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Harry Potter and the Educational Vacation

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"Learning doesn't take a vacation."

Okay, like most annoying moms, I said it and this summer, I tried to live it.

During a family vacation to London, England, I attempted to make our visit a mixture of the historic and the fun (they're not always interchangeable, no matter what my history buff husband says), hoping that the kids would learn something, even if their summer-vacation-new-knowledge resistance factor was strong.

One of our stops was Buckingham Palace and as we stood at the gates and my 10-year-old son took in the majesty of the ornate and impressive building he said, "well, the Queen must think she's very important," to which my 13-year-old daughter responded, "well she is pretty rich". He pondered this for a moment and said, "so if we see her, will she throw us some gold?"

I stepped in to mention that while she was indeed wealthy, the chances of her popping into our tourist visit were slim (let alone having the chance to leap up and catch a tossed gold coin). In fact, I mentioned, she wasn't even as rich as J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter franchise. This was relevant as we had visited the Warner Brothers studio set of the movies in Watford, the day before. "You know," said my son, "J.K. Rowling might not be richer than the Queen but she might have more money." He continued, as way of explanation, "you think castles are cheap? Someone has to clean them, you know."

And, I thought to myself, my work here is done. My nagging about the cost of things, but the importance of cleaning up, all in one sentence. I think I'd pay someone to clean the 75 bathrooms in Buckingham Palace as well.

We continued on with our tour of the London area -- a mixture of "kid-friendly" activities (LegoLand in nearby Windsor) and historical monuments -- only to discovered that perhaps the contrast between the two was a bit much for the kids.

As we toured the subterranean Churchill War Rooms, which had been meticulously preserved in their austere and authentic state from their time during WWII when Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his high-level officers manually planned each move, my son turned to me and said, "after Harry Potter, I'm not so impressed with this exhibit. They could have done more." More than winning the war, I thought to myself?

I had to concede that the studio tour had indeed been more visually impressive, with actual sets, costumes, and a visit to the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office, and more. But as I watched him walk through the warren of tunnels underground, listening to the audio guide, and not allowing us to move forward until he had heard every word, I knew that the history would sink in, eventually. My daughter's biggest revelation during the tour was that Churchill and his wife had separate bedrooms, and that they were not situated especially close to each other. "I guess," she said, "sometimes he has to work and she doesn't want to listen to it." As I type this article in the wee hours in a dark hotel room while my family sleeps, I think that qualifies as a key learning too.

Visit www.kathybuckworth.com, or follow Kathy on Twitter @KathyBuckworth. Kathy's newest book, "I Am So The Boss Of You" will be released by Random House in March, 2013.