The "Summer School" That Makes You Grandparents of the Year

Nov 14, 2019

Dropping wisdom on the grandkids is one of the most important contributions you can make to society (no pressure). The trick? Choosing a methodology so fun, everyone forgets there’s actual education going on. And to us, that means one thing: you, the kids—and an epic adventure. The kind that’ll ruin their teachers for all other “what I did on my summer vacation” essays. (Or “what I did on my winter/spring break,” for that matter.)

We’re talking, of course, about Road Scholar grandparent journeys—a collection of purpose-built programs that cater to you and your grandkids, whatever the little ones, or not so little ones, are into. Not totally sure what that is at the moment? Pro tip: Take a catalog to Thanksgiving dinner. There's no better conversation starter.

And if you’ve never traveled with the organization, now’s the time: There are no fewer than 50 new offerings to choose from, several of which fall into the incredibly zeitgeisty STEM category—in addition to countless tried and true trips. Read on for some of our favorites, then pick your own and get everyone enrolled (and psyched).

STEM

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM, in 21st century parlance. Getting the kiddos interested in this stuff early gives them an undeniable leg up on their future. (After all, the US Department of Commerce says STEM occupations are growing at nearly double the rate of any other.) And though your grandkids’ resumes aren’t likely to include much more than “lemonade stand operator” for some time, you never know when the STEM seeds you plant now will bear fruit. Besides, everyone will have fun in the process.

You could, for example, take the family for a thrilling, six-day look at aviation and space exploration at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, where the kids will get flight lessons aboard a Cessna 172 Skyhawk and astronaut training in a real space simulator. Also part of this new course offering: The whole family will get to work with a rocket launch team to build model rockets and blast them off. If you want to push deeper into the cosmos, consider another new course: This five-day sun-and-stars-focused adventure takes you and yours to DC-area icons that range from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, with its NASA artifact-filled Rocket Garden, to the University of Maryland Astronomy Observatory (telescope heaven). You’ll also hit the National Air & Space Museum—where, yes, you’ll have plenty of free time to wander the largest collection of air and space flight machines in existence (at least on this planet).

Can’t tear your grandchild away from Fortnite? You and everyone else. Might as well lean in with another new course: the six-day STEM Chicago Robotics and Game Design. After picking up some intel on how the games are made, design one of your own together. This also guides you through building and coding a robot—so, no, not exactly your average summer vacation. During all of these trips, the learning doesn’t stop once you leave whatever facility you’ve visited: Typically, there are scientific demos and hands-on experiments at your hotel, too. But these are so fun, the words “captive audience” will never even occur to the kids.


Outdoor Ed

In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson pushed for outdoor education, writing: “The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature.” A lot of post-revolutionary educational ideas have since fallen by the wayside, but the value of getting outdoors has only gone up: Several recent studies suggest that being out in nature helps promote confidence, creativity, self-discipline and problem-solving skills.

One great option is to take your grandchild to the Grand Canyon, where you’ll earn bonus cool grandparent points for doing the challenge course at Northern Arizona University (full disclosure: there’s a free fall). This six-day River Rafting & Railroads course includes a trip down the Colorado River to see thousand-year-old cave drawings. And the railroad part? You take a train from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where you just might get pressed into service to help the good guys triumph over some train robbers.

Or consider a six-day exploration of South Dakota—including the 71,000 acres of wild bison, burros, prairie dogs, elk, and white tail deer that make up Custer State Park. Among the other highlights? Taking a chair lift ride up Mount Rushmore—and an alpine slide (read: individual sled) 2,000 feet back down. And yes, that part's for the grandkids, though you'll have plenty of time to admire and learn about the mountain's iconic faces together. There's also time to pan for gold, swim in the world’s largest indoor mineral water pool, survey the unreal buttes, pinnacles, and spires of the Badlands—and take in traditional Native American stories and dance.

If you want to up the hiking quotient, a six-day Yosemite adventure may be just the ticket. This course includes daily five-mile walks, and in one case, a bike ride, so there will be plenty of time for bonding amidst the stunning waterfalls, sequoia groves and rock formations of one of the most beloved national parks in the U.S. Kids will also have the opportunity to learn the basics of climbing and rappelling. Not to be outdone, grandparents will, too.


Western Civ

Crossing the pond also means crossing the centuries—right back to the pages of the kids’ Western Civ tomes. And while book learning is one thing, wandering through a whole succession of eras (medieval, Enlightenment, Elizabethan, Napoleonic…take your pick of dozens) is another thing altogether.

The 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson famously said that the man who is tired of London is tired of life, so don't be surprised how quickly your nine days there fly by. On your epic London adventure with the grandkids, even those with the shortest of attention spans will will find something to focus on in this 2,000-year-old city: Plagues. Palaces. Royal scandal. Crown jewels in high towers. Shakespeare's old stomping grounds. (All, of course, fueled by fish and chips). You'll also have the amazing experience of going behind the scenes of the famed Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts for a hands-on workshop with two acclaimed West End actors. 

If there are Francophiles in the family (and of course, if any version of Beauty and the Beast was ever part of the kids’ lives, there are) you may want to set your sights across the Channel. On the nine-day Teenagers in Paris adventure, there will be language immersion, patisseries to spare—and de rigueur stops at the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the open-air marché, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the  Musée d'Orsay and beaucoup plus. You’ll also see some of the country’s most renowned estates on field trips to both Monet’s Giverny and Fouquet’s Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Along the way, there will be ample photo ops, but perhaps the ultimate souvenir is the family portrait you can have painted by an artist in Montmarte. (Your grandchild will probably add a 21st-century update to this tradition: Posting the result to Instagram.)

And for arts-lovers who verlangen nach Deutschland (that’s “yearn for Germany"), the nation’s creative capital is the way to go. On the nine-day From Street Art to the Wall: Berlin’s Best with Your Grandchild, you’ll see why this city is considered such a conductor of creativity—the kind of place where David Bowie shared a flat with Iggy Pop, U2 recorded the seminal Achtung Baby, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painted well, Street, Berlin, among other masterpieces. After a German lesson so you can feel at heimat (home), you’ll explore the city’s endless cultural treasures, from museums to graffiti art to the hip hop scene. And of course, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, you’ll get a good, IRL history lesson.


Culinary School

Grandparents have been associated with treats and culinary traditions since time immemorial—remember Laura Ingalls Wilder going to the “sugaring off” dance at Grandma Ingalls’ in Little House in the Big Woods? Laura remembered that trip—and the maple sugar candies she made—for the rest of her life. And your grandkids will surely remember the perfect combo platter of food + travel + you. 

With the new six-day Culinary Curiosities: the Hudson Valley with Your Grandchild, you can teach the kids what “farm to table” really means against one the most bucolic backdrops on earth. You'll visit local farms, participate in gardening workshops, learn how to harvest and study seasonal cooking with chefs at the Culinary Institute of America (whose notable alums include Anthony Bourdain). But one of the most memorable moments? When everyone pairs off into grandparent/grandkid teams in an expert-ed cooking studio to see what deliciousness you can co-create. 

If your family's tastes lean more tortilla and salsa, the new six-day Cooking up Fun in Santa Fe with Your Grandchild is the way to go. You'll learn arid-soil farming techniques, shop the Santa Fe Farmer's Market (the breakfast burritos are legend), raft along the Rio Grande to a Pueblo Indian feast—and tour Santa Fe's historic Plaza neighborhood before learning to cook a few New Mexican staples at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. And though the entire trip is a stand-out, we predict two excursions will wind up family favorites: learning to prepare a traditional feast day meal (including horno-baked bread) at the home of a Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo member; and—totally unrelated to cooking—touring the House of Eternal Return. In the unlikely event that you've not heard of this George R.R. Martin-funded immersive storytelling blockbuster (fun fact: Mr. GOT himself is a Fe resident), now's your chance to see why a million people have peregrinated here since the March 2016 opening, and why CBS News has declared the installation to be the most instagrammed destination in New Mexico.

If you prefer epic battles of the culinary kind, go insert yourselves in the middle of an age-old debate. Which is the greater national treasure in Switzerland: chocolate or cheese? Both sides are entrenched: The nation consumes more chocolate per capita than anywhere else on earth—but on the other hand, cheesemaking has been a local tradition since, oh, the iron age. In the name of thorough research, of course, you'll sample plenty of both food groups on the new, nine-day Chocolate, Cheese & Trains: Switzerland with Your Grandchild. Foodie highlights include a bean-to-bar lesson at a chocolate-making factory and a visit and visit an Alpine cheesemaking farm, but there will also be a field trip to a wildlife park (home to many endangered European species), a train ride along Lake Zurich (and over stunning viaducts), a toboggan run through Heidi Land, and a cable car ride to a mountaintop with views—on a clear day—to Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Lichtenstein.


Natural History

Much to the chagrin of natural historians, the number of natural history courses required for college biology majors has shrunk to zero in the past half century. But the subject remains a crowd pleaser with kids, who help make the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum the most-visited museum in the US. So adventures channeling that enthusiasm are as sure a bet as you'll find.

One amazing option? From Monkeys to Macaws: Colorful Costa Rica With Your Grandchild, a nine-day sampler of some of the country's greatest natural hits. Beyond the titular monkeys and macaws, there are countless other creatures you'll find along the way (sloths, crocs and blue morpho butterflies, to name a few), plus natural beauty to spare: volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls and the most glorious rain forest canopy through which to zip-line. 

If you like your natural history with a heaping side of anthropology, consider the nine-day Whale Sharks and Spider Monkeys: The Yucatan with Your Grandchild on Mexico's Caribbean coast, where reminders of the area's storied past abound. In fact, you'll visit a whole succession of fabled Maya Sites, from Chichen Itza to Muyil. Even the area's natural features—most notably, its ethereal limestone cenotes—carry cultural weight: Before those pools called to 21st-century swimmers and snorkelers, many were ceremonial sites, considered portals to the Maya underworld. However ethereal swimming through jungle-shrouded sinkholes may be, though, swimming through the Caribbean with the peninsula's gentle giants is even more so. Indeed, plenty of people come for the whale sharks alone. 

Still, the ultimate adventure for any animal lover is arguably a safari—all the more so after the latest round of Lion King fever. So if you're going for the gusto, consider Where the Wild Things Are: Tanzania with Your Grandchild to see leopards, rhinos, elephants, wildebeests and cheetahs—and of course, lions—in Tanzania’s breathtaking national parks and reserves. When you break from your game drives, you’ll visit local villages, and—this one’s for the kids only —got to a local school to see what a typical day is like for students there (sans homework, of course). 


Ready to go? Road Scholar offers nearly 200 educational trips for grandparents and grandkids of all ages. See the complete collection of grandparent programs and adventures for families so the parents can get in on the fun, too!

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