Travel is a force for good: it broadens our mind, develops cultural empathy and gives us a better understanding of the world. We travel with our children because we believe these experiences not only improve their social skills but are key to helping them become decent global citizens.
There’s more to it than that, though. Have you ever stopped to think about the practical skills they learn while exploring the world? Here are eight ways travel really is the best teacher for kids.
Lesson one: prioritise and pack like a pro
Sometimes it’s hard to judge what is a necessity and what is a luxury. Taking responsibility for your own luggage early in life teaches you what you can survive without, and how this varies for different trips. Brilliantly, once this skill is mastered it can be applied to school bags, sleepover kits and backpacks for day trips – freeing up time for the adults too.
Tip for teacher’s pets: avoid essentials dropping off the list by sitting with your kids while they create (write or draw) their packing list and then give the whole family plenty of time to assemble said items. Rush this job and repent at leisure on the road.
Lesson two: get from A to B, technology free
With sat navs and busy lives, often we don’t have the time or need to teach our children how to read maps. A trip can be a great opportunity to develop this key skill which involves carefully tuning in to your surroundings (‘what does that road sign say? Is that a park over there?’) as well as deciphering keys (‘this path is yellow!’).
Back home their improved sense of direction and finely honed route-finding skills might even mean your battered old road atlas gets a second lease of life while the electronics get mothballed.
Tip for teacher’s pets: start small by asking children to get you to somewhere only a few hundred yards away, and remember that taking a wrong turn is the best lesson in map-reading.
Lesson three: master the haggle
Understanding why people bargain, that it happens in some places and not others, and knowing how to do it both successfully and respectfully is a pretty tall order. Let’s face it, we all know adults who haven’t mastered this one. So it’s worth discussing haggling before you travel.
This kind of negotiation is important as it hones diplomacy and cultural empathy as well as creating an awareness of basic economics. Let’s not forget, being able to get what you want without leaving everyone feeling cheated is a useful skill to have.
Tip for teacher’s pets: turn ‘haggle practice’ into a fun game with role-play, poker faces and a bit of dressing up – then get the kids to try it for real at a market. You never know, their youthful charm might work in your favour.
Lesson four: money matters
What better way to demonstrate the real-life importance of classroom maths than being able to understand and use a foreign currency? Exchanging money builds knowledge of how things are valued and tests your times tables. And using coins and notes which are different from the familiar helps master handling money at home.
Tip for teacher’s pets: keep up with pocket money while away, but convert it into your local currency. Let bigger children figure out themselves what they can buy; smaller children can have fun playing with different coins.
Lesson five: learn the lingo
Another way to show children the benefit of a skill acquired at school is to take them somewhere with a different native tongue. Within minutes of arriving, children learn that being able to communicate in someone else’s language makes life much easier. It can be as simple as being able to say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
If languages aren’t your forte, the kids will also see what happens when verbal communication isn’t working... and learn how signing and body language can be used to overcome these barriers.
Tip for teacher’s pets: teach your children some basic phrases a month before you go – like ‘hello, four ice-creams please’ – then get them to practise on a local.
Lesson six: taste the difference
Most people would agree that an appreciation of food and an enjoyment of mealtimes creates a healthy and balanced approach to life. When we travel we explore new tastes, see different cooking techniques and learn how other cultures eat together. Then we come home and resolve to spend more time around the dining room table recreating what we experienced.
Children learn not only to push their own boundaries by trying new things but also that old habits can be easily changed and travel is great inspiration to do so.
Tip for teacher’s pets: prepare your picky eater by explaining what will be different and what will be the same, and agree a rule of ‘try one new thing every day’.
Lesson seven: have no regrets
Decision-making and the ability to accept you made the right decision at the time (even if it turns out with hindsight to be wrong) are key skills. Travelling is one long exercise in executing a plan: you get advice, read recommendations, talk it through, make a decision, go do it.
Children learn by example and seeing the adults in their life approach decisions by both assessing the risk and being prepared to push themselves out of their comfort zones is a great lesson. Watch as everyday issues such as who to play with or when to do their homework become carefully thought through.
Tip for teacher’s pets: give the children a specific area of the trip to research and ask them to give you their recommendation along with the pros and cons.
Lesson eight: how to live with boredom
Exploring new places generally tends to come hand in hand with long periods of time spent waiting or travelling. The more they travel the more kids learn how to deal with boredom in a public space. You can teach them through role-modelling (how do you personally handle a long journey?) and engaging them in games or conversations which often take on a life on their own. Before you know it, you have self-reliant children repeating back to you the mantra ‘boring is only in your head’.
Tip for teacher’s pets: work together to create and then rank a family list of ten ways to pass the time without music, books or any technology (paper and pens are allowed).
Why not test out your new skills on a family city trip? Download our free ebook, 25 City Adventures for Families, for inspiration!