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Background Knowledge

Day Trips for Book Lovers

Not everyone lives near Chincoteague lsland off the Maryland and Virginia coastline (Misty of Chincoteague) or has a chance to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder house museum in the Ozarks (Little House on the Prairie). But books can inspire some exciting day trips.

These ideas for summer excursions bring your child’s favorite books to life

Consider your child’s favorite stories — perhaps old classics, or something new he read during the past school year. Notice the themes that emerge, and plan a related trip. This is a fun way to support your child’s curiosity about the subjects she loves most. We’ve identified some popular genres and suggested some activities below that the whole family can enjoy.

You can also approach summer in the opposite way – visit somewhere first, then introduce a book, especially to tempt a child who’s not an avid reader. Destination ideas abound online, or consult a regional travel guide. Two to try: Frommer’s Family Vacations in the National Parks, by Charles Wohlforth, and Watch it Made in the USA: A Visitor’s Guide to the Companies that Make Your Favorite Products, by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg. Fodor’s Family Adventures, by Christine Loomis, focuses on longer vacations, not day trips, but includes names of books for kids who like archaeology, hiking, backpacking, and animals.


Consider a kayaking lesson for the whole family. Go fossil hunting or spelunking. Walk through underground caverns. Sit by a waterfall.

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Native Americans

Attend a powwow or festival that celebrates Native American heritage. Investigate the foods our country’s first inhabitants ate and forage for them in the woods with the help of a qualified instructor.

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Ancient Egypt

Visit ruins and archaeological finds at a museum. Sketch some of the structures, then re-create them at home with a pile of cardboard boxes or tent poles and sheets.

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Join your child in volunteering for a morning at the animal shelter. She’ll find our just what’s involved in keeping the pets clean, happy, and well fed. Or head for a thoroughbred horse farm or racetrack; some have trackside restaurants that serve breakfast during morning workouts.

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Take a trip to a sandy beach. Ask the kids to cover their eyes for a few minutes while you bury “fossils” (painted rocks) in the sand. Then hand out small shovels and paintbrushes to dust off the sand, and let the kids unearth all the treasures. Depending on where you live, there might be an actual dig going on in your area, where children can participate or observe; check with the science department of your local college or look for an archaeology camp.

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Visit an art museum for half a day, then bring the kids to a paint-your-own-pottery place to reproduce some of the same colors and ideas you saw that day.

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Visit a battlefield to see a historic reenactment, or even participate in one. Another option: Explore a battleship that’s now in dry dock.

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A day trip to the house where a famous person was born is always fun, especially when that person’s books, papers, and personal effects are still on display. (A trip to the gift shop afterwards is mandatory!)

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Boating and fishing

Visit a fish hatchery. You can also take a fishing trip or a riverboat cruise. If you’re lucky enough to live near a canal, rent a boat and take a leisurely ride through the locks. Watch the water rise and fall as you travel from place to place.

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Comic books and graphic novels

Have your child adopt his favorite character’s identity for the entire day, whether you’re on a trip or just staying home. This is a chance to try on a new name and identity and use the customs and manners of another place and time – even the future!

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Detective stories

See if an investigator at your local police department would be willing to tell your child how he does his job and share a tale or two. You can also visit a magic shop and buy some “surveillance” equipment like binoculars, a walkie-talkie, a fingerprinting kit, and a magnifying glass, and send your child off on their own benign spying missions.

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Find out which ones ventured through your area. Plan a journey that replicates the experience. Even if Lewis and Clark were nowhere near your home, reading an excerpt from their journal and re-creating some measure of one day’s journey in a nearby park can give your child a sense of the magnitude of the endeavor. Mark a trail through the woods and walk it carrying a backpack, and perhaps some of the equipment the explorers brought along. Or go tubing down a river that figures in your child’s reading; just for the day, call it the mighty Mississippi, even if it isn’t.

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Invite a few of his friends to take a group cooking class focusing on that period’s cuisine. A local culinary school, a living history museum or plantation, or a restaurant in a historic setting may be willing to do this for you.

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Knights and medieval topics

Visit a museum with an armor exhibit; eat a meal with your hands at Medieval Times restaurant (there are eight across the country); attend a medieval festival on a summer weekend. With music, sporting events, and competitions, all performed in historic dress, your child will find himself fully immersed in the period.

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Budding musicians might enjoy a visit to a factory where guitars are made. Or get tickets to a film or music festival that focuses on a particular country or composer.

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