GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN YOU TRAVEL!
Research shows travel has a positive impact on mental and physical health, as well as family connections.
Travel is also an educational opportunity. The way children learn while travelling is very similar to what educational researchers call play-based learning. Play-based learning and travel stimulate children’s minds by boosting their creativity and imagination and can help with language, literacy and social development.To officially launch our new “Bon Voyage” travel-themed educational resource line, we had the pleasure of interviewing three “traveling” families. Introducing France, the creator of the “Small Family Big Adventure” Travel Blog from Ontario, Tamara from British Columbia and Meghan, also from Ontario. These three families love to travel and we’ve interviewed them to find out how they feel traveling has a positive impact on their children. Happy reading!
Q: Do your children like to travel?
France: Yes! My children love travelling. Be it hitting the road to visit family and friends a few hours away or getting on an international flight, the kids always get excited at the thought of going on an adventure with mom and dad. I know this won’t last forever so I am cherishing it. They are excited for us to be able to get on a plane and explore new countries again once the pandemic restrictions are such that we can do so safely. In the meantime, we have been able to appease their -and our (the parents)- desire to travel by planning day trips to local hot spots and hidden gems that we had been meaning to check out close to home.
Meghan: Brady and I both travelled extensively before having children and there was no doubt when we met and starting planning a life together, that we would continue to travel even when we started a family. Many people feel that once you have children, travel is no longer a priority or that it does not make sense to take kids on vacation who will just need to ‘nap throughout the day or annoy everyone on the plane or in the customs line with a crying child’. These are the realities of travelling with children, however, these realities were not going to stop us from pursuing our passion and instilling that passion in our children. The richness that travel has brought to our lives is invaluable. We often ask our children where they want to travel to next. Recently, a thunderstorm knocked the power out for a number of hours and we laid in bed with flashlights and each turn our turn talking about where in the World we will travel to next when the pandemic ends. Nora (7 years old) says she wants to spend Christmas in New York. Hudson (8 years old) wants to see the limestone cliffs and turquoise waters of Asia and visit Stonehenge in England! To say our kids like travelling would be an understatement. When we have a trip planned, the kids mark our departure date on their calendars and the countdown sometimes starts in the 200’s.
Q: Where is the coolest place you have traveled as a family?
France: This is a difficult question to answer so I asked the kids. My daughter yelled “Costa Rica because of the beach” and my son said “the Audubon Aquarium of the Americans” in New Orleans because he got to see sharks”. If you ask me, I’d say it was when we did a workaway experience with the most kind, generous, hardworking and interesting family at Les Gites de la Touche, in Brittany, France. We had the opportunity to help a local family with renovations to their 250 year old barn and in return they provided us with accommodations, food and a true cultural experience. When we weren’t working on the property, we were visiting the many attractions in the region including the historic port city of Saint-Malo, the most picturesque little town of Dinan, the famous Mont Saint-Michel monastery, the stunning coastal views from Fort La Latte and Cap Frehel and the vibrant capital city of Rennes. This was an experience that the entire family will forever remember, and we hope to return to visit our new friends again someday.
Meghan: As we mentioned, we have travelled extensively before having children and we did not hestitate to continue once discovering we were pregnant with our first born. While travelling pregnant can be riskier, we have always done our research about local health care and spoken with our health care providers here in Canada to ensure we were taking all risks into consideration. When 4 months pregnant for Hudson, I (Meghan), as a registered nurse organized and lead a group of 12 local university nursing students to volunteer in the Masaii villages of Tanzania for 4 weeks where we spent our days performing practical nursing, health promotion and health teaching. We ended our trip with a wonderful safari through the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater. While Hudson was clearly not alive to see the safari animals or Serengeti sunsets, he reflects on the many photographs of him in utero only a few feet from hippos. He claims to this day it was his coolest trip yet! We talk often about going back to Africa as a family to volunteer at a local school and go on safari with some of the local guides with whom I (Meghan) continues to have a relationship with from her first trip to the continent in 2012. As a family, we all agree that our coolest holiday yet was travelling back to Dubai with Hudson and Nora to visit family and friends after having lived there for a year in 2008 when Brady secured a teaching contract at an International school. Dubai has been a favourite because it was the most ‘different’ from our culture and religion at home here in Canada. Hudson was mesmerized by the tall buildings, vast deserts and the call to prayer which resulted in many people dropping down to the floor to pray to Allah many times per day- no matter whether we were in a mall or on the streets. Nora was admired dearly by the local Arab men for her fair hair and blue eyes- a rarity in the Arabic population.
Q: How many countries has your family been to since you started traveling as a family?
France: We have been very privileged, and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to visit approximately 17 countries to date as a family. We started travelling internationally when our oldest, William, was 6 months old. Our kids are now 5 and 7 years old. Cruises are a great option when travelling with young kids and have allowed us to visit many different countries. However, it was in 2019 when we decided to take a break from our regular lives to travel as a family for half the year, that we had the opportunity to visit many counties. It wasn’t long after we returned home that the world shut down, as such we haven’t left Canada since Feb 2020.
Tamara: Seven (7)
Meghan: While we have travelled to close to 20 countries individually, we have travelled to 6 different countries as a family ranging from your traditional beach holiday in Mexico or Cuba to a 2 week adventure holiday to Costa Rica and adventure and culture trip to Dubai. When the pandemic ends, we are eager to get back out into the World and visit some places including South Africa to stay with friends who own an AirBnb, backpack Thailand again but this time with children, and explore the Ring Rd of Iceland in a campervan.
Q: Do you view traveling as an educational opportunity? Please explain.
France: Absolutely. Travel is an opportunity to show your children the world, different cultures and languages. It teaches them that although people may look different or speak a different language, we are all the same. It also teaches them that the world is kind and safe, regardless of what they see on the news. Travel ignites imagination. When they have to leave all their favourite toys behind, they inevitably have to find creative ways to entertain themselves. On our 6-month long trip, we took only carry-on luggage, there was limited space for toys. When playing with kids that can’t speak their language, they have to find creative ways to communicate.Tamara: Yes. Our kids love learning about the different cultures and languages of the countries we visit.
Meghan: Absolutely. Observing first hand and becoming immersed in culture, language, and authentic local experiences has provided a number of incidental learning opportunities for our children. Not only does travel offer very concrete learning opportunities such as sampling staple foods in Kingston Jamaica or visiting a Mosque in Abu Dhabi, travel also inspires extensive personal growth. From the moment we step off that plane into a new country, the smell of the unique air and sounds of the foreign words being spoken by the locals stimulates a sense of unfamiliarity that forces us out of our comfort zone.
Q: What learning benefits do you think your children gain from traveling?
France: Travel provides kids with lots of opportunities to try something new, develop new abilities and skills. Trying new things, exploring new places, stimulates the mind. The enriched environment that stems from visiting new places, new sounds, new smells, regardless of the distance travelled, can positively enhance child development by training the brain to create new ways to look at the world. Each trip has so many teaching moments. When kids try new things, do new things, and learn new things it has an impact on their confidence and self-esteem.
Tamara: I think the main benefit they come out of travelling with is seeing how different peoples cultures and lives are. For them to see how big our world is and how many opportunities there are in every part of the world.
Q: What unexpected things has traveling as a family brought you?
France: The ability to hit the road on a whim and with it, the inability to stay put for a weekend. Our suitcases are almost always within reach and we seem to be constantly packing and unpacking. COVID has definitively put a pause on our many of our plans the past 15 months and it hasn’t been easy to transition from always being on the go to staying put. That said, a big part of why we love to travel was that it prioritizes family time. Is there anything else the kids want more than family time with those they love most? So at the risk of sounding cheesy, it really doesn’t matter where you are, the most important thing is who you are with. You can benefit from quality family time on a fancy family vacation as well as at home, in lockdown, during a pandemic. Travelling abroad has also given us a strong desire to explore and learn more about our own beautiful country of Canada. We recently spend 1 month travelling the East coast of Canada and have plans to explore the West coast as soon as we can!
Tamara: I think we have learned to work as a family and lean on each other more when we are in a new place.
Meghan: With the ease of technology and access to various sources of media today, we can often end up with a narrow perception of a country or region. As a result, families, particularly with children, may not travel to some areas. While we are always cautious and calculated in our planning and awareness of a country’s potential threats, we have been very surprised by how genuine and friendly the local people are no matter where we go. Travelling as a family with our children has been a reminder that no matter a country’s reputation, the majority of the World is filled with wonderful people!
Q: How do you think traveling with kids can help them later in life?
France: I think the biggest benefit from traveling at a young age is building resilience in kids – a life skill they will take with them into adulthood. It teaches them to be adaptable and flexible. Travel increases their tolerance for discomfort and develops an ability to “bounce back” from change or challenging events. Our kids can sleep in planes or chairs any time of the day. Changing time zones multiple times within a few months did not affect them as much as I had imagined it would. Travel encourages kids to try new things, knowing they may only have one opportunity or one option. Our kids will try new foods -even if just once, and they will make friends anywhere!
Tamara: It’s easy to get stuck in a comfortable bubble at home. Seeing the world at a young age will help them understand more possibilities of where life can take them.
Meghan: Travelling with our kids has broadened their worldview, taught them to be more adaptive or versatile and more comfortable with unfamiliarity. The World is becoming more diverse and travelling with our children has offered them many opportunities to learn about various cultures and religions which we feel will help them as they grow and mature in their pursuit of post-secondary and career endeavours.
Q: Realistically, what impact does traveling have on your kids? Socially, mentally and perhaps physically? Are there negative results in terms of being unsettled or having difficulty integrating into a new environment? Are there any common concerns or issues in that area?
France: I’ve spoken above about some of the social and mental benefits of travelling for kids such as building resilience and developing social skills. It’s true what they say, kids are more adaptable than adults. Because we started traveling when the kids were so young, I have never felt that they had trouble integrating into a new environment. From my experience, myself and my husband have, at times had a harder time adapting to change. I think the key is to set realistic expectations when traveling, remaining flexible and involving the kids in planning as much as possible. Plan activities that they prefer and make sure there is down time. That said, travelling with kids is certainly not always easy. They miss their family and friends at times. There are definitively challenging moments. I can vividly remember one of the most challenging moments of our travels. We were on a red eye flight to the U.K. We landed at around 4am Ottawa time and I had to wake up my son William who was 3 years old at the time from a deep sleep, to disembark the plane. My husband took our 2-year-old and walked off the plane as I tried to convince William to follow me with my luggage. He woke up screaming, seemingly experiencing a full-blown night terror, refusing to move for what felt like an eternity. The entire flight disembarked, and the staff patiently waited for me to get my child and carry-on luggage off the plane. We then had a 4-hour train ride ahead before we arrived at our accommodation. We made it though and had a wonderful vacation but that first day was simply exhausting.
Tamara: Our younger daughter definitely thrives on routine. So sometimes it can be hard when we are travelling with the jet lag and just missing the comforts of home. Overall though the more we travel the easier it gets and the more it becomes part of our routine.
Meghan: There are some notable impacts on children as they travel. Probably the biggest challenge for us has been adjusting to jet lag, particularly when travelling to a country with a significant time difference. On the first day back to school upon our return from our March break trip to Dubai, our son fell asleep in class during reading time. Fortunately, his teacher was understanding and informed us that she used it as an opportunity to pull out a map and explain to the class where Hudson had been and how time zones work. Jet lag can also alter plans of early morning excursions if our kids did not sleep particularly well the night before. Conversely, for our family the benefits of travel outweigh some of these minor challenges. Spending our days exploring the streets and visiting the local shops and restaurants of a country has proven to offer a lot of unstructured physical activity. While in Costa Rica, we practically walked everywhere and spent any down time swimming or learning to surf. The kids were so caught up in the newness of the place and the fun we were having that they were not even aware they had likely taken 10,000 steps by noon!
Q: What is the optimal age to start traveling with kids? For instance, do babies fare better than teenagers? Should you start from an early age? Please note at what age you started traveling with your children.
France: I don’t believe there is a one particular age that is best to start traveling with kids. It all depends on your comfort level. There are advantages and disadvantages to traveling with a 3 month old who can sleep in your arms the entire flight but may wake up with stomach cramps and cry for the entire time, versus traveling with a 3 year old who sleeps their nights but can’t sit still for more than 15 minutes. We started traveling as a family when William, our oldest, was 6 months old. Amelie, our youngest, was 3 months old when she first got on an international flight. We chose to travel with the kids when they were very young both for their benefit, as well as ours, as parents. We always loved traveling as adults and having a family wasn’t going to stop us from continuing to explore new places. In the end, being able to travel is a privilege. I think that if parents have an opportunity to travel with kids when they are under 5, take it. Even though they may not remember, those early experiences in the first 5 years of life a critical to their development. There are many things that parents can do to help in their child’s growth and development and traveling can be one of them! As for travelling with teenagers, we’ve not lived this yet so stay tuned!
Tamara: Our first international flight was when our youngest daughter was 3 and our older one was 4. We waited until I knew they could somewhat understand what they needed to do and rules to follow to sit on a plane for hours.
Meghan: That’s a great question and the answer may vary from family to family! However, we have travelled while pregnant, with a newborn and toddler, and every single year since. Each stage clearly presents its own benefits and challenges. Travelling to Cuba with Nora at 8 weeks old proved to be very easy. We were able to wear her in a wrap on us most of the time including during the flight and to dinner. She was strictly breastfeeding so feeding was easy and prevented any worries regarding water quality. She spent most afternoons under a palapa out of the sun having her nap while we took turns cooling off in the pool. At 9 months, Hudson was alert and active and we were able to wear him in a backpack carrier through hikes in the rainforest and tours of the volcanic hotsprings in Costa Rica. He even learned to crawl on the sandy beaches of Tamarindo! Now our children are school age and it has been rewarding to watch them observe and express what they see with more clarity.
Q: What is the best way to handle schooling if you are constantly traveling?
France: Our kids had not yet started grade 1 when we traveled prior to the pandemic, therefore I was not overly concerned with them missing school at that age. I was confident that traveling would provide them with learning opportunities every day. We did bring along some workbooks for the kids and spent lots of time reading books together. We made an effort to read about the places we were visiting. Most of the day trips we took were educational in nature.
Tamara: All our girls teachers have been very supportive of us travelling. We have a tutor the girls work with when we are home to make sure they have extra support. Also online apps make it easy and fun for the girls to keep up and on track as much as possible.
Meghan: Cannot comment- have not engaged in constant travel (even though we would love to).
Q: Do you have reservations about taking your kids out of school to travel?
France: As our kids get older, I think schooling will become more of a consideration for us. However, if there is something the pandemic has tough us is that virtual schooling can work, if needed. There is a possibility that virtual learning remains an option for kids going forward, which would make traveling during the school year much easier.
Tamara: So far it hasn’t been an issue. Both our kids like school and understand that if they didn’t keep up with their school work we couldn’t go away.
Meghan: Not for a second. We truly believe our children have become such outgoing and well rounded children partly because of the experiences they have had through travel. While our jobs have not allowed us to travel for extended periods or live nomadically where we have had to balance travel and school, we have never hesitated taking our kids out of school for a real life, valuable experience. The children have been able to integrate their in-class learning with their travel experiences, often bringing in photos or souvenirs for show and tell. Balance is key!
Q: The way children learn while traveling is very similar to what educational researchers call “play-based learning”. Play-based learning and travel stimulate children’s minds by boosting their creativity and imagination and can help with language, literacy and social development. Do you agree or disagree? Please explain.
France: I agree! Learning extends beyond the four walls of a classroom. I think the dept of the learning depends on the type and length of travel, and the level in which the children are immersed in the culture of the country they are visiting. We try our best to incorporate intentional learning activities in our travels. We learnt and practiced common phrases in Spanish prior to visiting Costa Rica for two months. While there, we tried to apply what we learnt in restaurants and stores. To this day, the children still say they can speak English, French and Spanish, even though their vocabulary in Spanish is very limited. We made it a point to visit a local school and a music festival in Costa Rica. In France and Portugal we stayed with local families in order to learn more about the culture and lifestyle in these countries. William was able to ask our hosts’ endless questions about their country and way of life. We regularly encourage the kids to pause and reflect on their travels. We often ask the kids, what they liked most, what they like least, what they learnt. At home, we often talk about the places we’ve visited and things we’ve seen.
Tamara: I fully agree. The things they see and experience is obviously a lot more impactful that seeing photos in a book or on tv.
Meghan: We agree wholeheartedly. There is so much more to learn from immersion and interaction within another culture and foreign destination than any text book can offer. With so much emphasis on experiential learning in our society, travel is an excellent way for our children to take an active role in their educational development.
Q: Do you have any advice for other families thinking about traveling with kids?
France: 1. You need less stuff than you think. Don’t overthink it! 2. Kids can do more than we give them credit for and are very adaptable. 3. Young kids may not remember every vacation, but don’t just do it for the memories. Travelling is about the experience, the education, the adventure.
Tamara: Take the risks. It can be hard and stressful at times but it’s always worth it!
Meghan: Do not let people talk you out of travelling with children. Many people will say “why are you wasting your money to travel with kids? They won’t remember the trip anyway.” This could not be any less true. While our kids may never remember the colourful cars and history lessons in Cuba, being a toddler hiking rainforests in Costa Rica or riding the fast train with local Arabs, these types of experiences all contribute significantly to their learning and personal growth. They have a direct, positive impact on their future and will play an active role in shaping who they become as adults- and that is priceless!
|About our “Bon Voyage” Travel-Themed Educational Resource Line
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