The World is a Book: How to Help Your Kids Prepare for a Family Trip (Guest Post)

Jun 8, 2018

Some of you might remember a post I wrote several months ago about motherhood. In it, I encouraged all of us to identify the parts of motherhood that bring us joy and focus on those instead of on the things that make us stressed or frustrated. Today I'm pleased to introduce you to one of my dearest friends, Kathy, who has a whole set of mothering strengths that will blow you away.

When I was a brand new mother myself, we lived in a little white duplex; Kathy lived across the street in a little apartment above a dry cleaners. Our days were spent walking back and forth across the busy road, babysitting each other's kids, exercising in the early morning hours, sharing dinner, and talking about absolutely everything. Kathy was my lifeline, a true friend that I could call up at any hour of the day and she would come running to my aid. I can't tell you how many times I've wished we were still neighbors.

Last summer, Kathy and her husband, James, went on a vacation to Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany . . . with three of their young children. Mike and I thought they were crazy! But the great thing about Kathy is that she is a planner. For months leading up to the trip, she did activities and read books and prepared her kids for all of the adventures they were going to have. Today she's sharing a sampling of what they did to get ready for the trip, and it is amazing and inspiring, but I wanted to preface her thoughts with the reminder that we are all different mothers. Kathy LOVES to plan and create. She is extremely talented at both, and these things bring her joy as a mother. My hope with this post is that you won't feel like a trip can only be a success if you do all these things leading up to it, but that you will take away the things that inspire and bring you joy and make them a part of your next vacation.(And if an overseas trip isn't in your immediate future, you can take a virtual trip by reading all of the fantastic books recommended in this post.) And now, here's Kathy . . . 

As a little girl my dad gave my seven siblings and me a national parks passport book. We were fairly poor and had limited vacation days in the summer, but we had a big van, an equally big tent, lots of family and friends scattered across the nation and undying love for adventure.  Before I was 16, I had been to nearly 40 states and had visited everywhere from Mount Rushmore to George Washington Carver’s Farm and Monument. Not only did it teach me a love for people and places, it taught me to cope with my natural anxiety and fears. As an adult I still tend to get a little or a lot nervous before trips, but I have discovered that reading, researching, and preparing mentally before a trip is super therapeutic.  I am not a professional trip planner or a home schooling mom with tons of experience, but I am a mom of 4 great kids, a world traveler, and a former junior high teacher, so that counts for something, right?! I asked Amy if I could share on her site some ways that I have prepared and planned for a family trip we took last summer, in hopes that these books or ideas could help spark some ideas for you and your family on your next great adventures.

Last summer in 2017, we took three of our four kids to Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. My sister is like a second mom to my kids and convinced us to let her watch our 18 month old. (Yes, she’s a saint and yes, it was a hard choice but it turned out that our 7, 5, and 3 year olds kept us plenty busy!) I lived in Italy for 18 months as a missionary, so we spent most of our time there visiting places and people that I love. I could spend an entire post telling you about all the exciting activities and details, like getting four of our bags stolen from our car parked in Pisa, but since this is a website about books, I’ll share with you my kid’s favorite books that helped them to prepare for the trip. 

The Flying Bed by Nancy Willard has the most incredible illustrations and is so magical! Even if you never plan to visit Florence, you should read this book. Stone Giant by Jane Sutcliffe also is beautifully illustrated but it also teaches so much about the Statue David in such a fun, easy to read story. We all loved this book, and it helped us to focus on the meaning of the statue instead of the nudity…which was good to talk about as well. I,Galileo by Bonnie Christensen was a fantastic biography that made us all marvel at what a scientific genius and determined forward thinking soul he was. Pinocchio by Carlo Callodi was long and way less sugar coated in its original, non-Disney form. But the kids learned a lot from this Italian classic and all ended up purchasing Pinocchio dolls from vendors in Italy. Ciao Bambino  by Danna Leahy is a very simple, cute book that my littlest enjoyed. It gives good exposure to their first Italian words. Who was Leonardo da Vinci by Roberta Edwards was a favorite for my 7 year old. She also read the Magic Tree House book about him, but I’d agree with her that this biography gives you more cool facts about him.

Each week over the summer, we worked on a project or craft that helped us learn more about the places we were going to visit and celebrate their unique culture and history. We presented what we did each Monday at our family night. The kids made research posters,  acrylic paintings, clay sculptures, dioramas, power point presentations, ancient looking maps, gondolas out of tinfoil, venetian masks out of plaster & paint, and short stories. They also colored information cards about each major landmark that we’d see. I love to sew and I couldn’t resist sewing matching Sound of Music play clothes for the kids out of this fabric. We went on a few hikes over the summer to practice hiking and walking long distances. I also rubbed relaxing scented lotion on their feet every night for a month as they laid down to fall asleep in hopes that it would help program them to relax and fall asleep on the airplane and in unfamiliar beds. I’m not sure if it was purely the lotion trick or running laps around the airport during our 6 hour layover, but they all slept the entire flight from Toronto to Rome. So maybe it’s worth a try.

I wanted to make a book for this trip so that the kids could get more out of each day but once I pondered binding costs and the time and effort, I decided to just buy this darling travel journal made by Lonely Planet. It has lots of cute activity pages and prompts that my kids loved! I bought one for my 7 year old and one for my 6 year old. It was a hit and hopefully something they can look back on when their memory fades away.

The journal, however, was missing some personalized pages and elements that I really wanted so I made these pages above.  I borrowed my friends Polaroid Zip Wireless printer  and let the kids print off a picture of their favorite moment each day and stick it in the square I had made for each day. It helped them know what was happening next, as well as documenting the silver lining in each day. I also made a page for what they ate and watched on the airplane, a page for each of our homes or apartments we stayed at with lots of pictures so they knew before what to expect, a Gelato score card, and a job chart with a spinning wheel so each person got a special job and responsibility each day.

When the aforementioned stolen luggage incident happened in Pisa, my husband and I pondered cutting our trip short and flying home early. We counseled with our kids and asked what they thought. My seven year old was still heart broken over the loss of her favorite toy and soft baby blankie, but she emphatically said, “No way mom! There is still so much beautiful stuff we haven’t seen yet. We’ve got to keep going.” She was right. Just look at those Austrian Alps! So if after all your planning and hard work, things don’t turn out just how you hoped, just remember that there is still so much beauty waiting for you to discover! You’ll find it if you just keep exploring and trying!

Kathy and her family are headed to Mexico later this summer, and she has agreed to come back to the blog and share some of the books they've read and activities they've done to prepare for that trip. If you have any specific questions for her, feel free to ask them in the comments!

And finally, here are a few more book recommendations from Kathy:

More Books About Italy and Austria that We Read :
o    Agatha, Girl of Mystery by Steve Stevenson
o   Austria by Sean Sheehan
o   Beethoven for Kids by Helen Bauer
o   Best Book of Ancient Rome by Deborah Jane Murrell
o   Carnival at Candlelight (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne
o   Columbus by Demi
o   Count Silvernose by Eric Kimmel
o   Hero On a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
o   I, Vivaldi by Janice Jordan Shefelman
o   Kids in Ancient Rome by Lisa Wroble
o   Michelangelo for Kids by Simonetta Carr
o   Mira’s Diary: Home Sweet Rome by Melissa Moss
o   Monday with a Mad Genius (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne
o   Roman Colosseum by Elizabeth Mann
o   Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak
o   Sound of Music Story by Tom Santopietro
o   T is for Toscana by Gary Kelley
o   The Airport Book by Lisa Brown
o   The Diary of Melanie Martin by Carol Weston 
o   The Italian Riviera by Fabrizio Ardito
o   The Mystery in Venice by Geronimo Stilton
o   The Tower of Pisa by James Barter
o   The All Powerful Ring: A Primo Story by John Marciano
o   Venice by Rossi Renzo


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  2. I'm so glad that Amy pointed out that we each have our own strengths because while I may be a good planner, I'm a hot mess in so many aspects of my life. When I read Amy's summer goal lists for each of her kids, I almost started to cry. I thought my kids have zero goals! So we made a very scaled down version of summer goals and it has worked soooo great for our family. Both of my oldest girls are finally riding without training wheels this week and it's all because we set a goal. So maybe you could do the same with these ideas. Scale it down, adapt it, or ignore it and say that is not for me. No judgement here. Just know if you ever come to visit my house most likely there is a laundry basket of dirty dishes in my shower, hiding from all the guest... Because who really has time or energy to juggle it all! :)


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