For Katie Wendel, a spring break vacation this year won’t mean loading up the car and driving several hundred miles or waiting in long lines at the airport. While the Bethesda mother of five is planning to enjoy some relaxing downtime with her family, she won’t venture far from home.
“Ask the kids what they would like to do. Involve them and give [them] a choice. Whatever it is they suggest, come up with a plan to document their adventure so they can share it with grandparents or siblings away at college.” — Dr. Lois Stover, Marymount University
“We’re going to be tourists this year and visit the monuments and museums in Washington. We’re also going to try to find every avenue in the city that’s named after a state,” said Wendel. “If you think about it, there’s so much to do in this area that we all take for granted. You really don’t have to leave the area to feel like you’re in another city.”
From museum exhibits to adventure centers, a goldmine of family getaways abounds locally. There are even activities for family bonding available without leaving home.
“Ask the kids what they would like to do. Involve them and give [them] a choice. Whatever it is they suggest, come up with a plan to document their adventure so they can share it with grandparents or siblings away at college, said Lois Stover, Ph.D., dean, School of Education and Human Services at Marymount University. “Let them help plan the Metro route or just look at the Metro map and randomly pick a station and explore that area.”
“A lot of adults assume that kids want a big trip, but a lot of times a kid will say, ‘I want to blow bubbles in the back yard.’ It’s important for children to have a say in how the family uses its free time,” said Carolyn Lorente, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Northern Virginia Community College.
Among the recommendations that Stover offers are activities at one’s neighborhood library and trips to indoor public swimming pools. For animal-loving families the National Zoo offers beasts ranging from elephants and eagles to tigers and frogs.
“Get outside and take the family to one of the lesser known national parks, like Prince William, or walk the C&O Canal,” said Stover.
There’s also Gravelly Point Park near Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, which is ideal for family picnics, games of kickball or simply watching airplanes take off and land.
“If it's warm, do a beach day in the backyard [or] set up an indoor mini-golf course with Nerf balls [or use] Wiffle balls and bats,” said Stover. “Have a dance party, a science day. Have a ‘Today is Blue, or whatever color works, Day,’ so everyone wears blue, all foods are blue, you ride the blue line Metro just to see where it goes, [for example].”
The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory on the National Mall is where Stephanie Kleinman is planning to take her twin daughters during spring break.
“The girls call it a museum for plants, and it’s neat to go from the desert to the jungle all within one building,” said Kleinman who lives in McLean. “We’ll probably check out some of the other museums while we’re downtown.”
There are times when a staycation can be more relaxing than travel, says Lorente. “If you look at the list of the top 100 stressors in life, taking a vacation is on the list,” she said. “A staycation, when done with purpose, can really be good.”
Advanced planning is a key to making that time spent together meaningful, advises Lorente. “A lot of times people say they’re taking a staycation and they end up doing chores around the house. And everybody is on their electronics,” she said. “But it’s really about family bonding and everyone coming together and creating shared experiences as a family.”