Most people treat holidays as opportunities for relaxation. They see them solely as a break from the norm and a chance to recharge. Because of this, many parents worry, particularly over long school breaks, about their kids regressing educationally and are concerned about the long weeks lacking structured enrichment programmes. However, the truth is that travel can be one of the most rewarding and educational experiences for adults and children alike. After all, is there anything more exciting than learning outside the four walls of a classroom in a new country?
Learning the Language
One of the most obvious ways to incorporate learning into your travels is through language. You can scale this up or down depending on your children’s ages. From toddlerhood and up, there are more than enough opportunities to teach our kids some keywords and phrases, like greetings, manners (such as pleases and thank yous), and basic numbers.
Taking the time and effort to learn a few simple words is always welcomed by residents, whether it’s adults or children doing it. Kids will follow your lead, so watching you interact and using the language as their role model is one of the best ways to encourage them to do the same.
Another way you can learn together is by doing some research. This can include looking up words in a dictionary and asking locals to tell you the words for things.
Savouring the Cuisine
Enjoying the delicious food doesn’t seem like an educational experience, but for kids, it really is!
From a survival perspective, trying new food has always been challenging for humans. We have been programmed to be sceptical of new food sources in case they turn out to be poisonous. So, it is unsurprising when children find new dishes challenging. Rather than jumping into the deep end with something that is spicy or has a strong flavour (and risking almost certain failure), you can start with getting your kids to try something bland or sweet. Think breads, crackers, and desserts. Alternatively, you can offer them something from your plate so you aren’t risking wasting an entire meal that they may or may not like.
Eating is also a great time to discuss what makes dishes part of the local cuisine. You can research this together, talk to people to understand the history behind a dish, figure out the ingredients, or learn the background of a restaurant. Many places offer cooking classes that are really ,fun to do if you can find family-friendly ones. From making pasta to learning the key ingredients in spring rolls, these can be a great way to make memories while learning a new skill.
Dealing with Currencies and Budgets
All schools include some currency/money discussions in the classroom, but the real test is when you take it outside. Start by converting the local currency into QAR and your home currency so your kids have a better understanding of what things are worth. It’s better to have hard cash on hand instead of using credit cards in these instances so that kids can touch and feel the notes and count out money when paying for goods.
You can also try talking to your kids about budgets before you travel and while you’re there. You can do this with the family’s daily budget or a small allowance you have given them. Both can help them figure out how to prioritise where they (and you) spend money.
Planning and Organising
As soon as kids are old enough, it’s a great idea to get them involved with planning and organising trips. This gives them a sense of control and helps them feel engaged in the process. It’s easier for them to self-regulate when they know what is going on and what will happen next.
Consider giving them options and letting them choose rather than asking them to plan something from scratch, which can be overwhelming. For destinations with parent-focussed attractions such as museums, long hikes, or religious places of worship, involving children in the planning can help them understand that some things are “kid-fun” while others are “parent-fun” and that it’s a trade-off to do both. Other things, of course, are fun for everyone, and those are the real winning days!
You can also have your children help with the packing. With young kids, this might be a case of asking them to choose three outfits or asking them to think about the things they really can’t live without, even for a few days (looking at you “bunny”, “lovey”, and “blanket”!). As they get older, they may be able to work from a list you give them, and you can teach them to pack their cases themselves.
Understanding the Culture
Any travel fanatic will, at some point, have bought into the concept that travel fosters tolerance and understanding between cultures. Use your family holiday to discuss different customs and traditions in your destination. This can cover a range of areas, so you’re guaranteed to find something that interests you all. You can talk about anything from local dress and dances to religion and food.
Researching your destination beforehand will help you all know how to behave and what to expect. While you’re there, local tours also offer a fantastic chance to learn about customs and traditions where you are. A guide who has grown up in the area can tell you all sorts of things that the internet never can!
Appreciating the History
Not everyone gets to go somewhere so steeped in history that they can almost feel the ghosts of the past roaming around them. So if you have the chance to visit somewhere with lots of ruins, old buildings, or significant historical experiences, consider it a goldmine for learning opportunities.
Engage your children in the experience by discussing who lived there and imagining how they lived. Read together about the place before and after you go there—most places have a variety of books written about them that appeal to a wide range of age groups. Sometimes, you can find attractions in the destination that offer opportunities to experience activities typical of the era or those that involve dressing up in olden-day costumes.
You might also consider going somewhere that your kids have studied at school, so they already have context and background to fall back on. They might even end up teaching you a thing or two!
Discovering the Geography
A place’s geography can tremendously affect many aspects of a destination, including history, agricultural activities, and trading opportunities. It also provides many opportunities to involve your kids in discussions about volcanoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters in the local area. For instance, you can talk about how those communities used the destination’s geography to their advantage or how they prepared themselves against harsh conditions.
It doesn’t have to be about dramatic topics or more academic ones, either. You can ask your kids to calculate distances between two places, take them to admire panoramic vistas, trek with them through forests and mountains, head to the beach for some beachcombing, or try geocaching. All are great ways to get them involved in the place you are visiting.
One aspect of children’s development that families frequently underestimate is the establishment and expansion of their relationships with their parents. It can also significantly impact their bonds with the other people they may be travelling with, including grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends.
Cultivating good relationships is essential for any family, but especially in expat situations where children may not get to spend much time with their extended families. Equally, trips with other people can help cement bonds where kids consider friends to be closer than some of their blood relatives because of the time they spend together in Doha. Additionally, children with well-adjusted, healthy relationships with a range of adults and children seem more likely to find it easier to learn both in and out of school.
Managing Uncertainty and Adversity
Finally, if travel teaches us anything, it’s that life doesn’t always go to plan. This makes it a great time to teach your children how to deal with life when things go wrong.
It’s also an opportunity to model the best behaviour you can in adverse situations or discuss how stress makes you behave in less than healthy ways. This is especially handy when you end up arguing with taxi drivers or airport staff, snapping at your children, or worrying excessively about things like missing flights or getting sick!
Travel is also a chance for you to help your kids learn how to predict and plan when things go wrong. You can discuss meeting places in busy areas if you get separated and why you keep important documents such as passports in a specific place. You can also talk to them about avoiding scammers, what they can do if they get pickpocketed, or how to handle a flight cancellation. Adverse situations are the best times to teach kids how to deal with challenging experiences and move on from them. They also help them learn other character-developing skills like becoming a part of the solution and helping others when their plans go awry.
These might not be your typical classroom concepts, but in terms of life lessons, they don’t get more real than this.