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updated: 6/10/2012 7:32 AM

Family vacations require careful planning

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"This is no place for kids."

I certainly agreed with the mother of four at the table next to ours. Not only was that particular restaurant no place for kids, but the whole vacation area we were visiting was almost completely adult-oriented. The kid-friendly activities did exist would appeal only to those children who were rough and ready outdoor types, which does not necessarily include a lot of kids in a lot of families.

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During the rest of the day, I was surprised at just how many families with children -- often young children -- were attempting to vacation where we were staying. I use the word "attempting" intentionally, because it didn't look to me like either parents or children were having much of a vacation.

What I did see was more than a few parents who looked like they were out of patience -- and even more tired, crabby, bored kids.

Because it was spring break for a lot of school districts, I could understand how these families would want to get away. And especially if you are from around here, heading off to someplace where the average daily temperature is in the 70s and where the sun actually shines sure sounds great.

I doubt, though, if many of the families I observed where having the vacation of their dreams. The mistake these parents made was not taking a vacation; it was not thinking through who their children were and what sort of vacation best fit their development ages and their personalities.

For example, preschool children seldom find sightseeing to be an interesting activity. Nor is browsing through art shops or even souvenir stands likely to hold their attention. For all that matter, they are probably not all that interested in going away, period. Unless we find a place that is jam-packed with activities oriented to interests of young children and can also schedule in a good many naps, most preschoolers are better off left at home.

Actually, you could almost say the exact same thing about teenagers. They may be more open to seeing the sights, but they also have some of the same limits as younger kids. Not only is age a factor, but personality is too.

If our daughter is a bookworm, scheduling a vacation that involves day after day of hiking and camping may not be to her liking.

If our son can't sit still for more than five minutes, touring a large city and its museums, shops and historical sites is going to be pure torture for everybody involved.

It's not that we don't want to expose our children to new and different things -- it's just that we shouldn't plan a whole vacation around stuff that just doesn't fit who they are.

A short hike may be all our daughter needs to appreciate the outdoors a bit more. Touring one museum may be quite enough for our son to practice the art of standing still.

The idea is to take the time to figure out what our children will actually enjoy doing and plan a vacation experience for them centered around those activities. We also want to add some new things to challenge them to expand their worlds a bit and invite them to grow and develop as people. We do not, however, want to confront them with a whole week or so of stuff that doesn't fit their age or their personality.

That may not sound like much of a vacation for us parents. What about the things that we want to see and do? Well, that's why we need to take vacations without children. Those are the times we can do all the things that interest us.

Though our children may complain a bit about being "abandoned," believe me, they will be glad we did our boring adult stuff without them. And everyone's vacations really will be vacations.

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