How to Have an Italian Family Vacation Without Leaving Home
Is traveling out of the budget for now?
How about experiencing the sights, sounds and flavors of Italy with your kids, right from home. No passport required!
In this article I’ll show you how to recreate a bit of Italian culture from wherever you live.
You and your children will learn the language, taste the food, make something uniquely Italian, play a game and experience a fun Italian tradition.
Why Italy, Why Now?
Italy has a long and rich history. Explorers, inventors, artists, architects, chefs – there’s hardly an area of our current lives where Italians have not influenced our world. Teach your kids about where these Italian influences came from and have a lot of fun in the process.
For children and grownups alike, it’s fun and interesting to learn about other cultures. There are also many long-term benefits when you expose young children to new places and ideas. Cultural activities that you share with them early in life, when they absorb their experiences, can stick with them for a lifetime.
Enjoy some great Italian music while reading this article.
Italy is a popular vacation spot for many people worldwide. While nothing can beat the experience of being immersed in another culture by traveling there, the activities in this article will help you recreate several elements of Italian life and give your family a taste of the country.
So keep your passports in a safe place, and stay far away from crowded airports and expensive hotels. Let’s take a journey to Italy without leaving home.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Begin your family’s imaginary journey by learning something about Italy’s geography.
Italy is a peninsula shaped like a boot. It’s about the same size as Arizona in the US and around 61 million people live there. The European country includes 20 regions and 2 islands, Sardinia and Sicily. Italy borders Austria, France, Slovenia and Switzerland.
For centuries, the Roman Empire influenced what’s now Italy and the whole European region. In turn, many of the world’s most famous historical sites are located in and around Rome, Italy’s capital.
Vatican City, in Rome, is actually an independent state. It’s the world’s tiniest country and it lies within another country: Italy.
Geographically, Italy is quite diverse with mountains, foothills, buzzing cities and beautiful beaches.
Ask your children to find Italy on a world map or a globe.
#1: How to Speak Italian
Let’s learn to say a few important phrases in Italian.
The official language of Italy is Italiano, the dialect spoken in the region of Tuscany. Each region in Italy has its own dialect. The Sicilian dialect is often considered its own language and has roots dating back before Italiano.
When you learn the Italiano alphabet, you’ll see that it has only 21 letters. The English alphabet has 26.
Ready to learn a few words and greetings?
- It’s always polite to say thank you: “Grazie“
- Now, let’s practice the Italian word for you’re welcome: “Prego“
- In Italian, the word for hello is the same as the word for goodbye: “Ciao“
- Learn to wish someone a good morning: “Buongiorno“
If you had fun with these basic words, you might like to learn more Italian words and phrases on this website just for kids.
Be sure to say “Grazie” to Fabrizio for teaching you how to speak some Italiano.
#2: Enjoy an Italian Meal
Italian food is enjoyed all over the world. Pasta, pizza, biscotti, tiramisu and gelato (which you’ll learn how to make below) are favorites in places far away from Italy.
Each region in Italy (and even some cities) has its own specialties. Throughout the country, cooks tend to keep recipes simple and focus on quality ingredients.
Pizza is one kind of Italian food that’s eaten all over the country. Although pizza in Italy is a little different than in other parts of the world, my Roman friend and I agree that in any form, pizza appeals to most kids!
In Italy, pizza crust is similar to pita bread. While pizza throughout Italy is made simply of dough and cheese, there’s an infinite combination of toppings – so many that you could eat a different pizza every day of the year and experience many regional specialties.
Italians are proud that something so simple can take on so many creative variations. It’s all in the ingredients!
People in Italy often go out for pizza with friends in the evenings. On your cultural journey to the country, share an Italian meal with your family or friends. Call and order a pizza for dinner tonight.
Gelato, a Cool Italian Treat
For dessert, you can learn to make gelato, a favorite Italian treat that’s similar to ice cream.
Gelato tastes delightful and seeing all of the flavors to choose from in a gelaterie (gelato shop) is deliciously beautiful!
When my family went to Italy, we tried gelato in almost every city or village where we stopped. Of the many flavors we tried, my daughter’s favorite was limone (lemon).
Ask your kids which gelato flavor they would try from the list below:
- Bacio (chocolate with hazelnut pieces)
- Caffe (coffee)
- Cioccolato (chocolate)
- Crema (egg-yolk custard)
- Cocco (coconut)
- Cocomero (watermelon)
- Frutti di bosco (wild berries)
- Limone (lemon)
- Nocciola (hazelnut)
- Panna (whipped cream)
- Pistacchio (pistachio)
- Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
- Tarocchio (blood orange)
- Tiramisu (tiramisu)
Make Your Own Gelato
Use an ice cream maker to make this delicious blackberry (frutti de bosco) gelato. It’s a fun and easy recipe to follow with your kids.
Or try another gelato flavor. It’s simple to adjust the recipe to other fruit.
Whichever flavor you decide upon, be sure to plan ahead! Check the instruction manual for your ice cream maker. It may have parts that you need to freeze for several hours.
While you wait for your gelato to freeze, try to practice your Italian language or do one of the other activities in this article.
#3: Paint Like Michelangelo
One of his most famous works is the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome. The amazing frescoes took about four years to complete.
Paint Your Own “Sistine Chapel”
To paint the ceilings, Michelangelo laid on his back, perched upon scaffolding.
Wouldn’t it be fun to try to paint as Michelangelo did? What could your kids learn by painting from a different angle than they’re used to?
Choose a desk or table to use as an easel. Be sure to place it in an area that can be protected without compromising favorite furniture and décor.
Cover the floor with a tarp, newspaper, garbage bags, etc., and tape newspaper to the underside of the desk or table. This will become your “ceiling.”
Prepare to paint according to your child’s age and ability.
Some kids wish to have a more defined idea of their project before they begin painting. You can let them sketch their ideas before painting.
Your children may want to paint their own version of Michelangelo’s work. Show them pictures of the Sistine Chapel and let them choose a section to copy.
Other kids may prefer to paint their own designs freehand.
Whatever their preference, when they’re ready, tape the drawing paper or art paper to the underside of the table or desk. Have your child lie on his or her back under the table and begin to paint the “ceiling” above.
Parents or an older child should help hold the paints, brushes and rinse water to help minimize the mess.
Be sure to take pictures to document the experience and display the kids’ art in your home—maybe on the ceilings of their bedrooms for full effect.
#4: Play a Game From Italy
Strega Comanda Colore (“Witch Says Colors”) is an Italian version of tag you can play outdoors, in a large room or gymnasium or even at the swimming pool (just try not to splash people).
Gather a group of people to play (parents, you can play, too!) You need at least three. The ideal number is eleven. Choose someone to be the “Strega” (witch). Strega should call out a color.
The other players scramble to touch something of that color before being tagged by Strega. Clothing, playground equipment, trees, anything from your surroundings can be touched, if it’s the right color.
The first player tagged by Strega before touching the color becomes the next Strega. If no one is tagged and everyone is safely touching a color, Strega should call out another color and try again. There’s no time limit for the game.
Want an extra challenge? Call out the colors in Italiano.
#5: Ferragosto, an Italian Tradition – Buon Ferragosto!
Ferragosto is an Italian national holiday celebrated on August 15. It dates back to 18 BC and the Roman Emperor Augustus. During the Roman Empire, Ferragosto was a celebration to honor the gods of agriculture and hunting.
Traditional festivities included horse races, donkey races, big feasts and other entertainment meant to celebrate the long final weeks of summer and the busy harvest.
Today, Ferragosto retains many of its historical Roman roots and also celebrates a Catholic holy day of obligation. Although Ferragosto is officially celebrated from August 13–17, it’s typified by month-long vacations from professional offices every August.
During Ferragosto, people head to the shore to relax and celebrate. Every city has some sort of special feast and Italians all over the country celebrate with:
- Parades honoring the fertility goddess
- Horse and donkey races
- Special foods for the large feasts
- Boat races
Hold Your Own Ferragosto Regatta
For your family’s cultural visit to Italy, let’s reenact part of the Ferragosto celebration: a boat regatta. You don’t have to board a plane or even leave your hometown to experience this Italian summertime tradition.
Watch a real Ferragosto Regatta. Watch the finish is at 5:50 to see how they celebrate.
The real regatta in the video is a great example of teamwork, competitive spirit and sportsmanship – good values to teach children no matter where they’re from.
You can hold your own miniature Italian regatta at a pool or lake near you, or even in the bathtub.
Grab Barbie, Ken or GI Joe, their favorite water vessels and some pool toys. Use pool toys such as water noodles to set a course for the boats. Blow through a straw to push your boat through the course and race for the finish. Remember, the point is to experience the culture and tradition, not necessarily to win.
If you have access to one, use a real boat such as a canoe or raft, set a course and maneuver through it. Be sure to wear a life jacket as you race your friends. Award a prize to the fastest finisher.
Hopping in a boat can be fun, and you never know what you’ll see and learn!
Some Final Thoughts…
I hope you’ve enjoyed your cultural journey to Italy. By experiencing some of the food, language, history and traditions, you and your family will have a greater understanding and appreciation of this rich and wonderful country. Grazie!
What do you think? What activity looks like the most fun? Was there anything that surprised you? Do you have questions about enjoying an Italian boat race? Please share your curiosities in the comments box below. If you took pictures of your Italian adventures, please post them here, too.
Images from Wikimedia Commons.
Keri Jaehnig helps brands achieve successful social media. Previously, she spent fourteen years in intercultural education, designated by the US Department of State for work with FLEX and YES. Other posts by Keri Jaehnig »