little girl holding skis on a snowy day on a ski mountain
Cody Medina
Cody Medina
November 16, 2023 ·  4 min read

Giving Children Vacations Instead of Toys Can Lead to Advanced Brain Development, Experts Suggest

As the gift giving season draws near, people are trying to think of alternate ways to have fun. With the pandemic on the rise, family members are doing everything in their power to have a good time with their kids. Even though the holidays may not be what we want this year. However, the solution to happiness might not come in the form of a toy. Research suggests taking vacations instead of giving toys might be a better present this year. If you’re planning on isolating this winter, you might want to consider this!

Read: If You’re Traveling With Kids These Tips Will Save Your Life

Vacations Instead Of Toys

You might be thinking that vacations instead of toys may not be the best idea right now. However, British child psychologist, Dr. Margot Sunderland, has been able to identify the crucial developments we need as children. A lot of these developments can go untapped if not exercised properly with family members. Even if we don’t realize it, it’s important that we are mindful of how we are helping our children grow. What was even more interesting about her findings was what she found in families that did take vacations frequently.

“What is less widely known is that [vacations] can also advance brain development in children,” explains Sunderland. “This is because on a family [vacation], you are exercising two genetically ingrained systems deep in the brain’s limbic area, which can all too easily be ‘unexercised’ in the home.” (1)

Essentially, the more you explore with your child and the more you let them explore on their own is detrimental for brain growth. These two systems are key to a child’s overall mental health as they grow up.

One of the systems being the PLAY system as Sunderland describes. “The PLAY system is exercised every time you bury your child’s feet in the sand, tickle them on the pool lounger, or take them for a ride on your back.” She then further explains, “The SEEKING system is exercised each time you go exploring together: the forest, the beach, a hidden gem of a village.” (1)

Read: 7 Ways To Have Fun And Stay Ethical With The Whole Family

Why Not Toys?

Even though it’s hard to resist a good Black Friday sale, your money might be better spent on a spot your family will love to be. Maybe even planning for a future trip in 2021 when everything might be back to what’s considered ‘normal’. A study that was published in 2017 in the The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships revealed interesting results. As they surveyed 500 men and women ranging from ages 18 to 93. All of them were asked to finish the following sentence: “Most people feel loved when … ”. Most answers had nothing to do with any physical item or object. The answers had more to do with internal feelings. (2)

Human development and family studies professor at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Zita Oravecz, explains “Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child or receiving compassion make people feel most loved.” (2)

Technically speaking, vacations are good for adults even more so than they are for children. When you remove yourself from your busy day-to-day life, you come to realize a lot about your life as a whole. Especially when it comes to your family. The more time you are able to spend together, you will physically notice a huge difference in yourself as well as everyone.

Psychological author, Oliver James, added to Dr. Sunderland’s assessment by saying, “Vacations remove us, physically, from our highly pressured everyday lives where everyone’s focused on meeting targets. There are times when everyone can relax and be playful together.” (1)

Vacations Instead Of Toys Forever

We aren’t saying that you should always take vacations instead of toys, however, the long-term benefits are pretty convincing. Of course, it’s more than okay to buy your kids toys and things that they want. In addition, it’s even more important that you are all able to spend time together that doesn’t involve toys or technology. There’s a lot of crucial development that families must consistently go through in order to maintain happy lives.

Your kids view the world around them so much more differently than adults. You might not even realize all of the small details that children are able to recollect later on in life. Things that might have no meaning to you have a lot more meaning to your kids. Being there with them to explore and be apart of these new experiences will make you both grow together. Nourishing your family with attention, unconditional love, interest, and so much more goes a long way. Especially if you’re taking the time to plan a big trip together. Taking a family vacation might be exactly what all of you need this holiday season. The power of love is a very potent element to the success of a happy family. It’s also just really nice to go somewhere sunny and warm for winter.

Keep reading: Why Family Vacations Are More Beneficial Than Toys