Education On The Road: 30 Traveling Families Share Their Most Educational MomentsPosted on Jun 5, 2011 | 27 comments
When people ask us why we are quitting, selling and packing up to travel the world with our family, our first response is always the same:
To Teach Our Kids Of Course.
We see the world as a place in which we can learn, engage, and explore with our children. And there are a ton of families out there who feel pretty much the same way.
We teamed up with Amy from World School Adventures and contacted 30 traveling families and asked them one simple question:
Throughout all your travels, what is the best educational experience you have had with your children?
We got some great answers from some amazing, traveling parents and want to extend a huge thanks to everyone who participated.
We hope you enjoy what everyone has shared. You can read 15 stories here and catch another 15 over at worldschooladventures.com.
Enjoy! And Happy Travels . . .
with your kids!
EXPERIENCE IS EDUCATION
We’ve had so many educational experiences it’s too hard to single out one. Was it cycling the Camino de Santiago as a modern day family of pedalling pilgrims, learning about the history, culture and traditions of pilgrimage? Or navigating our way around the Baltics, struggling to make ourselves understood, and learning first hand a little about what life was like the other side of the iron curtain under Russian occupation? Or was it riding the length of Britain learning the names of the counties and seeing for ourselves the diversity of landscapes of this small island we call home? Or maybe it was the eco-tour of Cumbria, visiting people and projects in our own backyard who are working hard to try and reduce their carbon footprint and impact upon the environment?
I guess my point is all travel experiences have the potential to be educational, if you approach them with that in mind. And the curriculum is broad, not just facts, history or languages, but stuff about yourself, your prejudices, beliefs, skills, capabilities, relationships. Better still, you don’t need to travel far for this kind of education, there’s as much to learn close to home if you approach any, even everyday, experience with a curious and inquiring mind. Kids are great travel companions because they seem to approach all of life in that way. For young children especially, every moment is literally a first time, a brand new experience that they will learn from; there is no routine or 'non-learning' experience. At home and on the road kids can help and challenge us more ‘educated, knowledgeable’ adults to treat life the same, have a little more fun and learn a little more about it too.
You can follow the Family on a Bike as they cycle the world on Facebook and Twitter
THE BEST LAID PLANS . . .
I actually posed this question to my family, and they all responded with some things that I frankly had forgotten, or even discounted as not that important, but it turns out it was important to them. I think in itself, there's a lesson in that little anecdote.
But if I was to pick one thing, it would have to be that when we work together as a family, we can overcome anything. We had planned a long time to cycle across Europe as part of our year-long around the world trip. We started in London and made it as far as Zermatt Switzerland when our daughter, Katrina, broke her leg in a rock climbing accident. It could have been much worse, but the broken leg precluded us from realizing a once-in-a-lifetime goal that had been a long time in planning.
Although it was bitterly disappointing at the time, the lessons we learned from that as we pulled through the aftermath are invaluable -- that when we work together as a family, we can overcome anything. I'm not saying I'm glad my daughter broke her leg, but I am grateful for what the experience taught us.
Grab a copy of John Higham's book, 360 Degrees Longitude and follow his new projects on Facebook
THE MOMENT IN MOROCCO
I know exactly the moment...it was when I shot this picture.
Place: Ourzazate, Morocco
Time: April 2008, around 8am
Our youngest child was 4 years of age and we decided to pick up our travel passion where we left it years ago (before the birth of our first child). Our destination was Morocco.
We arrived at the hotel in Ourzazate (close to the Atlas mountains) 11pm the night before. We hadn't seen anything from the landscape while driving from the airport.
Can you imagine, before this trip our kids had only seen the flat Dutch landscape. Western style, everything regulated, trees and green grass. We had (and still have) the intention to show our kids that the world is a place of diversity. A place with different cultures, people and countries. So can you picture their faces when they opened the balcony doors of our hotel room? “Daddy, everything is red!”
They stood their for at least 10 minutes, just watching the new world outside. Their new world. At that moment they discovered the true meaning of traveling: to experience and to learn about places unlike home.
You can keep up with the Emiel van den Boomen and family as the travel on Facebook and Twitter
If you're enjoying these stories, you can read about some great moments from 15 other traveling families over at World School Adventures
GOING LEGO IN MALAYSIA
My son Harris is sitting beside me and says the best educational experience was the Science Centre in Malaysia
- straight from the horse's mouth!
We had a great time and the hours passed so quickly and it is very hands on and up-todate. Everything was in English thankfully and as we were there off season and midweek we had the place to ourselves. They put on a great science show for us and one other family! A family ticket for entry was very cheap at RM24 - I think we divide that by 3 for Australian dollars! Take a snack to eat along the way because you will get hungry - the place is huge. Then the best place to go after is the food court up the top of the mall where all the staff eat and it is cheap too. The other option is to go downstairs to Cold Storage - the huge supermarket downstairs for cheap snacks as well!
Follow the Baigrie Family at www.fourdotsonthemap.com
NOT ON MY WATERFALL
The best one that comes to mind is when we were traveling in Livingston,
Guatemala and went to a waterfalls. What got all of us really pissed off was
the amount of graffiti and vandalism that reached this part of the world and
my 7 year old, who was 6 at that time, on his own got so angry and said that
these people who do that are very bad people and need to go to jail because
they need to love natural beauty.
He said this after staring at the crude writing, thinking for a long time
about what he was looking at, and with no help from us, came to that
No matter how long you go to school and learn about the damage being done
either deliberately or via global warming to our world, it's really not
experienced until you visit it for yourself!
POTTY TRAINING IN BARCELONA
This is a tough one because Cole is just 14 mo, but it's been really cool for me to learn personally that kids are super smart and figure out most things on their own. For instance we are now in Barcelona, and Cole has never seen a bidet before. Of course this didn't stop him from immediately climbing in it and figuring out how to turn on the water.
Ehrm. We were so proud.
BUILDING HOSPITALS IN NICARAGUA
Of course the 'best educational experience' is difficult to define,
not only because we're unschooling and my son's education is
unstructured, but traveling provides exposure to an abundance of new
experiences, ripe for learning. The learning part is never
finished so it's difficult to assess what the best experience has
been and what lasting influences each experience will have on Miro's
Over the last two years we've had some wonderful learning
opportunities such as trips to the ancient Mayan ruins (history),
hikes through the rain forests, mountains & nature reserves (ecology),
visits to art and cultural centers (liberal arts), exposure to local
wildlife (biology) and traveling through 11 countries (geography),
converting money to different currencies (math) and learning a new
language (Spanish). But I would say hands down, the most educational
experiences we've had so far have been through volunteering where both
Miro and myself have learned to rely on our desire to be of service
and have ended up learning so much in the process.
We've been traveling for close to two years and in that time, we've
volunteered for various organizations. We've worked with animals at a
rescue in Belize, volunteered at a school for comedy and mime serving
the under privileged children of Nicaragua. We've helped in kitchens
across Central America, helped school children read in Ecuador, taught
theater to 8-12 year olds, and volunteered in hostels in Panama and
Colombia. But I think the most educational experience was the
opportunity to work in a makeshift animal hospital in Granada,
Nicaragua, in triage, caring for the animals after spay and neuter
I was assigned to keeping the animals calm and comfortable
and Miro was assigned to cleaning the stitches and dressing the
wounds. And Miro discovered this was something he did very well. I
watched him be shown how to clean the wounds, I watched him learn how
to be gentle and precise and I watched him gain expertise in his
tasks. After the first day my 10 year old son, the 'nurse' was in
charge of all triage activities and expertly moved around animals and
knew exactly what to do. Is this education? I think so. It was real,
life affirming education. My son learned responsibility, my son learned to trust his
judgement, my son son learned a skill. Best of all, it didn't feel
like learning, it felt like doing and he says to this day, it feels good.
DONKEY IS YUMMY
How we managed to get an eleven-year-old all-American girl to knowingly eat donkey meat was a story in itself. We did not trick her, exactly. I think it was just that we’d been walking all day, she’s a growing girl, she was starving, we’d talked so much before the trip about how delicious the food in Italy would be and after four days she had not been disappointed, and there really were no other items on the menu that looked even vaguely familiar. A spaghetti with meat sauce sounded ok, even if the meat came from an animal she’d never eaten before.
We’ve written about picky eaters on All Over the Map before, and we’ve been lucky in our household that our kids are pretty open to trying new things. We’ve always had a rule in our house that the kids had to try three bites of whatever is on their plates at mealtime. If after three bites they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat the rest, but they won’t be leaving the table until they’ve given it a real try. Yes, we had some long nights at the dinner table waiting for someone to try their (now cold and truly yucky) seafood stew or okra, but overall, it was a strategy that worked. They didn’t love everything we put in front of them, but they found new things they liked on occasion, and they realized they didn’t have to be afraid to try, because even if they hated it, the three bites would be over soon enough. Which is all a long way of explaining why Calla wasn’t afraid to try the donkey.
Because we just can’t let a sleeping dog (or a dead donkey) lie, after dinner my husband and I pushed the girls to think about why it seemed weird to us that they would eat donkey or baby octopus (yum!) as if it’s no big deal. Might there be things that we eat that they would think strange? Perhaps they would be shocked at the vast collection of cereal boxes in our cabinet, since we hadn’t seen shredded wheat or Cheerios in the Italian breakfast spread in our B&Bs. Maybe they would be horrified at the frozen pizza or the fishsticks we sometimes eat in sports-practice-shuffle desperation. Could they handle the spice of our ubiquitous chips and salsa?
Amazingly (because often our attempts at family discussions are met with eye rolling and groans – they are tweens, after all) the girls took this idea and ran with it. They began to notice everything that was different – the light switches and power outlets, the slightly different fashions, the stores closing after lunch, the fact that they really don’t like for you to touch the shoes in the shoe stores – oops! But mostly they noticed differences at mealtimes. The large tray of cured meats at breakfast, lunch and dinner in Piemonte, the serious lack of fast food at the stops along the highway, the separate courses of pasta and vegetables and meat, and of course, the gelato. It’s not so much that the food was different. It’s that life was different. And the kids could see that.
So when I asked them about their most educational experience, they both responded with answers ostensibly about food, but really about culture. “I guess it was when I ate donkey meat and I realized it wasn’t so bad,” said one. “Yeah, you know, how they eat different stuff but for them it’s normal,” added the other.
Easy answers, tossed over their shoulders, but precisely what I hoped for when we started traveling with them: recognizing that there are other cultures in the world with different ideas of what is “normal” and that no “normal” is better than another.
I did years ago trick my brother, a notoriously picky eater, into eating tongue in Italy. He really never forgave me for that.
And check out more stories from traveling families at World School Adventures
PREPARING FOR COLLEGE IN THE REAL WORLD
Since our kids were much older when we went abroad, we had to address some very different challenges---young kids can learn anywhere, but when youŕe talking about nontraditional approaches to getting into very traditional colleges, well, it gets a little tricky! Our single best decision was simply letting go of the idea that high school had to be done a certain way in order to ensure our kids' ¨success¨. In our case, we weren't on a quest to expose our kids to as many places as possible. Instead, we wanted to find creative and original ways to give them a personalized high school education while immersing them in other languages/cultures and allowing them to segue into college smoothly. Having language skills and cultural awareness gave all of them a huge head start in finding great work they love in their chosen destinations around the world.
As an update since the publication of The New Global Student, our kids are all doing very well and are very happy. Taeko(25) is the program director for a nonprofit harm reduction (needle exchange) program in New York and is beginning her PhD program in September. Tara(23) is a first grade teacher at an international school in Abu Dhabi and plans to begin her masterś in education program next summer. Teal(21) finished a year and a half of adventures working for Norwegian Cruise Lines (all around the world) and has recently settled in New York where she works as the office manager for a young and energetic group that has started a recycling company. Talya(20) loves her life in Buenos Aires working as a recruiter for a New York-based firm that specialized in placing creative directors in advertising companies around the world.
THE BEAUTY IS IN THE DETAILS
The best educational experience while traveling has been actually discussing where we are about to go next with our daughter. Going over the transit, explaining how we will be getting to where we are going. The specific example I am thinking of was when we were in Italy. We all couldn't wait to get back to Asia. Every day, I asked Kaya if she wanted to hear about Phuket (before she went to bed). She kept saying yes and then 'more, more'. She wanted me to elaborate. So, I went over we would be taking a train from Firenza to Munich, then staying overnight in Munich, then flying into Phuket, then staying overnight in a hotel and swimming, until we found a house. Every day she wanted me to recount our plans, and she was thrilled to leave Europe and go back to Asia, where we all feel we are at home.
I think kids love to be included in this way, and they love details! Travel connects kids and family, especially if the parents can go out of their way to tell their kids about their method of transport. It turns children into little explorers, geographers, and travel agents.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 KIDS - BLAST OFF!
Two days ago we got back from an adventure to Florida to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch. Having the freedom to drive down from where we live in Virginia at a moments notice is part of the beauty of home education. We made a few phone calls and found friends along the way to host us. Having such a large family takes some resourcefulness on our part. Buying food in advance, packing sleeping bags to be able to camp out on someones floor or sofa, being willing to live by faith and accepting what happens along the way is all part of the adventure. In each state my kids learned so much on the journey there and back. The things that we come upon are all part of learning for us all. Not only an academic education, but important life skills such as compassion, hospitality, tolerance, accepting that all of life is not perfectly the way we would like it, serving and sharing with others and how to have a good attitude no matter what may come our way. Our kids are learning how to be self thinkers, not just robotic followers. They are relaxed and able to be who they are and not worrying about giving into peer pressure. We have a wonderful social life with all sorts of people of every age, race and religion. For now we take in foreign students to share our homes and culture with them. Bringing the world into our home to share and show care. Invariably they invite us back to their countries !
The plan is for us to be able to educate our kids around the world soon. Working out a way to be able to fund ourselves and serve others as we go. I think I have this restless desire all the time about wanting to be able to do this for my kids because of my upbringing. I was privileged to have lived in the Middle East as a teenager. This overseas living enabled us to travel to Europe and Israel. I learned so much and crave that type of experience for my children. Hopefully you will be reading our travel adventure stories someday soon!
Susan Verbeek was one of our websites first followers. Her family proves that you don't have to be world travelers to embrace and learn from the world around you. You just have to get out and take a look around. You can follow and connect with Susan on Facebook.
STRANDED FOR GOOD
Not sure I'd use the word "fabulous", nor was it a planned educational experience, but our biggest learning lessons came from an accident we had on the way home for Christmas, followed by being stranded in Atlanta after a big ice storm.
- God's plan for us wasn't over yet..;)
- That our life on this earth is short, and can be cut shorter in the blink of an eye. Rather than deter us from wanting to travel it made us ever more determined to get out and enjoy it.
- That after several weeks living in someone else's place, then in a hotel for 10 days, that a relatively small trailer can truly be "home".
- That drastic events can lead to attitude changes in our kids (we had one that wasn't fully engaged in the trip until after these two events happened back to back).
BUDDHISM! IN UPSTATE NEW YORK??
I have a strange affection for quirky roadside attractions. The bigger, the better. My unfortunate family falls victim to the road trips I organize seeking sites claiming to be the “biggest,” “largest,” or “tallest” in the state, country, and even the world. Over time, they have come to enjoy, or at least tolerate, these fun outings full of great photo ops.
Generally, and expectedly, many of these sites are offbeat and lowbrow. A few standouts, however, do earn marks for their educational or spiritual character. Here is one attraction in particular that really captivated my 11-year old son and 4-year old daughter.
The Largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, Carmel, NY
The largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere rests in situ at the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, a mere 20 minutes from our house. The monastery, belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States, is a collection of seven Asian-style buildings seemingly out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless.
Our mother-son adventure began by following a stone path lined with statues of Buddha’s chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. We removed our shoes, entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the “Great Buddha Vairocana” sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with brilliant daylight, the spacious hall provides an unobstructed, pillar- free view -- an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We availed ourselves of the free literature in the back of the room, and left a small donation. My son was thrilled with his colorful Chinese bookmarks, and even took a small book about Buddhism so he could learn more about it.
WELCOME TO THE OUTBACK
The best educational experience by far as a single month would have been our
trip to Central Australia. On our way to central Australia, we stopped at
the opal-mining community of Coober Pedy and tried our hand at fossicking
for opals (which our daughter actually found two that have been made into
necklaces) and learnt about how they were formed. We continued on up to
central Australia and saw the famous Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The
Olgas), and Kings Canyon. We then continued on to Gemtree to fossick for
garnets, and then back to the beautiful West MacDonnell Ranges.
All through this region over the time we were there, we were immersed in
learning about the evolution of the Australian landscape. It was incredible
to see before us the result of the inland see, the changing climate, the
alterations that happened as a result of the continental drift millions of
years ago from Gondwanaland. We learnt more from visiting this region about
the changing environment and the influence of the inland sea that had been
present millions of years ago than we could have in any other way. The
rock formations, and the life that was visible in the region bore testament
to what we were learning about and reinforced it on a daily basis. We were
fascinated with, and delved into, the reason for desert oasis like Palm
Valley and Kings Canyon. The explanations for the geological structures all
around the region captured our imaginations. We listened to audio-tours
(podcasts or podtours) all the time in the car to hear more about the
regions we were passing through. From ancient meteorite crateors to myths
of copious gold and Aboriginal dreamtime stories, they kept us enthralled.
On a more human front, we were confronted daily with the myths and culture
of traditional Aboriginal culture. The impact of European civilisation on
this ancient culture was obvious, too. We heard about the injustices of the
past, and saw the struggles of today, and the blending of an ancient culture
with the modern lifestyle. We witnessed the open hostilities and racism,
the bias and prejudices of those on both sides, and felt saddened by it.
The empathy and understanding that the kids showed towards the issues that
we saw were impressive.
This all sits a distance second to our other important educational
experience; skiing at Mount Hotham. We spent all of the winter season last
year skiing, while camped in the caravan at a near-by free campsite. Kept
toasty warm by a diesel heater in the caravan, we stayed inside at home
while the kids skied all day with Dad. Not much of a learning experience?
Well, the fitness that they developed was incredible. They also discussed
which muscles they were using, and developed an understanding of the
physical processes involved. While skiing, our children would listen to
audiobooks, and our eldest daughter (Susan, then 7) could frequently be
heard chanting her Latin vocabulary and paradigms. Furthermore, we
frequently discussed and cared passionately about the weather patterns and
movements. They developed an understanding between the causes of different
precipitation and the volumes of rain compared to hail, sleet, or snow and
what made the differences. We learnt about what makes snow wetter or drier,
when it melts and when it stays on the ground. One morning, Peter (8)
looked out the window and said, "I'm sure if there was precipitation at
Hotham last night, it would have been snow rather than rain."
Everywhere is a possibility for learning, even somewhere as frivolous as
spending a winter skiing. It can be lots of fun, or it can be something
that's taken seriously, but usually it's just fun.
UNDER THE SEA
NOTE: This post was written by Jeff and Stephen who are the teenage sons of Margalit Francus of Autistic Globetrotting
The frigid water was a sharp contrast to the balmy weather of the Caymans, I thought, stepping into the seas. Soon after plunging, a white, bulky helmet was thrust upon me, necessary apparel in order to breathe on the ocean floor. At that point I had already become used to the cold water, and wondered how much the white breathing helmet would weigh—the guide had told us that it was impossibly heavy on land—when I reached the sandy beach below.
“When you go down the ladder and into the water, it’ll start feeling lighter”, one of the guides assured me; I smiled nervously. Even if I had said something, the helmet prevented any sound (like my voice) from being heard. As I descended the ladder, I saw the blue cloudless sky being replaced by the crystalline waters of the Caribbean ocean. The helmet presented no issue, as the guide had promised; my ears popping correctly, however, did.
My discomfort must have been quite visible, as the second operator who was guiding me down the ladder motioned me to swallow and keep my jaws apart (to minimize building pressure). The ladder had ten steps, each a foot and a half lower than the previous, and I was still on step one.
I continued down slowly but surely, finally reaching the halfway point, a crossroad—should I proceed into the unknown, or return to the safety of the boat? As I got deeper and deeper into the water the popping intensified, and my rapid heartbeat and panicked demeanor did not help either. How could twenty feet feel so deep? Every impulse said to turn back, yet the allure of sea life up close made me persevere.
To quell my anxieties, I reminded myself that no known person has yet died from this—so far, though—but then, I see below my parents and brother waiting impatiently on the sea bottom. So what’s it going to be? Throwing away my fear, I take another step, and feel the sandy floor of the sea. My jaw dropped and eyes opened: I was under the sea, watching fish float by in the waving coral!
The color, the light, the brightness, and intensity of it all! Disregarding safety and all, I rushed off the ladder and joined up with the group. Schools of fish of all colors floated nonchalantly by, grazing the coral and the open palms of group members holding food for them. The colors of the ocean floor and the life frolicking beneath the sea took my breath away (not literally).
My family's travels have exposed my brother and I to different cultures, tastes, sounds, and places. Yet, the Grand Caymans adventure holds importance because, like my travels as a young child to Yosemite, the Sea Trek endeavor this past April introduced us to the beauty of nature in the most far off of places; while I was accustom to beautiful buildings and artwork in cities, nature had always represented something to be avoided, because of my sensory integration disorder. I still recall the days when I would scream at the sight of sand or potential touch of water, so to walk on the ocean floor for me was to accomplish the incredible. In addition, the sea trek adventure helped me combat one of my worst fears—fear of the unknown—and enjoy my time in the water, far out of my comfort zone. Over the years we've visited many places and seen many things but this one definitely qualifies as both the most educational and inspirational of them all. .
ONE MOMENT AT A TIME
When I first envisioned this trip, I thought it would be more of an educational experience for Niko our son who is almost 3. The fact of the matter is that we have been learning more from him than I could have ever imagined. It's strange to think that a 30 year old can learn from a 3 year old, but it's quite true. As I now have so much time to observe him, there are a few attributes I find invaluable. One that stands out the most is his want to do the things he wants to do and not the things he does not...what a simple thought.
As adults we find ourselves doing things we just don't want to do . . . due to . . .obligation, responsibility, guilt. Perhaps, we should reconsider and un-learn and refuse next time?
Isn't life just a series of things we do?
If that's the case, why don't we fill them with moments we actually want to do and remember and not those we felt we had to do.....and forget? It's just a thought at this time...but we hope to take those observations seriously and learn from them as we move on...who knows what else we can un-learn.
So what have we learned? We learned that instead of teaching our kids ways to live our lives, we should learn how to live lives as they wish to live them. One moment at a time.
Amy and I really want to thank all the families who participated in this article. I found your stories to be incredibly encouraging and inspiring.
Thanks for following THE GREAT FAMILY ESCAPE and make sure you check back with us for more updates on our upcoming adventures.