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Make Family Vacation Educational This Summer

Giving your high schooler a stake in planning your summer trip can make the vacation more meaningful.

Factory tours and cultural neighborhoods can add a learning element to family vacations this summer.
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Dragging teens away from their summer social calendars for a family vacation can be like pulling teeth. But letting your high schooler take a turn with the planning reins can spur excitement for your trip and give you a chance to sneak in a few teachable moments.

Task your teen with selecting the hotels and restaurants you'll visit during your trip. Give them a travel guide and a budget to stay within, and let them run wild, experts suggest.

[Read how summer learning programs could overload students.]

While giving up some control of your vacation may be challenging, you will teach your teen valuable money management and research skills, says Jessica Givens, a college admissions expert and founder of All-in-One Academics. Givens's own parents armed her with a Frommer's travel book and hotel-selection duties on family vacations.

"It definitely changed me," she says. "You start exploring things and figure out that there is something beyond those mainstream hotels. It starts to open kids' minds to what's beyond the mainstream."

Taking a detour from mainstream tourist attractions can also lead to valuable learning experiences.

Ethnic enclaves within cities, such as Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, or Little India, give parents an opportunity to expose their teen to different cultures, without the hassle and expense of international travel. These neighborhoods are also steeped in history, and parents and teens can research the areas before visiting to get more out of the visit than just food or a trinket, Givens says.

For teens into trinkets and souvenirs, have them research your destination ahead of time to find out what the area is known for, suggests Melissa Kahn, a teen life coach in Los Angeles. Researching the vacation destination and participating in the planning can help tame your teen's attitude once you're on the road, she adds.

"There is less likelihood that you will have a sulking teenager on your trip, who feels like they are being forced to do activities that they have no interest in," Kahn says. "They got to have a hand in planning, after all."

Parents can use the family vacation as a way to create their own version of the Science Channel's How It's Made via factory tours near their vacation destination, suggests a blog post on GreatSchools. Teens can learn how chocolate is made in Hershey, Pa., tour the United States Mint in Denver to see how money is printed, or find out just what jelly beans are made of at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, Calif.

[Learn how to safeguard teens on college visits.]

A less subtle way to educate your teen during a family vacation is by visiting colleges and universities in the area. An official tour isn't necessary, says Givens, the admissions coach, but strolling through Harvard University's campus or making at pit stop to scope out the University of Notre Dame can help get teens thinking about their college options.

Whichever route you choose for your family vacation, teaching your teen something along the way will make the trip more memorable, Givens says.

"A trip is so much more significant when you're learning something along the way, or when you have a purpose."

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