A learning expert shares her strategies for making your travel time with youngsters as fun and educational as possible.
My friend Suzann told me a story which illustrates many truths about traveling with children. When her now grown (and very successful) children were school age, she took them to the King Tut exhibit, then in Seattle. The magnificent displays were overshadowed by “This is soooo boring!” and “how much loooonger do we have to stay here?” Sound familiar? “I was just furious by the time we walked out, ” she said. “My viewing had been ruined, and I knew they hadn’t gotten anything out of it.”
Wrong, she learned later. “Do you know that the following year, almost every report and school project they chose had something to do with that King Tut exhibit.”
Many parents have had similar experiences, so it’s important to keep in mind some basic travel truths as you wander through quiet museum corridors or along mountain trails.
The Truths of Traveling Wise
Take this With You!
Travel Truth #1 — The whole world is your child’s classroom.
Travel Truth #2 — Traveling is one of the best ways to enhance your children’s education.
Travel Truth #3 — Children absorb far more information than we as parents realize (even when they’re complaining.)
Travel Truth # 4 — No child is too young to travel. You just need to be aware of age-appropriate destinations and expectations.
Travel Truth #5 — Traveling need not be exotic, expensive, far-flung or elaborate to engage young, inquisitive minds.
Here are a few educational travel tips that will make trip preparation more rewarding and enhance learning opportunities.
Encourage Language Arts: Vocabulary
Traveling is a great way to increase your child’s vocabulary. Make a list of new words and phrases your child might encounter on the trip. Include historical names, locations, animals, people and everyday words which might be unfamiliar. Have your child keep a list in her journal of new words and phrases that she learns. On the trip home, play games with her new vocabulary. What are some synonyms? Rhyming words? Take the longest word and see how many other words can be made from it.
Sharpen Geography Skills: Scavenger Hunt
What products come from the part of the country you will be visiting? Organize a household-product scavenger hunt. Your oatmeal may come from Chicago, your corn chips from Dallas, and your peanut butter from Boise. Check a map and note where products originate. Most travel guides offer information on area products and great factory tours. Also, if you’re visiting friends and relatives on your travels, your child can select a hospitality gift of a locally manufactured product or craft.
Promote Math & Organizational Skills: Trip Allowance
Encourage your child to manage some of his own money by giving him some discretionary spending money for the trip. In his travel journal, he can keep a personal expense log of his purchases and a running balance. Prior to the trip, he may want to earn some extra spending money above any allowance or discretionary money by performing household chores, or even by volunteering. The gift of time is an important value to teach, and when your child has an upcoming trip as an incentive, she might be more willing to pull some weeds or visit a nursing home with cookies.
Foster Creativity & Artistic Skills: Museums
Don’t hesitate to introduce even your youngest children to the fascinating world of art. Do keep in mind attention span and wiggle quotas, so you don’t end up frustrated by young children’s inability to focus and be quiet. In museums and galleries, you can play the scavenger-hunt game by selecting postcards from the gift shop, then allowing your child to clip them to a ring once he’s matched them to the original artwork. Or go on an “I spy” treasure hunt to see how many circles, squares, animals, foods or flowers he can find in the artwork. After his visit, encourage him to draw a self-portrait or imitate in his trip journal a favorite artist’s style.
Science & Observation Skills: Airports
Airports are a crossroads of language and culture. Organize a tour to the airport from your neighborhood before your trip to acquaint your child with the flying process. While you’re waiting for the plane to depart, watch planes land and speculate where they’ve come from and where they may be going. Be a people watcher and guess from their clothing styles where they may be from. Point out machines to haul and load baggage, fuel trucks, food and beverage trucks, and all the attendants on the ground wearing earphones and directing planes.
Language Arts, Geography, History: Travel Brochures
Your child can research a destination and use the information he’s discovered to “advertise” its high points. Encourage him to be creative and use advertising slogans he’s picked up from television and billboards. E.g. “Baby it’s cold up here” (Alaska) or “It’s a jungle out there” (Redwood National Forest).
All Academic Skills: Stay at Home!
Of course, learning doesn’t have to stop when you’re back home. You can cultivate young travelbugs with some ‘armchair traveling’. If you can’t leave home, take the world to you. And you can go as far as your imagination will take you, at the library, by time travel through your neighborhood, or through many other adventures. Seek out local tours, museums, orchards, historical homes, nature preserves, buildings, monuments, parks, pumpkin patches, and festivals. Check with your local chamber of commerce, bookstore, telephone book, or library for information about unusual local destinations. Encourage your children to scout around for local adventures and help plan the outing.
Whether you’re visiting Grandma’s, skiing down a mountain slope, riding the trolley through San Francisco, or simply strolling on a nature trail, remember that our children’s minds are full of wonder. Stand back and watch as our vast earth, with its billions of years of history, freshly unfolds before them. Today’s King Tut exhibit can transform into tomorrow’s research papers or careers, or at the very least, a great memory with a small corner of the world illuminated, and perhaps better understood.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.