Springing for a family vacation might not sound like the cheapest Christmas gift, but research shows that it could actually be what’s best for your kids.

Professor Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, discovered that family holidays can enhance brain development in children. Playing and exploring, two activities that are not part of the daily routine of school and work, lead to brain growth that is linked to “cognitive functioning, social intelligence and well-focused, goal-directed behaviours,” explains British child psychologist Dr. Margot Sunderland for The Telegraph. Not only that, but playing and exploring together release well-being neurochemicals, including opioids, oxytocin, and dopamine, which reduce stress and activate warm feelings toward one another in both adults and children.

Research has also shown that children’s attention spans are increased by being outside for just 20 minutes, and that outdoor holidays can be even better for children with ADHD than medication. Exposure to new environments where there is a lot to discover is also associated with children with higher IQ.

So, basically, if you’re looking for an excuse to take a trip, and can’t figure out what to get your kids, you can justify your family vacation by saying, “It’s good for the kids” — because it truly is.

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