We are all experiential learners.
As wonderful as it is to read about places and things that interest us, we need to experience those places and things. This allows us to learn and appreciate our world, and our own lives, in a deeper, more lasting, and more meaningful way.
In planning family travel with young children, the opportunities to open up their minds to new things, people, places and experiences are nearly limitless. The fact that you may be planning a trip together as a family is already significant. You’ve decided to take a break from your busy lives and spend quality time together doing activities that will bring joy to your lives and build family memories. Your children will never forget the time you’ve spent with them as parents – it’s priceless. So why not make the most of that time? These 8 trip planning tips for great educational family holidays will ensure your next family vacation is the best one ever.
1. Take a course on the language of your destination
Local school boards and community centres offer inexpensive language night courses every term. Native speakers from these countries often teach these courses. What better way to prepare to break down language and cultural barriers than by learning more about the place you’re going to visit, before you visit?
Some night-schools and community centres also offer cultural appreciation and cooking courses, specifically for those interested in learning more about the countries they plan to visit. These would also be a fun (and tasty) way to familiarize yourself with the customs and cuisines of your chosen destination. After all, you and your family will be eating a lot of food while you’re on holiday. You should know what you’re eating! Check out if you can find a cooking course that also caters to children. Many kids enjoy monkeying around in the kitchen. Put those hands to work!
2. Purchase foreign-language audio CDs or download Apps and listen to them in the car or at home
You and your children can listen to them and pick up the foreign language almost by osmosis. We did this before our trip to Italy. I turned on the CDs every day on the way to and from school, and the kids had fun listening and repeating the words. There are many foreign language CDs or Apps like Duolingo that are high-quality, conversational language instruction, perfect for travellers. Useful words and phrases, such as “Where is the train station?” or “How many Euros does it cost?” are far more relevant than “My pencil is yellow” or the various uses of the subjunctive tense in French verbs. When you’re researching possible foreign-language tools, be sure to check user reviews on their ease of use.
3. Visit your local Library or download travel programs highlighting your destination
There are many individual and travel companies that have made travel videos over the years. Rick Steves’ “Europe Through the Back Door” video series featuring many European countries are very good and fun to watch. National Geographic also has lots of video titles to choose from, focusing on the geography, flora and fauna of many parts of the world. If your kids like watching television, they’ll enjoy watching these shows with you. Everyone will get excited when you point out the things that you’ll be seeing on your trip.
4. Ask your Children’s Librarian for advice on kid-specific books that feature your intended destination
For example, the Madeline series and some Babar books are set in France. The Roman Mysteries series are set in the first century Roman port of Ostia. Harry Potter lives in London, England. Books about art, architecture and history are also fantastic to choose from. Tales of bloody Gladiators and warring Romans, of pirates or knights, or princesses and castles, or Greek myths. These are all interesting and educational about the place your family plans to visit. Read these books together during quiet times or before bed. Books and stories can be stepping stones for a child of any age to become interested in other places and be inspired by history and their own imagination.
5. If your library doesn’t have the books or videos you’ve asked for, visit your local travel or favourite bookstore or order them online
While you’re there, check out the various guidebooks for your chosen destination – there will be many, many books to choose from! We have found that no one book or series covers all of our various interests. You really have to determine what kind of information you may need on-site while travelling.
6. Choose and buy a good map
Our favourite maps for North America are from BCAA (car club), which is the same as AAA or CAA. You can get these free if you’re a member. Our favourite maps for Europe are Rough Guide maps. These maps are highly detailed, colourful and, even better, waterproof. They show Metro stops, transit routes, shopping, dining and tonnes of other useful information. Before your trip, you can lay the map on the floor or pin it to the wall so that your kids can examine it, pinpoint the places that they’d like to visit and highlight it on the map itself.
We also map out trip routes via Google Maps. However, if you’re abroad and with limited wifi or GPS capabilities, having a hard-copy map may save your bacon in the dead of night when electronic maps don’t load fast enough or at all.
7. Talk to friends and family who’ve visited your chosen destination
Word-of-mouth advice and tips from people you know and trust are the best possible travel information you can get. People are often happy to help. You may even get offers of specially-cooked meals in the cuisine of your destination. Or invitations to stay with the friends and relatives of your friends and relatives.
8. Pick a Trip Highlight
This is one of the most important things we plan for on all of our trips. As a family, sit down together around the kitchen table and discuss your trip with your kids. Pick one or two places or activities that will be the Trip Highlight of your journey; something that you can count down to and build excitement around. For example, for Paris it could be the Eiffel Tower (as it was with us) or the Louvre. For Rome, it could be the Coliseum, the Pantheon, or a Serie A Italian League soccer match (all three of them for my family!). It could be a special store for the shopper in your family, or a special beach for the surfer. It can be the go-karts, or ‘cuisse-tax’ on the Belgian beachfront. Anything that builds excitement with your children, that you read or talk about before you leave, will add a large measure of fun and anticipation for your trip as you prepare for it.
Photo Credit: C. Laroye
Do you look at travel as an opportunity to educate your kids about the world? Share your thoughts below.