“Experience, travel. These are an education in themselves.” —Euripides
Few experiences can offer an education as whole as that of travel. Rather than feel guilty or ashamed the next time you take your children away from their classroom in favor of a family adventure, pat yourself on the back and recognize the educational benefits at hand.
To fully capitalize on the learning opportunities inherent in your travels, take time before and during your trip to explore different aspects of the places you visit. Reading or watching documentaries about your destination ahead of your departure will only enhance your experience.
Some facets to focus on:
First things first—take out a map or a globe and make sure your children know where you’re going; where in relation to your home and the rest of the world. Explore and discuss the climate and terrain there. Are you headed to the mountains, the coast, the city, the plains? Are there natural land masses or bodies of water to take note of? Is your destination in a different time zone, climate, or hemisphere? Simply looking at a map can inspire a host of curiosities and learning opportunities.
Animals and Nature
Your map discussion may very likely lead you to a discussion about the differences in nature and in the animals where you’re headed. Might you see a waterfall, a bear, a whale, a glacier? Even the youngest of children become most excited about the possibility of seeing a new animal. What a wonder to explore the many facets of nature around our globe. A checklist can make this extra fun.
Whether you’re heading to Machu Picchu or Disney World, every place has a history. Look for age appropriate content to explore that history with your children. Visiting The White House, for example, takes on even greater significance if you’ve watched documentaries about it being built, know that John Adams was the first president to reside there, know that it suffered great damage in a fire during the War of 1812, and has been refurbished under numerous subsequent presidencies. It’s not simply where the current president lives, but tells the tale of U.S. leadership through time.
No matter where you and your family find yourselves, the local cuisine speaks volumes about the place you’re visiting. In anticipation of your trip, get your family excited to try the foods your destination is known for. Whether you’ll be tasting gelato in Rome, beignets in New Orleans, baguettes in Paris, or chocolate in Brussels, your appreciation for the experience will be enhanced simply by appreciating the city’s claim-to-fame foods. Additionally, understanding the local cuisine and noting its relation to the local climate and natural resources will turn every meal into a learning experience.
Biographies are another great way to deepen your understanding of a place. One might balk at the idea of a Disney vacation being educational, but the story of Walt Disney—his life and his ability to create— is inspiring. If you’re visiting the Lincoln Memorial, make sure your children know who Abraham Lincoln was (and Martin Luther King, Jr. too). If you’re visiting Versailles dive into the life of Louis XIV.
Art and Music
What fun it is to explore the art and music of an area. If you’re headed to a major city like New York, of course, the study could be endless. Focus on what you plan to see or hear and dive into that. Most places, though, can be defined by a specific style like the blues in Memphis or the classical music of Vienna, or Buddha statues in Hong Kong, or chapel paintings in Rome.
Culture and Customs
Setting off to a different place where traditions are different, language is different, customs are different, landscape is different, attire is different, beliefs are different, where life is somehow different—is eye opening and mind opening and, perhaps best put, educational, in a way that a week or two of class cannot compare.
Wherever you’re going, take the time to truly learn and experience all that place has to offer you and your family. Your children are sure to remember these lessons for a lifetime.