Planning a family break for 2017? Bristol author and teacher trainer Sue Cowley – whose new book focuses on the concept of ‘eduvacating’ – offers a few tips on how best to continue children’s learning on the road
When you are making holiday plans, it is tempting to imagine your family flopping on a beach somewhere warm, and doing nothing for a week or two. While this kind of travel experience can be relaxing and beneficial, a holiday is also a great time for you and your children to experience some unexpected learning opportunities. In my book, Road School, I describe what happened when we took our children out of school and spent six months learning – or eduvacating – with them on the road.
We learnt about volcanoes first-hand in Italy, by climbing Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius, and visiting the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. We had the chance to explore the history of China by seeing the Terracotta Army and climbing along the Great Wall of China. We got to learn about the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci, by visiting his birthplace and seeing his masterpieces The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa ‘in the flesh’. But even if you can’t commit to a long-term learning adventure like we did, you and your children can still learn plenty in the much shorter timescale of an annual family holiday.
Travel is great for helping children build their independence and resilience. It helps them learn how to cope with change and with different cultural experiences. During our trip, our kids were able to try a taste of snake, witness a dazzling Chinese drum performance and bargain for their own souvenirs in a foreign currency. Depending on your destination, your children might be learning a new sport, seeing amazing cultural sights, or exploring a new and challenging landscape. They could be learning more about the history of the places you are visiting, or trying out a few words in a different language.
Whether you’re travelling within the UK, or going somewhere much further afield on your holidays, there are all sorts of fresh and exciting learning opportunities on offer beyond the classroom walls. Here are a few top travel tips to bear in mind…
Eduvacating: what to do
• Encourage your children to take control of their own holiday experience. Let them choose their own suitcase, and get them involved in packing and unpacking it for your journey. Even quite small children will love getting involved with this.
• Show your children where you are going in an atlas, and preferably on a globe as well. A holiday is a great opportunity to help them to put countries into context in terms of the wider geography of the world.
• Get your children a wallet and give them a small amount of holiday spending money, so that they can make their own purchases while you are away. This will help them learn their first small lessons about budgeting and sensible spending.
• Take some books with you related to the places that you are going, to read together while you are away. You might read about the history, the geography, the culture or the science behind your experiences. The Dorling Kindersley range of non-fiction titles are great for children of all ages.
• Keep souvenirs as you travel around, to remind you of the places you went and what you learned when you get home. Children love to keep mementos like tickets, leaflets and coins, and to collect random objects like shells, birds’ feathers and pebbles. You might stick these into a holiday diary, or keep them in a special box, when you get home.
• Encourage your children to try a little bit of a new language, by asking them to buy their own ice creams or snacks, and teaching them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as well. We found that there is little more motivating than the desire for an ice cream, to encourage your children to speak a few words in a new tongue.
• Remember that many museums are free or reduced price for children, and some countries also have special ‘free days’ when you can visit cultural attractions. For instance, there is free entry to Italian state museums on the first Sunday of every month.
Eduvacating: what not to do
• Don’t expect your travels to be entirely stress-free. Part of the joy of travelling is in how it helps your children learn to cope when things don’t go entirely to plan.
• Don’t do all the decision making by yourself. Involve your children in planning your holiday adventures – where do they want to go and what are they interested in learning about while they are there? This helps to avoid complaints of “do we really have to?” when you are out and about on your holidays.
• Although your parenting style will inevitably be more relaxed while you’re on holiday, it is best to avoid completely abandoning all your usual routines. This helps give your children a sense of security and it also reminds them that it is your holiday as well as theirs! For instance, you could ask that they still help lay and clear the table, or dry up the dishes.
• Don’t force the issue when it comes to your children trying new types of food. Children experience the sensory aspects of their world in a heightened way, and they may not have as much of a desire to try new tastes as you do. Having said this, our son was the keenest out of all of us to eat snake on our visit to China!
Sue Cowley is a parent, author and teacher. Her book, Road School, is published by Crownhouse. Find out more about eduvacating at roadschooldiary.co.uk