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Family Field Trips: Fun, Supervised Independence

​This information is included in our Guide to Imaginative Play. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Even if your child is still young enough to play dress-up, he or she needs opportunities to begin exploring and exercising independence. In fact, raising confident, independent children who can make decisions on their own is one of the most important tasks of being a parent.

And what is a great way to get started? Family field trips.

Supervised Independence 
When children are allowed to explore outside of their normal environments, they can learn how to interact with others and the consequences of making decisions. They also can begin to understand and distinguish between the fantasy of their play environment and the real world.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, a sense of independence creates a stronger sense of self and self-confidence that will serve them well as they grow into more the more social tween and teen years.

By taking your children out into the world on family field trips or outings, you can help them gain a measure of independence in a safe and structured manner. You can watch over their shoulder, give them advice if needed and praise them when they deserve it.

Here are a few tips for turning a family field trip into a valuable learning experience for your young ones:

Let them pick the destination... with guidance.
You can start teaching your kids about independence before you even leave the house. Give them a list of three or four destinations or activities — go for a hike, head to the beach, go to the zoo — and let them make the call. This invests them in the activity and reinforces that you value their opinion.

“Be prepared.”
Just like a Boy Scout, every parent needs to “be prepared.” So, when you are getting ready to leave for an outing, assign your child a task to help get ready. Sometimes, just letting kids get themselves dressed and ready to go is enough. And, if your little one wants to wear snow boots to the beach, that gives you a great opportunity to discuss what it means to grow up and begin to take care of oneself.

For kids who are a little bit older, give them an important task, like packing snacks or lunch for a picnic or gathering extra clothes to take in case it rains. This helps your child understand that responsibility comes with being independent.

Order up!
If your field trip involves enjoying a meal at a restaurant, this can be a great way to help your children gain confidence and experience through interacting with others. Give them tips ahead of time about speaking clearly and loud enough and looking other people in the eye, then let them give their own food order to the waiter/waitress or cashier.

Let them pay.
With older kids (ages 7 to 10), help them learn the value of money by giving them a dollar or two and letting them choose a snack or drink by themselves. It’s a learning experience for kids to realize they can’t have everything they want and that they have to sometimes make choices. Plus, giving them the responsibility of handling money and buying their own snack is an important life skill they will use frequently. 

Teaching your child how to be independent is much easier to do through experience than through explanation. So, look at family field trips, no matter how brief or insignificant they might be, as a chance to help your child learn the skills that will enable him or her to grow confidently into a young man or woman.

Most importantly, make it fun. Don’t worry if the family outing is a total failure and it rains during your hike, or the restaurant you are going to is closed. Teach your kids how to problem-solve and be flexible. Then every family field trip will be a success.

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