When Dr Jessie Voigts of Wandering Educators offered to write a guest post for Far Away Thursday, I knew exactly what I wanted her to write about! I’ve been thinking for some time about how and when to start educating Reuben, who just turned two, and how to manage it on the road. I’m seriously considering homeschooling, roadschooling or unschooling him. I can see already that he’s going to be one smart little cookie. He’s already on top of the alphabet and counting and he definitely has an artistic and musical side blossoming.
Here’s what Jessie has to say on the topic of educating toddlers on the road.
It’s never too early to teach kids to learn and explore the world. They are already doing this – and travel is another opportunity for them to explore further! If you’re wondering when to start traveling with toddlers, do it now! The experiential education that they receive from interacting with the world can be life-changing, even at such a young age. Kids that grow up traveling, exploring, and learning about other places and cultures have a head start at becoming good global citizens.
But how, and where to start?
Many parents hold back on family travel because they are uncertain of their welcome with babies and toddlers, or don’t know how to teach about the world while traveling. It’s not difficult – chances are, you’re already doing some of this now. You don’t need any special equipment – just a sense of curiosity and wonder. When you look at the world as one big place to live, learn, and play, you will all enjoy travel so much more.
5 Tips to Incorporate Education into Traveling with your Toddler
If possible, start traveling with your kids when they are babies. They will become used to the experience of travel – and so will you. Nothing seems more difficult than the unknown. Over time, you’ll be a seasoned pro of diaper changes in the tiny airplane bathroom, breastfeeding on the road, hungry & tired kids, etc. By the time they start walking (and running), you and your family will have a routine already in place for transportation, activities, and meals while traveling. This routine makes things easier, and lets you interact with your kids and the environment much more. You will have energy to talk about things you are seeing, and to have time to explore it with all five senses.
You’re teaching that curiosity spans all ages, that talking about and learning from your environment is important, that global awareness is started young.
Ramp up the culture
While you’re playing and exploring, find teachable moments and gradually include more mature activities. While a very young toddler might do well at a library story hour (anywhere in the world), an older toddler can certainly revel in the colors and sculptures at an art institute, and play and build in the kids area (every art institute has one, well worth visiting). Talk about differences in all forms – colors, languages, clothing, food, and the like.
Don’t feel like dealing with the crowds at the Louvre? Stay outside, and look at the architecture of the buildings, and the glass pyramid, and run around counting each step you take, in French. Revel in being in France and learning to count in a different language.
Head to a Native American Pow-wow and watch the colors, dancing, and beauty of the culture and history.
In a big city? Try different ethnic cuisines. Your kids will LOVE Ethiopian food, as you eat with your hands and scoop things up with that delicious injera bread. Make your own Japanese bento boxes at home, including sushi made with peanut butter and tortillas!
You’re teaching culture, respect for difference, reading, the arts, language, sociology, anthropology, history, architecture, the joy of global cuisines, and more.
Explore nature with all 5 senses!
At the beach, look for unusual stones, and talk about how rocks and sand are formed. Feel the sliminess of kelp, and touch creatures if they are safe. Talk about what different animals eat – kids are always curious about eating!
In the woods, take hikes (with your toddler in a backpack, if necessary) and talk about the colors you see, the leaves and how trees grow. Have plenty of ground time to pick up acorns, touch moss, and revel in the glory of the outdoors.
Visit farms, or county fairs, and see how animals live and eat. Visit science and experiential learning centers, where kids can play and learn.
Teach safety – animal, fire, personal – as well as how to take care of our environment.
You’re teaching – and learning – about ecology, geology, evolution, the life cycle, and more.
Ask for help
Many cultures love babies and toddlers. Ask for help! You might find that you can eat your WHOLE dinner without interruption, as people coo over your precious rock star.
You may also get some tips on family-friendly places in the area, or even a helping hand with the stroller on the supposedly accessible hiking trail.
You’ll find that your toddler loves to listen to and learn from new friends, that grandmother types are everywhere, and that sharing is caring.
As you know from daily life, play is an integral part of learning. In fact, Einstein himself noted that “play is the highest form of research.”
Get your toddler exploring her environment, wherever you are in the world.
Dig holes in the sand, and watch the water roll in.
Play as if her childhood depends on it – as it surely does.
These formative years set the pace for interacting with and learning from the world. Make it fun. When you’re a toddler, every moment is a learning experience. The bonus is, you’re learning together – you’ll see the world in a whole new way… isn’t it magical?
Jessie Voigts is a mom who loves sharing the world with her daughter. She has a PhD in International Education, and is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, especially with kids (it’s never too young to start!). She has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She founded the Family Travel Bloggers Association, and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. She’s published two books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. You can usually find her family by water – anywhere in the world. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
All photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts
What are your thoughts and views about homeschooling, roadschooling or unschooling? How do you incorporate education into your travels? Leave us a comment and let’s get this discussion going!