Kids & Culture: Making the Most of Vacations with Young Kids

You may have noticed that many of my posts in regards to parenting and motherhood mention my strong belief that mothers should support other mothers. In this age of “Mommy Wars” and so much judgement and competition, I firmly believe that we as women, can change that and start being friends, allies and supporters.

In thinking about this, I thought I would begin offering guest posts on my blog for topics about parenting, motherhood, children, etc. Lucky for me, Ace over at Life in Dutch, volunteered for this week! If you are interested in doing a guest post (it’s free!), email me at [email protected] or contact me on any social media platform. Without further delay, here’s Ace!

Hi! I am an American expat living in the Netherlands with my husband, son, and two cats. I blog at Life in Dutch to share my experiences as an expat, traveler, and parent, and whatever else comes to mind. When I’m not blogging or planning a museum visit, I’m learning the Dutch language, crocheting, or making a mess of the kitchen!

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Kids & Culture: Making the Most of Vacation with Young Kids

Vacations with young kids can be daunting. Bedtimes and naps are left to fate; you carry so many snacks, extra clothing, and methods of entertainment that you could supply an army regiment; and any semblance of a routine is thrown to the wind. Sometimes a whole vacation is planned around kid-centered activities (amusement parks, zoos, children’s museums) to ensure the kids have a great time and minimize the chance of meltdowns; and that’s okay - it is important to have activities your child would normally pick if given the choice. BUT it is possible to include the “cultural” visits adults want to make AND have children enjoy them!

When my husband and I decided to move to the Netherlands from the US with our toddler son, we knew that we didn’t want to miss some of the once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunities that living in Europe would present. From the beginning, we decided that our trips would always include the museums and cathedral visits and historical walking tours that we enjoy and we would work to develop our son’s appreciation for art and history. When we learned that many European museums and monuments offer free admission to children, we were even more convinced that we shouldn’t miss out.

Even the thought of taking a young kid into a museum or on a walking tour can give you a nervous tick - but with the right kind of preparation, kids can go into the experience with enthusiasm. So, how have I prepared my now almost-4-year-old for cultural excursions over the past year?

Reading topical books several times before you go. I’m not talking about dragging out the encyclopedia here (and if you still use one, I’d like to introduce you to Google and Wikipedia). You may already have age-appropriate books in the house, on the iPad/Kindle, or at your local library that are related to the place you’re going. Before our trip to Dublin we read S is for Shamrock by Eve Bunting and The Story of St. Patrick’s Day by Patricia Pingry; before our trip to Paris we read the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelman. These books provided a point of reference through story (Madeline lives in an old house in Paris near the Eiffel Tower) and illustrations (S is for Shamrock has a nice illustration of the River Liffey in Dublin) and helped build excitement about things we would see and do on the upcoming journey. In fact, this tactic has been so successful, my son has started asking when we will go to London so we can see where Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear lives.

Take the books with you on the trip. If you have smaller versions of the books, bring them along! It’s fun to be able to point at picture in the book and then point at the real thing - this is especially fun with young toddlers as they start to realize that a picture can be of something that belongs in reality as well as in their stories. If the book is too big to take along, you can always read it once you’ve returned home and say, “Remember when we saw this-and-that?”

Google is the friend you can always ask for help planning without having to owe a favor later. We live in an amazing technological era where we can pull up an image or fact about just about anything on our computers or mobile phone. We google pictures of landmarks and monuments with our son and talk about going to visit that place specifically. This is especially helpful when preparing for a museum visit. Pulling up an image of a piece of art or an artifact gives your child something to look for in the museum and help them focus during the visit. Being able to show a child what you’re talking about or answer questions about a place or object is easy, and encourages their own curiosity.

Make a museum plan. If you want to visit museums, know what’s inside so your child can look for things. Some museums offer activities for kids on their websites or at their information desks. Better yet, make your own scavenger hunt! I recently used the book Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum by Gitte Spee (available in Dutch and English) to do a scavenger hunt with my son at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We used the book as a guide to find all of the same artwork as the characters while we toured the museum - and he loved it. While we were looking for the items from the book, we took our time to look at other things that caught his eye.

Following Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum

Following Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum

Make an itinerary for your sightseeing days. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you and your kids. We’re always on the move during our vacations, and having a definitive next stop on the tour gives my son something to look for and look forward too. More importantly, it alleviates the boredom and frustration that can develop while your children wait for you to decide what to do next.

Give a quick and gentle reminder about behavior expectations before you enter. With the excitement to see what’s inside, a child’s natural curiosity and buoyancy may get away from them. It can be helpful to remind your child to be “quiet as a churchmouse” so as not to disturb worshipers in a cathedral or basilica or that an art museum has lots of “pretties” that are nice to look at but not for touching.

Quiet as a churchmouse watching the Nieuwekerk choir in Delft

Quiet as a churchmouse watching the Nieuwekerk choir in Delft

Talk about your trip. Constantly. We usually start 5 to 7 days before the trip, but some kids may need more or less time to process the idea of the trip - depending on age and understanding of time. Any conversation will also show your own excitement for the vacation. After you return home - keep talking about the trip. The things you saw can continue opening up discussions with your child. After seeing the Venus de Milo at The Louvre in Paris, my son wanted to know where her arms went, and continues to ask even though the trip is over. That unique statue has opened up discussions about our trip, the things we find in museums, and the jobs performed by archeologists.

Spotting the Eiffel Tower  for the first time

Spotting the Eiffel Tower for the first time

Even with all this preparation it is still important to remember that you can’t jump into a full day’s worth of museums right away. Like anything else, your child will likely need practice to learn to be a good museum visitor and sightseer. Start out with a few visits locally and your child will learn what to expect from museums and how they are expected to behave so they’re ready when it comes time for a family vacation. And as your child becomes a seasoned museum goer, it’s still a good idea to be prepared for fatigue. Most museums are happy to allow buggies/strollers and baby bottles/sippy cups; and you can be confident that your child can have a place to relax while you keep touring. You can see more museum trip tips here.

Most importantly, have fun! Let your children surprise you with their interests as they explore. My son regularly asks to visit the Van Gogh Museum, the museum dedicated to my favorite artist. Sharing my passions with my son and seeing his own excitement as he finds new things is exhilarating and so fulfilling. Working in cultural trips into our vacation routine has been one of the best decisions we’ve made for our son.

Sightseeing Paris with my Little Man

Sightseeing Paris with my Little Man

Hope you all enjoyed those great ideas from Ace! Make sure you stop by her blog, say hello and follow along on her adventures!




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About Deanna H

Successful toddler chaser. Avid wine lover. Aspiring writer. Maybe or maybe not in that order.
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14 Responses to Kids & Culture: Making the Most of Vacations with Young Kids

  1. Ace says:

    Thanks so much for having me on today’s Monster Momday, Deanna! I’m so happy I could participate! =)

  2. Great post will definitely use some of these tips and share with my fellow Twitter travellers x

  3. Excellent!! Great post Ace! I’m not a mother myself, but my parents traveled quite a bit with us kids (there’s 4 of us too) when we were little. I always remember having such a fabulous time on our family vacations! In the airports, we were like 4 little ducklings, each rolling our mini-suitcases behind mom lol. Can’t even imagine how much planning went on behind the scenes though!

    • Ace says:

      Thanks, Amy! I think it’s definitely easier that I just have one little person to think about while traveling. Kudos to your parents for fearlessly going for it with 4! As a parent now, I definitely appreciate the planning my parents did for our trips.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! Ace mentioned some great ideas! I never thought to follow along in a book!

  4. I love this, Deanna! And I feel like everyone is destined for great things, so great you cannot even imagine them. The thing is, like you are talking about, how do we get there? I think you just have to go all in with the things you love and things will eventually shake out into the right place. Okay, so that’s very vague advice, but I can’t help coming out as a Polyanna on this one :)

  5. Great post with some really interesting tips, my daughter has started asking to go to London, and I cant wait to take her to the museums

  6. Awesome tips Ace! I have pinned this for when Vlad is a little bigger.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? haha....who am I kidding?

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