Little Explorers
Friday, July 06, 2012

A parent’s guide to taking a summer travel adventure without leaving home


“Did you go anywhere over the summer?” That is the question heard in school hallways and cafeterias at the start of every new school year. While the standard answers of “I visited my grandparents” or “I went to summer camp” circulate, imagine if your child excitedly responded: “I explored the Australian Outback, designed traditional tango dresses in Argentina and learned the art of Irish dance in Ireland!” Better yet, imagine if your child learned all of this without having to go on an expensive and time-consuming international trip.

Summer is often associated with learning loss, and parents also express difficulty finding productive activities for their children to do during the summer months. So, rather than allow this break from learning, turn this time into a learning opportunity to broaden your child’s global mindset. Utilise the summer to immerse kids in cultural, educational activities at home without the pressure of grades or busy after-school activities. Whether toddlers, teens or somewhere in between, you don’t have to trot the globe to open their minds and imaginations to the world outside.

“Exposing kids to different regions, traditions and wildlife around the world is so important because children hold the future of our planet in their hands,” says Mireya Mayor, a mother of four and an explorer and wildlife correspondent for National Geographic.

“As a mom, I want to encourage children to respect different cultures, love the planet and protect its wonderful attributes so it can be enjoyed for many generations to come, and the only way to love something is to know it.”

Making learning fun and exciting is the best way to inspire kids and teach them to appreciate all the world has to offer, recommends Mayor. Here are several easy tips for parents to “travel the world” from home with their families:

1. Incorporate travel into playtime

Travel-themed toys and games are a great way to pique kids’ interests in different regions around the world. One example is to get kids a Dolls of the World collection. With dolls from Ireland, China, Argentina, Australia, India, Mexico, Chile and Holland, kids can be easily transported to almost every part of the world. And while they are having fun and enjoying playtime, they are also learning about each distinct destination.

2. Host a family ‘international dinner’ night

Take your family out to a restaurant that serves food from a different country or consider preparing traditional dishes from other countries one night a month — selecting a new country each time. Have each member of the family read a note card to share a ‘fun fact’ about the region and translate a word from the local language. You can also make this into a game for your kids. Give each child an opportunity to select a country, and prepare a meal representative of the culture. Whether it’s Indian, Mexican, Japanese or German, you can learn a lot about a culture from its food.

3. Tell stories

In Mayor’s own book Pink Boots and a Machete, she shares stories of her adventures, scientific discovery and world travel. By sharing photos and mementos of their own personal travel stories — or inviting family and friends living in other countries to share stories from where they live — parents can expose their children to the idea of new places and spur an interest in experiencing everything the world has to offer. Show the kids you are interested in learning about the world too by trading traditions and cultures over family barbecues or get-togethers.

4. Map it out

Mayor suggests displaying a wall map or globe in the main living area of the home so that kids are continually exposed to world geography and that travel is a continued topic of conversation. Parents can mark places the family has visited, as well as places they want to visit. This will help kids understand that there are never-ending opportunities to learn and explore new places.

5. Explore a new language.

Consider learning a language together as a family through a community education course or a local cultural organisation. You can even download language instruction podcasts or MP3s from iTunes and other places on the Web. If your children are younger, you can start by learning some fun words, phrases or greetings.

6. Embrace international 

There are endless opportunities to learn about the world right at your fingertips — from watching an international news programme to downloading international music. Take advantage of days indoors to enjoy movies that are set in other countries. Search your TV listings for travel programmes. And of course, you and your kids can read books together about far-off places.

7. Invite a friend from another nationality for a stay over

Hosting someone who comes from a different country is a great way to broaden your children’s worldviews. This unique experience will not only give you an opportunity to introduce your children to new customs and cultures, but will challenge your kids to learn about, appreciate and share their own culture and traditions.

Summer is the perfect time to inspire your child and expose them to the world beyond their ‘backyard’. Just by having fun ‘travelling’ with your family, you will not only be combating detrimental learning loss but also creating long-lasting memories.

Learning about the cultures and people of the world begins at home. Whether it’s talking about world events, hosting a foreign friend, or just enjoying delicious new foods, by helping your kids develop broad worldviews, you’re also giving them a world of possibilities.

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