Although many parents, especially those with very young children, think of travel as something to get through with as little hassle as possible, travel provides a valuable learning opportunity. We all know that visiting far-flung places is a way to expand your mind (playing in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, snorkeling off the beaches in Hawaii, eating roasted tarantula in Cambodia). Close-to-home adventures, like a visit to Aunt Mabel’s house in a neighboring state, are also ripe with new ways to see and explore the world. If you view travel as a way to learn, any trip – even one to the grocery store – can be a way for your kids to expand their worldview. Here are 10 things children learn through travel.
Jessie’s daughter, Lillie, exploring Millenium Park in Chicago during their family travels
Children soak up lessons better, I’ve found, when you don’t push it. Before my family travels, we try to naturally discuss the history of our destination, whether it is the Great Fire of Chicago or the Battle of Culloden. Once we’re there, our daughter often wants to spend more time than the rest of the family listening to the audio tour, poking around museums, and asking questions, while my husband and I wait for her.
Whether by getting to a local park for a play date (use your GPS to show the routes), exploring the landscape through geocaching, or planning a round-the-world trip, children learn geography through travel.
Learning about nature during a trip to a beach near Seattle
Kids love to explore the natural world. Visit aquariums, nature centers, lakes, ponds, parks, fields, national parks, community gardens, and farmer’s markets. Talk with park rangers, volunteers, sea turtle conservators, and people who care about the land. These experiences will make a lifetime impact, and teach children to value, respect, and save our planet.
While traveling, kids learn that although people from around the world may look different on the outside, they still live and do the same basic things – eat, play, work, and try as hard as they can to live well. Encourage your children to play with other kids during your travels to reinforce our global oneness. You can even arrange play dates through social hospitality organizations like Tripping.com.
A great book to read about the similarities and differences among people is This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World’s Children. Travel also shows that not everyone lives equally; while some kids literally live in a dump, others live in luxurious surroundings. Having an understanding that we are all one, despite personal, cultural, and economic differences, will go a long way toward a lifetime of empathy and compassion.
A tuna fish baked potato in Scotland can provide a tasty lesson for young mouths
Eating is my very favorite way to learn while traveling. Learning through food can take place at an ethnic grocery store or by trying local street food. It can be comparing markets between countries, or discovering your favorite new foods, wherever you are. Tasting – whether it is your uncle’s deep fried turkey at Thanksgiving or the deliciousness of Irish butter – is an essential part of traveling and learning.
From budgeting for travel, like how much allowance to save for Disney World, to spending money on souvenirs and snacks, travel provides a way for kids to learn economics. They might need to change currencies, or ration their spending over a period of time. Your family might be in a location where bargaining is the norm, where you can encourage children to participate. Comparing costs from home to your vacation location, or the costs of activities versus necessities, can also teach fiscal responsibility.
My family loves literary travel, from following in Harry Potter’s footsteps to planning a trip to Europe with Percy Jackson. Reading enhances exploring the world. If you can, visit libraries and bookshops while you travel to discover local authors and new books.
Lillie in her reading nook during a stay in Ireland
Kids typically can learn foreign languages much faster than adults because the portion of their brains that processes language is still growing. Spend as much time learning languages, while at home or while traveling. Not only will they learn a language, but they’ll also get insight to another culture and ways to navigate a foreign land.
Many kids love to collect stuff. Whether it is seashells, t-shirts, or toys – let them gather artifacts from their travels. It will help them remember and enjoy their experiences.
Rhythms of Life
Travel is the best way to get a true sense of the world, from the rhythms of transportation (planes, trains, automobiles, subways, tuk tuks, walking) to the cultural rhythms of life. Some cultures take a relaxed view of living, while others are always in hurry. The traffic in Vietnam is much different than the traffic at your family’s cottage on a lake. The pace of life in a small village in Africa or Bali is much more laid back than the hustle and bustle of larger cities like New York, Rome, or Paris. By learning that life is lived differently around the world, kids are more aware and accepting of intercultural differences.
Explore with the world with your kids – talk together about what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting, and experiencing. You’ll be surprised by how much your whole family will learn.
What other ways do your kids learn while traveling? Let us know in the comments!
Travel Mamas Guest Blogger Jessie Voigts with her husband and daughter in Ireland
Jessie Voigts is a mom who loves sharing the world with her daughter. She has a PhD in International Education, and is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, especially with kids (it’s never too young to start!). She has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She founded the Family Travel Bloggers Association, and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. She’s published two books about travel and intercultural learning, with a third on the way. You can usually find her family by water – anywhere in the world.