In the idyllic days when many grandparents still lived on farms, children would go down to spend part of the summer with them. They would learn how to milk cows and feed chickens, and inevitably experience an adventure, which would teach them a moral for life. At least, that was the formula for many children's books in an earlier part of the century.
One can only wonder whether these kids weren't ever bored. Didn't they ever act out, get fresh, gripe about the food or fight with their siblings? Today, grandchildren might not spend their vacations on the farm. There is though, a growing fashion for grandparents to take them along on vacations. "It's an opportunity," said one grandparent, "to spend quality time with our grandchildren while we're still well and active."
Grandparents have certain advantages that parents don't have on these trips; the kids don't have to prove that they're independent; there's more distance and built-in control in relation to grandparents. Kids aren't always willing to let everything hang out in front of respected older people in the family.
But as in the books about visiting the farm, many grandparents don't think of the minefields, all the gripes, fights, boredom that can lay in wait for them. This kind of intergenerational vacation is easier where there's a beach, swimming pool and sports facilities, and the children can do what they love doing anyway. It's far more difficult when grandparents decide to "expose" them to new places, go touring in Europe, or different parts of the U.S. It's most difficult when they try to teach them about art, history and culture.
And yet it's a temptation to take grandchildren to places you love and share special experiences with them. It might involve a "roots" trip to the town or country from which the family originated. It's also a way of learning about the child's inner world, his natural responses, what turns him on. Don't get so caught up in what you want to transmit that you forget the child with whom you are traveling.
Barbara Sofer, author of Kids Love Israel, Israel Loves Kids, who has researched traveling with kids in general, warns that on a trip with children (this includes teenagers) you see a different country than you would alone. "There will be more recreation spots on your itinerary, and fewer museums. Divide the day, starting with tourist sites in the morning when the kids are fresh, and let them hang around the pool or go to recreational spots in the afternoon. The important thing is that they enjoy themselves. Sometimes, the unexpected, the humorous or embarrassing situation is what they'll remember most." Sofer tells of the time that she got locked into a public toilet. "It was the most memorable event of the trip. And it has gone down in family history." In general, she calls for a loosening up of standards in relation to everything, including food. "The kids will eat more snacks, and less regular meals. Don't try for three restaurant meals a day even if you can afford it."
And now here's a list of TIPS for traveling with your grandchildren.
- Don't tour with children under nine or ten. Younger children just can't appreciate historical sites. One child I know kept on asking for the air-conditioned shopping mall when visiting a restored 19th century village.
- Do primarily child-oriented stuff with kids under ten; zoos, amusement parks, swimming, limited hiking in national parks.
- Children Over Ten: Don't take bus tours. Children don't like sitting on a bus. They want to be active. Walk, hike, explore. Try to take more than one kid, so that they have peer company. If possible, the children should be close in age, so there are not great differences in attention span. "Always be aware of attention span," one tourist guide warns. "You need to know when they're losing it."
- Preparation is as important as the trip itself: Kids should read up on where you're going. You can send away for free folders from the state and national parks as well as tourist information of different states, countries. The children should decide on some of the places they want to visit.
- Each child should have his/her own small suitcase to wheel, and for which he/she is responsible. They should carry their personals in a small backpack.
- Each child should bring his/her own entertainment for the plane or long car trip. A tape recorder to listen to the music he/she likes is recommended. This will also reduce fighting about what to listen to. For younger children, make sure to have paper, magic markers, games and books.
- Make a short list of what you absolutely want to see and the grandchildren should realize that they have to respect your choices, just as you respect their decisions as to what to see.
- Read about the historical or natural sites before you visit them, so that you don't read from the book, but can talk naturally about them.
- Let them choose their favorite picture in a museum or a special site and make them responsible for telling the group about it.
- Try to make games out of things. It works even with older children.
- You might try to have the children act out what happened at some historical sites or battlegrounds, so that they feel they're living through it.
- Instead of giving straight information, let them guess the answers. Quiz them about things they've already heard. Keep them hanging for an answer until later; build up suspense.
- Tell them ahead of time about something they're going to see and ask them to look out for it, so they're always on their toes.
- Be aware that "togetherness" can sometimes be too much of a good thing. Allow each child to sit away from the group at times; give everyone an opportunity to have his/her own space, including yourself.
- Don't be upset if they just want to "hang out" and watch TV once in a while.
- Beware the constant requests to "Buy this" or "Buy that." Each child should receive an allowance with which he can choose to buy whatever he/she wants even if it's the ugliest souvenir you've ever seen.
- Let the kids photograph, draw, record, collect postcards as much as they want. It's great if they make a scrapbook and look back upon it later. Maybe, someday, they'll show it to their own grandchildren.
- Never, never, say to a child, "You're spoiling our time," or, "I'm sorry I took you." Accentuate the positive. The nagging, sulky moments pass and the good memories remain.
- Remember that a sense of humor goes a long way.
Have a good time!