Whether you go day tripping or globe- trotting, travelling with your children and teenagers is an experience rich in learning and social awareness that they will remember far more readily than some classroom learning. Why is that? Travel offers an opportunity free of norms and expectations, open to personal interpretation and with the emotional imprint of spending time with family, friends or meeting new people.
Many parents go on trips together and leave kids behind, others take one child or another with them on different trips and some take all their children with them all the time. It all depends on the patience, tolerance and flexibility of the adults or the children, family organization skills or financial considerations.
For day tripping, the cost of gas is the main consideration, as many activities and festivals in different communities offer a great variety of local heritage and great learning opportunities for free. Many of these events include the arts, and expose kids to rich creative talent. Community sporting events highlight teamwork, volunteerism and fundraising, all components of good citizenship. Even travel with soccer or hockey teams during their respective seasons offer the opportunity to learn more about the community. Taking an extra day to explore the town or city where tournaments are played add value to the road trip and offer more than views of the arena and hotel room.
For families more keen on further travel, visiting cities far away lend a more exotic feel to the learning experience, particularly if travelling to warmer climates and meeting people of different culture and language. One always feels proud to be Canadian when visiting abroad and this identity is not lost on children even at a young age.
So how old does a child need to be to travel? Any age from newborn to adulthood – considering our children grow up in car seats, they are used to long travel in confined spaces so one may as well consider train or flight travel in addition to road trips. Children are also very proud to have their own passports (just don’t forget the consent release for travel from the other parent, notarized, before leaving on international destinations if you are separated or divorced).
Having personally traveled with my children from a young age, I always found them better behaved than staying at home all summer. The constant excitement tires them out, the new sights, sounds and smells stimulate interest and communication skills improve even if you are in a country where you don’t understand the language (non-verbal communication skills help develop empathy, sympathy and hones observation and attention to detail).
Though cheap flights and special deals can always be found, especially for last minute travel to specific destinations, many other forms of travel experience are equally valid in terms of valuable learning opportunities. For example, home exchange programs allow you to stay in another family’s home and feel a part of their local community for a duration of time equally agreed upon. Many times, a vehicle is part of the exchange and allows even more discovery of the town, region, city or country. With no accommodation costs, this variety of vacation is a wonderful learning opportunity to see how families live in other countries at only the cost of the flights to get there.
I have personally experienced great home exchanges to France and Newfoundland and this summer, a home exchange to Ireland is booked. My youngest son is graduating from high school and wants to learn more about welding, ironwork and visit Ireland, so trips to foundries and traditional ironsmithers have been incorporated into the trip. As a new driver, he is keen to try driving on the left hand side of the road and to learn manual stickshift (we’ll be out on the country roads for that learning experience!). His mantra has always been ‘I learned something new today and it wasn’t in school’ and he applies it to the many varied interests he so aptly picks up and wants to discover. So what a great graduation present, eh?
One of the most important secrets to great travel with kids is to incorporate their interests and let those influence your destination and itinerary. You will know when you get it right and when you get it wrong very quickly (the same son at the age of three sitting atop my shoulders after thirty minutes of visiting the Louvre said ‘Mummy can we leave now? This place is making me sad’). The realization that all of the fantastic artwork there was far too solemn for a child his age made me realize the visit was my own agenda and not working for him. The successful visit to Parc Astérix the next day reinforced a positive change of plan, so flexibility is very important when travelling with children.
So as you are planning your summer vacation, if it is not already planned and paid for, remember that any destination is a good one. Staycations on the other hand offer very little return for learning and no matter how you put a spin on it in terms of savings, they are minimal in offering kids the learning that travel extends by default. Besides, what would they post on Facebook if they stayed at home?
Monika Ferenczy, OCT MEd
Horizon Educational Consulting