When an Experience Outlasts a Toy

Recently, I overheard a family discussing their upcoming vacation. They were planning their trip to upper Michigan, where they would go, where they would sleep, interesting things they would see. The children were all school-aged and the parents were sharing pictures, choices, and creating anticipation. And the children were encouraged to share in the financial planning as well – ways in which the whole family could save or create extra money to put into the vacation fund. I began to recollect fondly a vacation I shared with my family to the U.P. at about that same age and I was once again transported to that happy time. Have you ever thought, as parents, “When are there enough toys?” or “Good heavens, look at all these toys and my kids are complaining they are bored!” So many households have an overabundance of stuffed animals, legos, craft kits, small toys, large toys, electronic games and consoles – so many that if they gave away half of them no one would notice! One researcher stated that a high percentage of the toys parents give their children are either ignored or tossed aside in favor of the box they came in. Instead, when parents invest time and finances on giving their children an experience of a vacation away it lasts in their memories – good or bad – for a lifetime. Many times, when parents plan a vacation for their children, it revolves around a theme park (like Disney World) or someplace the parent would find stimulating (like the Grand Canyon). I have no judgment about vacationing at Disney World and every child should have the world’s wonders on their bucket list. What I am suggesting is all vacations do not have to be that extravagant or stimulating. Consider just time away from the stresses of daily life – no screens, cell phones, email, or immediate time demands for parents – and time to focus on each other, to fill each other’s (positive emotional) bucket, and build lasting, fun memories. Even the mistakes can be the stuff of family lore and rehashing. Consider creating that vacation fund, a visible container that every member of the family can contribute to, by foregoing the next toys or treats, and putting the money toward memories. Here are a few things to consider in the process:

  • Culture is boring for kids unless it is interactive. That’s why there are children’s museums! Check out the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the City Museum in St. Louis, or the Curious Kids’ Museum in St. Joseph, MI, a segue tour of Chicago architecture, or take in the symphony at the movies (www.Kalamazoosymphony.org.) If its exposure to art, architecture, or music that you want for your kids, make it fun.
  • Talk together about what would be interesting, exciting, or relaxing. Make every voice count.
  • Take mini vacations, long weekends, and staycations close to home with fun activities in town.
  • Be sure to do some research but do not over-plan! Leave time (lots of time) for silly play together.
  • Consider whether your plans are appropriate for your age of children. Paris in springtime may be magnificent, but your kindergartener may not appreciate it.

Dr. Susan Carter is a child and family psychologist and Registered Play Therapist at Center for Change and Growth PLC in Kalamazoo.