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Let Kids' Imaginations Take Off Before a Summer Vacation Trip

July 04, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches high school English

If you're going away on vacation with your child or children this summer, there are some easy and inexpensive things you can do before you go that will help make your trip more enjoyable and educational.

First, talk to your child about the trip you'll be taking together. Tell what you know about the destination and your reasons for going. Describe the sights and activities you are looking forward to, and then ask what the child would like to see or do.

Books can help children learn even more about the geography, history, arts and culture of the place.

There are several good series of travel books for children, including "Kidding Around" and the "Insight Guides."

"Kidding Around" paperbacks cover many popular cities of the world, including Paris, London and Chicago. Each costs about $10; they're suitable for most grade-school readers.

"Insight Guides" are written mainly for teen-agers, and cover a city or country's history and culture. The individual paperback volumes are expensive ($19.95), so you might want to try to find the one you need at a public library.

For a broader perspective on travel and the world, try a children's atlas. I recommend "Rand McNally Children's World Atlas" for its excellent maps, drawings and photos, and its thorough index. It costs $14.95 in hardcover.

If possible, share with your son or daughter some of the area's culture, such as music, art, dress and food before you go.

It's a good idea to buy a map of your destination--they generally cost as little as a few dollars and come in a range of styles.

Puzzle maps are also popular and vary in difficulty from a wooden-block U.S. map to 6,000-piece world map. One of the most interesting I've found is a magnetic puzzle made by Nouveau.

Also novel are the place mat maps in the "Read a Mat--Eat and Learn" series, which includes the United States, the world and the solar system. Each vinyl mat costs about $3.50.

Globes can be helpful too, and they generally range in price according their size. Small ones (about six inches in diameter) start about $10. Whichever map you choose, spend some time going over it with your child. Start with the big picture, pointing out where you live, then your destination.

Then ask a few questions. For example, is the place east or west of home? How far is it? What other cities, states or countries will you fly over or pass through on the way? Will you cross a time zone? What kinds of physical features, such as lakes and mountains, are visible?

Then trace the travel route on the map or globe with a pen or pencil, explaining how long you will stay at each stop and what you will do.

If you have a written itinerary, share that with the child too.

During the trip, a travel journal is a fine learning tool. You can buy a blank journal in a bookstore; even durable spiral notebooks will do. Pick up a couple of pens too.

Some possible topics for writing: What's the hardest part of traveling? List some similarities and differences between this culture and your own. What's your favorite thing about this place or culture? Describe some interesting people you have seen or met. What do you miss most about home, and why?

Besides writing, ask the child to draw pictures of places or people, and to record his or her expenditures, if any.

In a few years, I'll bet you'll find that the journal is an invaluable way for the child to remember where he or she has been and what happened there. After all, children tend to forget all but a few highlights (or disasters) of vacations. When I was 7, I spent a whole summer in Oxford, England, but I remember little besides getting a large and painful splinter in my foot.

Once you've returned home, post a map on the wall and let your child retrace your route with colored pens or thumbtacks.

For maps, globes and other travel items, try the California Map and Travel Center in Santa Monica or the Travel Gallery in Manhattan Beach. Some children's bookstores also carry these items, so check the Yellow Pages too.

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