In this episode we discuss the joys of vacations and staycations and taking hold of those special teachable moments and defining moments that our times together can create.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
I’m so glad you joined us today. We are in the month of June and looking at summer break and summer vacation. So today I wanted to cover some really fun books and some cool ideas for family vacation time, whether you’re doing a staycation or you’re going somewhere special, you’re camping, whatever your plans are. We have such a great opportunity to really connect with our kids and with each other as a family and to renew those relationships and to teach important things to our kids in those moments when they are most receptive and willing to learn. So these are exciting times. My kids love road trips. We lived in Taiwan for 15 years, and so when we would come home, we would have like a month vacation because it took so long to get home and see everybody. We would land in California, usually visit the family that’s in California. And then we would drive across to Oklahoma to see the rest of our family and spend time there, and then drive back and then fly back. Sometimes we would plan on the way home when we were leaving Taiwan to stop in Hong Kong for the day. We would land early in the day and then leave late in the evening so that we would run around Hong Kong all day and have a great time. And then the kids would be exhausted, so they would sleep most of the flight home. That was one of the strategies we had for making family vacations fun and manageable. But my kids love traveling. They take every opportunity they have, whether it’s a day trip or a long trip overseas, they love all of it. So my kids are used to that. And also there have been times that we’ve had staycations because money was too tight or time was too tight. And we’ve tried to make the most of those.
And I have some cute books today that talk about each of those situations. But one book I wanted to start with is– actually it goes with last week’s Episode on gardening, but when I was doing my research, I did not see this book until this week. So I want to share with you a really special book that you could use as part of your plans for the summer or use next spring when you’re talking about gardening with your children. This book is called We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and her children. It is illustrated by Juliana Sweeney. It is just a great book. And it’s written from the perspective or the point of view of the kids. They’re sharing their story about how they got into gardening. And it all started with a fern. The fern didn’t survive. He died because they all watered him too much. And then they learned how to take care of plants and now they grow a great garden. And then on top of that, they have We Are the Gardeners Educator’s Guide. It has several lessons, several ideas for how to use the lessons in homeschooling with your kids, or just as an additional fun exercise together as a family. It’s just really, really cute and really well-written and would be a lot of fun if you’re going to be spending part of your summer break working on your garden and learning to grow plants.
One really special book called This I Know: Seeing God in the World He Made and it’s based on “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s written by Clay Anderson and illustrated by Natalie Merheb. This is a cute little book. It’s this little girl, and her family is doing different activities and she sees God and that He loves her through what we call in theology, General Revelation through nature, through people, through the creation, we see the fingerprints of the Creator. And so it begins with Romans 1:24. “Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made they can clearly see his invisible qualities, his eternal power, and divine nature.” And that’s where we get the idea of General Revelation. So it starts out, “It’s time to get up. Oh, the big day is here. Are we ready to go? I’ve been waiting all year. It’s our day of adventure, our day of exploring of running and hiking and swimming and soaring. When I went to sleep, it was rainy and cold, but the sun has come out and the sky is like gold. I jump out of bed. There is so much to do with every new day. God makes everything new.” And then it says, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the sunrise tells me so.” And so then the little girl gets out of bed and she goes into her little sister’s room and sees her baby sister and talks about that. And then it says, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for our baby tells me so.” Then she’s outside, and she sees the butterflies. And she says, at the end of that page, “Jesus loves me this I know for the butterflies tell me so.” So I think this is such a cute book and a neat idea to share with your kids, that they can see the fingerprints of God, his creation everywhere. And it reminds us that God is there and that God has blessed us with his beautiful creation. And it shows us that there’s a Creator behind all of these wonderful and amazing things that our world is filled with, that this could not have just happened by accident. There had to be someone behind it.
Now there are several really cute storybooks, picture books about summer vacation. One is called The Night before Summer Vacation by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julie Durrell. It’s all about getting ready for vacation, and it ends with them getting up to go on vacation. So you don’t actually see them go on vacation. You just see them getting ready for it. But I love it because the night before, after they get everything packed, they sit and look through their scrapbooks and photo albums and remember all their past vacations and the experiences they had. And it shows how wonderful it is to build memories together as a family and how it helps families draw together and grow closer together. It follows The Night before Christmas pattern a little bit and it’s kind of cute that way as well. But I thought this was a really cute story book. Along with it by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Amy Wummer is The Night before Summer Vacation Activity Book. This is for the kids to have fun activities to do along with getting ready to go on vacation. It has them think about what they heard or read in the story as you read it together. And then it has some games and puzzles and fun activities for the kids to do. You could read the story before you go on vacation and then do the activities while you’re driving to your destination.
Then there’s one called Day at the Beach by Tom Booth. And he is the author and illustrator. And this is a very sweet story about a little brother and sister. And they go to the beach each year and build a sand castle. And this one year, the brother decides, “I’m going to build my own sand castle,” and he’s going to make it the best ever. And so he doesn’t want his little sister helping him to build the castle, and she’s disappointed, but she’s okay. And he goes, and he starts building, and it’s right by a volleyball game. And a player falls into his beautifully made sand castle just as he’s finishing it and squashes the whole thing. And he’s like, that’s okay. I was just practicing. And so then he moves over and the next one gets washed away by the tide. And then he moves to another spot. And this one is ruined by a storm that shows up. And so he builds like six sand castles, and he finally builds this spectacular, amazing, straight walled, beautifully towered sand castle, and all the people on the beach come over and look at it and tell him what a wonderful sand castle he’s built. But he looks across, and he sees his mom and his dad and his baby sister building a sand castle together. And all of a sudden he feels lonely. He realizes the fun is working together and building the sand castle, not in having the perfect sand castle. I just thought it was a really nice story.
And one I really love is Imagination Vacation. It’s written by Jami Gigot and illustrated by her as well. In this story, the family wants to go on vacation. They’re very, very busy all the time. The little girl says let’s go on a vacation. The mom says I would love to go to Paris. The dad’s like, I want to go on a safari. Her little sister says, I want to see penguins, but they say, “We’re too busy. Maybe someday we can go on a vacation.” So she takes them on vacation the next morning. And she’s made the kitchen to look like a French bakery and makes them some pastries for breakfast. And then they go, and they see the Louvre, and then they go and see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, which are all things that she has created for the pictures in the Louvre, and then the city park has an Archway and a jungle gym that’s in the shape of a pyramid that kind of works for the Eiffel Tower. The parents go along with it and have just a great time pretending they’re in Paris. And the mom uses French and says, “Oh, magnifique” in all of this. And it’s just a lot of fun. Then they go on a safari. The dad finds a rare monkey in the tree, which is her little sister. And they have a fun time imagining that they’re on safari. And then they go to the ice skating rink and pretend to see penguins. And so together, the whole family has a great time, all day long, going different places, spending time together. Sam says, “We haven’t done what I want to do yet,” but she’s exhausted. And she says, “But my favorite place to go is home.” And so they go home sweet home. She says, my family is very busy, but we always find time to spend time together. And so I love that because so many of us do live in very busy families. And to know that we will take time to spend time with each other and to build memories together is so important. And so when a child recognizes that, yes, we’re busy, but we spend time together. Then it’s very special. And the fact that the parents played along and went with the imaginary journey, they went on around the world was just really cute and a special book.
So all of these books, and there are so many others that you can find pretty easily in your library about summer break, summer vacation, camping, family times together–you can also find some really great books about building family memories, creating family traditions. Of course you can get scrapbooks or photo albums to keep these things in for your family, to be able to look back and remember what you’ve experienced. But one of the things I always try to do on our road trips, because we always try to do road trips more than anything else, is take a book along to read aloud. And what I found with reading aloud to my children, if I’m reading a picture book that is younger than some of the kids in the group would normally read, it doesn’t matter. They enjoy it just as much as the little kids. And if I read a book that is beyond the youngest children, it’s more geared toward the older children, the younger children absorb much more than I realized they’re going to, and it has an impact on their life. And I learned that early on when we were living overseas and driving different places, and I would read aloud to the kids just to break up the trip a little bit and make it fun and have something to talk about together. So we would read books and they would always request that we read the book if I forgot to start reading, and we were going any distance at all, they would say, “Hey, can we read out of the book?” And I would have the book in the glove compartment that we were currently reading. So I want to encourage you to use this time, this family time, you have to read aloud with your kids, to read the Bible together, to memorize scripture together. If you’re going to the Grand Canyon to find a scripture that talks about the majesty of God in creation, Psalm 8, “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name and all the earth.” And there are so many wonderful verses that you could memorize together as you’re going on these adventures over the summer break. And that way you are building memories, you’re building time together, and you’re building and putting the word of God into your hearts. What a wonderful blessing that is.
The other thing is, as we relax and enjoy our time together, often those teachable and defining moments come up much more often because the kids are not distracted by TV, video games, or homework, or friends, or whatever else is going on in life. And they take a moment, and they’re more receptive to learning in a certain situation. And so my prayer for all of us as parents is that we become very attuned to our children and recognize when those moments arise, where we can either speak into our kids’ lives of what we see God doing in their lives and help it become a defining moment for them. Or we can seize the day, seize the moment, of these teachable moments, where they’re curious about something, and we can give them information to help them grow in the Lord or to grow as good people.
I think we have a really wonderful gift in the chance to spend time with our family away from the usual routine. And that’s the wonderful thing about vacation. It really doesn’t matter where you go. As long as you can have some time away from your normal routine to have a break, to relax, and enjoy yourselves together, and to laugh and have fun, to play games, to see sites that you’ve never experienced before.
Another thing that our family loves to do for vacation is mission trips. And to go somewhere and minister to people is an amazing blessing. And my kids still talk about those adventures we’ve had just as much as any wonderful vacation at a resort or anything like that. They talk about the mission trips and the experiences they had and the people they met and the opportunities they had to share God’s love with someone else. So remember that when you’re planning for your vacations, God may have something really special in mind for you and your family.
So I want to recommend a couple books that we’ve read together or are currently reading together. And one is called Love Riot. And I’ve mentioned it before by Sarah Barratt. This young woman talks about her faith and genuine faith and the difference between the kind of faith she was living just as a social activity, almost a religious activity, and being on fire for God. And it’s written by a young woman who was in her late teens, I think when she wrote it. So it really speaks to our kids because it’s written by someone close to their age.
And then another one we’ve just started, so I haven’t finished this book yet, but it was highly recommended by a friend of ours who’s reading it with their boys, and it’s called 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. And this book is so far very interesting and gives you some life tips, some rules to help you have a more meaningful and successful life. And my friend believes that everyone should read this book. So I will finish reading this one as well. It might be one you would consider reading with your kids.
I always recommend reading the Chronicles of Narnia with your kids and going through those. What fun, joyful time that is to read through those adventures together.
I recently read through Black Stallion with a little boy who’s in third grade. And we had the best time reading that book. I had never read it before. And it is a wonderful book to read through, to talk about growing up and being responsible and the adventures that life can offer and how this great kid in the story didn’t let panic take over, but tackled every problem by thinking through what needed to be done. And I think that’s what stuck with me so much through this story is his decision as a young child to be responsible, to face life head on and see it as an adventure rather than being afraid. And I think that’s very powerful.
So for today’s devotional I want to share with you one about adventure. And this is from Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado. This is from February 13th in that devotional, and it’s called “A Life of Adventure.” And that’s one of the things I hope we can teach our kids is that life is an adventure. When we live life with Christ and following him, life is never boring. It is always an adventure. In Luke, 17:33 it says, “Whoever tries to keep his life will give up true life, but whoever gives up his life will have true life.”
“Life is filled with excitement and wonder. Chase after it, hunt for it, give it all you’ve got. Don’t tell yourself you’re too young to make a difference. David didn’t start out as a king. He was a shepherd and the youngest in his family. Samuel was just a boy when the Lord spoke to him. Jesus doesn’t set an age limit on his workers. He never says, ‘When you’re all grown up, come and follow me.’ He says, ‘Follow me.’ (Matthew 9:9) God has a plan for each and every day of your life, including this day. Ask him to show you what it is. Take a chance. Dare to be different. Make a new friend. Try out for the team. Lead a song in Bible class. Run for class president. Volunteer to help. Sure it could be risky. You might get laughed at, or you might just make a difference.” And then he has the “Growing in Grace” section. “Just because you are young, doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Is there a problem in your school, town, or church that you could help fix? Collect socks for homeless kids. Sweep the snow from your church’s sidewalks. Be a friend to someone who needs it.” And sometimes one of the most powerful things we can teach our kids to do is simply be a friend when there are so many young people being bullied and treated badly or judged for whatever reason–to be a friend to that child can be a powerful gift. One of the challenges I used to give my kids every day is find a way to bless someone today. And it didn’t always work. When you have kids who have autism it’s a really hard task for them to think of other people, but I still think it blessed them and it helped them to grow even when they didn’t succeed in doing it because it helped them to practice thinking outside of themselves and what they can do to make a difference.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books spark wonderful conversations and fun times with your children and that you’ll have a wonderful time traveling together, whether by imagination or actually seeing the world and that you will have wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. You can sign up for my mailing list on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com and you’ll get notifications when I post a blog post or a podcast, and we’re coming up on our one-year anniversary for “Books that Spark” next year. We have a lot of great things planned. Stay tuned, tune in each week, and find out what’s going on. We’ve got some fun things planned.
Article with tips for memorizing scripture: 12 Tips for Helping Your Child Memorize Scripture
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.