Increasingly, research shows that “the secret to happiness” (as a 2016 Forbes article put it) is having meaningful experiences, not buying things. This is helpful when you have children because, for most of us, there is always more our kids want than resources available. We’re constantly negotiating what the biggest bang is for our buck. Turns out, you should spend your money doing something with your kids.
Here are 5 meaningful experiences you should have with your kids that beat buying them stuff any day. Before we go there, however, a caveat: The key to each of these being meaningful is doing them sans smartphones. You’ll need to have yours for things like pictures and maps and emergencies, but if you allow your kids to have theirs, it doesn’t matter where you travel—they’ll always be in the same place.
1. Take them to the beach or mountains.
Doing both would be ideal, though depending on where you live, one may be more difficult than the other. Also, this isn’t about going to a resort with lots to do or spending time on the boardwalk playing games. This is about your kids developing a sense of awe at how vast the planet is and how small they are. This is about teaching them to ride a wave (or laugh as you both get flattened by one) or trying not to get lost together.
2. Go camping.
You may not be into camping. I get it. Camping is a lot of work. There are bugs and sometimes bears. You have to make your food and your own fun. But all of that is why you should go camping with your kids. It’s one of those experiences that requires everyone to pitch in together to make it work well. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to take some friends with you and make memories together.
3. Take a road trip.
I don’t care where you go, as long as it is somewhere none of you has been before. Road trips are an adventure. Of course, everyone gets cranky at various times, but there are always new things to see, people to meet, challenges to overcome. You have to deal with boredom, which forces you to be creative and stumble upon interesting conversation.
4. Visit significant civil rights locations.
All throughout the United States, there are historic sites, landmarks, museums that invite us to remember and learn from key events in the civil rights movement. A simple online search can help you locate ones nearby. These can be incredible opportunities for our kids and us to have meaningful conversations about things like racism and justice. It may also be a great excuse to do #3.
5. Introduce them to a different culture.
Some of the best experiences our kids have had have been times we’ve introduced them to different cultures. For example, we’ve had multiple opportunities to take our white, suburban kids to a largely immigrant, Spanish-speaking church. Not only has this been a lot of fun, but it’s also provided an environment in which they could ask lots of questions. Furthermore, it’s offered them an opportunity to have face to face interactions with people with whom they might otherwise never rub shoulders.
In addition, it’s made them a little uncomfortable, which has enabled us to talk through why and what we can learn from that. While this takes some effort, having these experiences is a great way for our kids to learn. It’s also a powerful opportunity for them to develop empathy and a broader perspective on life.
Sound off: What other meaningful experiences do you think are important to have with your kids?