Since we are a multicultural family with immediate relatives in France and Taiwan, our suitcases never gather dust. Our children, Sebastien, Alexandre, and Camille (ages 13, 11, and 3), have already amassed a wealth of travel experiences, such as tasting Belgian waffles in Antwerp, seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, viewing Hong Kong from the peak of the island, and climbing medieval castles in Carcasonne.
Besides instilling a spirit of adventure and a keen awareness of cultural differences in our children, we try to make our journeys educational for them. For example, when visiting an art museum, we pick out in advance paintings that the children will enjoy. Focusing on a handful of paintings makes the trip a treasure hunt, rather than an exhausting tour. If the children join in the research by consulting art books and viewing museum Web sites, so much the better.
However, imposing too much work on children can backfire. Instead, arm yourself with fascinating facts and, like a good storyteller, place the point of interest in its historical or cultural context right before the visit. Picking up informative pamphlets or purchasing books and postcards to refer to later can bring back the experience long afterward.
The best way to make travel educational for your children is to allow them ample opportunity to make their own connections. Here are some suggestions:
- Encourage them to chronicle their journeys with flight logs, travel journals, sketchbooks, photographs, and tape or video recordings.
- Acquaint them with travel resources, such as tourist information bureaus and kiosks, currency exchange counters, information counters, and concierge desks.
- Enlist their help in navigating. Emphasize the academic skills of decoding maps and transportation schedules while building your children’s confidence in their street sense.
- Allow them to take charge of an excursion for half a day. Give them a budget and time limit, and let them experience the thrill of guiding the family’s exploration themselves.
- Strike up conversations with local residents to demonstrate social etiquette and the art of conversation to your children.
- Avoid getting caught up in scripting experiences for them. Provide the opportunities and then share in the simple delight of what they discover.
We remind our children often that they are privileged to be able to travel, especially at their age. With that privilege comes the responsibility of increasing their level of understanding. While guiding my children, I have become more aware of my own biases and prejudgments. With each new journey, I look forward to witnessing the joy of discovery in my children’s eyes as much as I look forward to learning something new myself.
I hope that some of these suggestions prove useful to you on your next family vacation. Bon voyage!
Alice Hsy holds a master’s degree in education from Loyola College in Baltimore and is an Association Montessori Internationale trained teacher. She currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she is relishing her role as full-time mother.