It’s summer time and many families are planning time away from home for quick or extended vacations. In addition to our planned vacations, my husband travels a fair amount for work and we are sometimes able to turn some of his business trips into a family vacation of sorts. Our kids have been all over the U.S. and traveled internationally as well. They have visited to places including Canada, Costa Rica, China, Dubai, and Mexico, road trips along the east coast, and many other states. Our family philosophy on travel is that there are so many valuable learning opportunities, although school is very important, these are experiences that cannot be replicated in the classroom. The following are examples of how our family turns outside experiences into invaluable learning opportunities.
Journal. Each of our kids, ranging from ages 5 to 13, has a Travel Journal. They only write in it when we are away from home. We have them journal almost every day that we are traveling, whether it’s a weekend hiking and playing in the sand at our nearby beach or on the other side of the country. Sometimes it is to wind down in the evening, or for our early risers, it is something to pass the time quietly until the others wake up. They write about their adventures of the day, or sometimes we have a topic such as, “Write about three differences you noticed between here and home.” The best part is when they look back at all the places they have been and what stood out from the day. It usually sparks lots of fun memories and laughter.
Money. One of the greatest experiences our kids participate in is travel budgeting. They typically get money for their birthdays or Christmas or other holidays. We also make a point to allow them to earn extra money for jobs at home before we leave, all of which they save for their trip. At times, we share our opinions regarding what they want to purchase, but it's their money. It is so rewarding, as a parent, to watch your child decide if a purchase is worth spending their money on rather than hear them whine and beg for something. We've allowed our daughter to take home a pink camel with “Dubai” embroidered on its rump, as well as assisted our son at The LEGO Store on 5th Avenue in NYC compare prices on Amazon. When their money is gone, that's the end, and it's never been an issue.
One other thing we like to do in regard to international currency is make it simple by rounding the exchange rate and having our kids practice figuring costs in their head. Coins and bills from different places are always fun to keep; we have quite a collection and memories that go along with each one.
Research a Location. There are times when our trips include several stops. In this case, as a family we look at the route and allow input from our kids as to the stops. We have them choose a place they are particularly interested in to research and teach the rest of the family about. These places have included Hershey, PA; The Liberty Bell; Gettysburg; Boston, MA; Louisville, KY; and more. We are headed to Hawaii in a couple weeks, and each of our kids is reading, or being read What is Pearl Harbor? by Patricia Brennan Demuth for a quick history lesson before we visit.
Navigating the Airport. There are many arrival/departure screens, schedules, charts, maps, and signs to decode and follow getting from gate to gate. We take the time to explain these to our kids and allow them to navigate, when we are not SPRINTING to avoid missing our next flight. I remember one time in particular when this especially came in handy. My husband was in Dubai, and we had three kids at the time. The four of us were on our way to join him; I put my oldest in front so I could corral from the back and said, “Lead us, Buddy!” In an airport that was not our home, he took us from one gate to the tram, off the tram at the correct stop and led us to our connecting flight. He was in 3rd grade.
Cultural Differences. When we are on vacation, we love staying in nice places with beautiful scenery, lots of swimming pools and entertainment close by. We definitely make a point to see the local spots. We not only eat local food, we go to local markets, visit neighborhoods, and try to get a full picture of different ways people live. We meet people, ask questions and try and get a better understanding of life in their culture. As a family, we talk about similarities and differences of what we see and what we are used to. Our kids have seen interesting animals being butchered, bacon hanging out on a line next to the laundry, spice markets, pet markets, beautiful parks, and so much more. These real world experiences are so much more than what they would see in pictures or read about in a textbook.
School attendance is very important to us, but there is a time and a place to take learning outside the classroom. These are only a few ideas of how to explore and learn about the world we live in. We pray that we are instilling in our kids a love of people, learning, and travel.