Tracey Finck: Preparing for summer trips with kids

Family trips can be great fun. They can also be stressful. One challenge is keeping kids positively engaged during down time as they are riding in the car, standing in line, or waiting for food at a restaurant.
Electronic devices are most kids’ go-to for amusement. But Neil Postman has warned us against the long-term costs of “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”
If you’re looking for something more educational and inspirational, you could try memory collections. There are lots of ways to do this. Here’s what worked with our kids.
We wanted to give the kids some spending money, but we didn’t want to give it to them all at once (or they would have blown it all at the first gift shop). So we set up a way for them to earn the money gradually during the vacation by memorizing poems, quotes, verses or facts we wanted them to learn.
Before the trip, I bought a 4- by 6-inch photo brag book for each child. Some of those pages I saved for postcards that we would find along the journey. The postcards decorated the book and turned it into a souvenir of the trip.
Then on 10 of the pages, I put a quote or poem or verse, keeping in mind the child’s age and interests. The final year we did this, our kids were 14, 17, and 20. That year the booklets had 20 pages.
The way we set it up was that each page was worth, let’s say $5. As soon as the child could recite the poem or quote on page one perfectly, I initialed it and gave them $5. If they couldn’t say it perfectly, we would practice. We’d make it a game by thinking of pneumonic devices to help them remember it. Eventually, they could recite it perfectly and get the reward. When they were ready to test on page two, they had to recite both page one and page two. In order to pass the last page, they had to recite the entire booklet.
Some years I was able to find quotes relevant to our trip. The year we visited New York City, the collections included these lines by Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I remember the day we went to visit the Statue of Liberty. It was a sweltering day and hundreds of people were in line ahead of us. Parents in front of and behind us were dealing with fussy children. But our kids (ages 6, 9, and 12 at the time) were totally absorbed in their booklets, asking my husband and me to test them or practice with them so they could hurry and pass one more page. They knew there would be a gift shop inside, and they were eager to get a bit more spending money.
But the most meaningful moment was eventually getting inside and seeing those words that we knew by heart actually inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It gave us a profound connection with Lady Liberty.
What poems, quotes, or verses do you consider worth memorizing? You can reach me at [email protected]