Published on December 25th, 2012 | by Charu Suri1
How Parents Around the World Are Using Travel as Education
“Travel is good for younger children to pick up what I call spatial geography,” says Ali Alami, who has taken his two and a half year old son to Hawaii, Chicago, New York, Thailand and Mexico among other places.
This concept of distances is one of the most concrete ways in which travel serves as an educational tool to children who may not necessarily understand this abstract concept: a mile on paper would not necessarily translate to a mile that’s driven or walked. The idea of how long it’s going to take, not necessarily in hours but ‘leave in the morning and arrive at lunch, or leave in the morning and arrive at dark’ concept is what kids pick up when travel is used for education, he adds.
Parents all over the world are using travel not simply as recreational experiences to give their children flexibility and familiarization with various customs, but as a concrete learning tool, treating travel as part of their curriculum. The idea of Thailand being too far to walk doesn’t resonate as well with kids until you show them how far you’ve traveled, both on the map and in person. “Also after the trip we do review videos/photos and talk about them often, especially to draw examples of his experience when reviewing books.” says Alami. He offers another good example: for a while his son thought the trees on hills were just taller than the surrounding trees and land was flat. It was great to go on a road trip leading to a hike where his kid saw the hill in front of him on the drive then got to hike up it (with the parents carrying him up). Alami’s kid realized the land sloped and most the trees were the same height. Currently, Alami runs a service called KidScore, which gives parents a concrete score on kid-friendly amenities in local restaurants and hotels.
Petulia Melideo of Context Travel offers walking tours specifically designed for families traveling with children under 12. The program is not just your average “look at this landmark” walking tour, but designed in collaboration with our scholars and museum educators, uses techniques like VTS and Inquiry-Based Learning. We also use additional tools, like maps, drawing pads, and custom made “memory cards” she says.
In Paris, where mothers nursing in public places and the convenience of changing tables are still rare, Pamela Balague developed the first smartphone application for parents in Paris with kids aged 0-12, called Paris for Parents (the app will be available online shortly). The application presents 2600 geolocated sites, 600 activites, and 12 walk itineraries to (re)discover Paris as a family. “Through my research I’ve noticed a number of trends that are helping parents enjoy the city of lights, one I find particularly helpful with my own kids is the new baby-friendly concept stores popping up around the city,” she says. Balagua’s application features several such places, and all combine a café, boutique, play area, educational/artistic workshops, and a place for parents to be parents with their kids.
Branham’s kids at an airport
Travel helps form great new memory connections, and is something that is so impressionable at such a young age. Jeremy Branham of Budget Travel Adventures talks about his two little boys at home, and how this year he’s been traveling all over the country (and Ireland) to watch college football games for my travel series. Every time he visits a place, he tells his boys where he is going and show the place on the map. “While they are too young to go with me, they are being exposed to destinations, photos, and football from all over the country.” Recently, the boys found a suitcase in the closet and started packing. They told Branham they were going on vacation. When he asked them where they are doing, they replied “a football game.”
Erika in Hawai’i The Big Island, her first trip at age five months, which taught her flexibility and adapting to various time zones
As for Erika, who went on her first big trip at age five months to The Big Island, Hawai’i, traveling taught her great flexibility. Previously, she was used to walks and being shown the differences in rooms and getting to know tangible objects like the crib, which she knows is now explicitly used for sleeping or playing. Being in a plane and visiting an island and even looking at volcanoes, waterfalls and other natural surroundings made her appreciate other surroundings and adjust to various time zones.
A student on a trip to Peru, with Adios Adventure Travel
Jacqui Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel, organizes tours to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca & Galapagos for families and small groups, some of which she personally escorts. “Traveling with kids is very different than traveling with adults: children are like unwritten books,” she says. One of the hallmarks of these tours is the service projects. “We can always find a little project to get involved with.” Adios has had kids who camped out in rural villages while we built stoves, planted community gardens or delivered gently-used backpacks to children who walk to school, sometimes up to two hours each way.
She adds, “Traveling is one way to connect with students outside the classroom and challenge their world views or think about ways to solve problems.”