Most of us think about travel when we want a vacation "get away" -- to relax and spend quality time together under a change of beautiful scenery. Traveling with small children, however, may feel like a daunting adventure to plunge into -- disrupting their routine, eating foreign food, and maneuvering the loud bustle of airports and train stations with their heavy curiosity and, of course, luggage. And as if someone's playing a cruel joke on us, we're somehow more tired afterwards than before we left home, needing a second vacation to recover.
Still, the benefits of family travel are numerous and present many opportunities for us to integrate a daily routine on the road while extending our children's education and learning "under a change of beautiful scenery."
If your vacation requires a trip to the grocery store when you arrive, ask the children to help you shop, seeking out familiar foods by examining the pictures. Are the packages the same, colorful or plain? What do they call their box of macaroni and cheese? In the produce section, do they spot anything different? Do locally grown fruits and vegetables taste different, and if so, why is that? At check out, take a moment to share the currency exchange and the difference of how it may take more "paper bills or coins" than back home because the differing values. A trip to the grocery store in a foreign country covers language, literacy, math, agriculture and even science, such as learning about the chemical change of produce that is imported or exported by comparing the color, taste and size to those we are accustomed at home.
Depending on the time of year, nature itself is a full day's lesson. When we took the kids to the Northeast last fall, they discovered a handful of different leaves and colors they haven't seen in the South. Why is that? From the soil to the state's climate, how do these differences impact results? Collect and press a sampling of the leaves into their journals, jotting down notes from what the children have observed during their walk or hike. Rolling hills versus flat plains? Overcast days or clear starry nights? Compare and contrast the natural landscape and weather of your visiting city to back home by having the children draw pictures.
Transportation is another great study that peaks preschoolers' interests because its something they can physically experience. When getting from point A to point B, forgo the rental car or taxi to get your family around a new city and instead consider a new mode of transport. Even within the US, there are various ways of travel that not all states offer, as well as abroad, overseas. From airplanes to cable cars, ferry boats to gondolas, railway trains to subways -- how are these all different or the same? Which was faster, scarier to ride... or the noisiest?
No matter where you're traveling with your children, learning abounds in new places when you take on the role of a roaming explorer, adventurer, scientist, and photojournalist. Take a moment to ask questions, make observations, and record findings as the experts do, such as reviewing maps along the way, collecting postcards and found objects from nature, and spending time with the locals. All of these help cultivate a much rounder and richer traveling experience, giving everyone a healthy dose of travel education... even if just sitting under a palm tree, vacationing...
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