinks! James Oliver goes on to say, "On the other hand, family holidays are definitely valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory. So if you're going to spend money on something, it's pretty clear which option makes more sense." He also states that most adults and children would prefer experiences over material things. – I agree.
Have you ever heard, "Can you play with me?" I know I have!
Even though kids have every toy and game they ask for, they insist they are bored. Parents plan multiple playdates, activities, and lessons to keep kids active and quiet but ultimately, it's one on one face time they are craving.
Give in. Plan some together time, make memories, share experiences, and you'll have a happier and more intelligent kid to boot!
Have you ever gone to a yard sale?
Going to yard sales is a summertime sport for me. I love vintage odds and ends and usually can find a few keepers every summer.
What is very noticeable at most yard sales is the overwhelming amount of toys compared to other items. Many times games, books, and stuffed animals have not even been opened or have the tags still on them.
It's sad that most families fall into the trap that kids need a popular toy that is on every second commercial. The reality is that toys, even if your children love certain ones, are only a part of their lives for a short time.
Family vacations and the memories that will definitely be made, will be a part of their lives forever. It would be awesome if families made vacations their priority instead of today's version of the Cabbage Patch Doll.
Most kids left to their own devices these days, will choose technology over being outdoors.
Technology certainly has its' place in their lives but time spent outdoors is very important for children.
According to Harvard Medical School, children need to be out in the sunshine to make Vitamin D, they'll get more exercise outside, it boosts executive function, it enhances social skills, and will give them an appreciation of nature and the environment.
OK, now it's time to plan a vacation. After reading that vacations can make your kids smarter, it will be tempting to cram education down their throats. Remember that everything does not need to have a purpose.
Kids live very structured lives with most parents working full-time plus. Imagine how awesome it would be to go on vacation and sleep in late snuggling with a loved one with no schedule for the day.
You're getting a break from work, let you kids have a break from a hard and fast schedule. Ask them what they'd like to do for the day. Just realize that even if you go for a walk or have a pillow fight, they will be learning more than you realize.
They might be learning from you, about you, and maybe even with you.
I remember one trip I took with my 8 year old son and his Dad plus, my parents. We were sitting around in the RV one night and my son started asking my parents all sorts of questions.
Before I knew it, we had discussed WWII, the Great Depression, my Dad picking weeks from rows of carrots when he was 8 years old on a huge farm, my Mom growing up sleeping in a 3/4 (that's SMALL!) size bed with her Mom and sister, and how my folks remembered signs in windows in town saying, "No Irish Allowed".
Yep, my vote goes to experiences, not toys.
If you're a facts and figures person, it's said that the average household spends $700 per child on toys a year.
I don't know about you, but I could plan a few awesome camping experiences for way less than that! Every state has State Parks, National Parks are all over the place and out west there are Grasslands and BLM lands with very low fees for camping.
Whatever kind of vacation would make you smile, the most important thing is to take everyone into consideration. Just because you get giddy over an art museum doesn't mean that your 8 year old will agree.
I mention camping because it's typically the most cost effective vacation you can take. The #1 reason folks say they don't take many vacations is cost. Most kids would be just as happy toasting marshmallows over a campfire as taking a Caribbean cruise - what they will pay attention to and remember is all the laughing, smiling, and memories they made with you.
Happy trails wherever your travel takes you.