It's been said that the whole world is a classroom. But you don't have to pack a big suitcase and travel far to give your kids an educational experience. Anytime we expose children to new places, people and things, we enrich their lives.
Here are my five favorite reasons to travel -- near or far -- with children in tow:
1. Travel helps kids develop a wider array of interests.
The world is full of fascinating things, and thoughtful parents work to expose their kids to as many of them as possible. It's hard to predict what's going to capture a young child's heart and mind -- sometimes sparking a lifelong love or career. Travel opens up all kinds of possibilities.
When my son was 6, we visited a Native American history museum in the Smoky Mountains. I watched, mouth agape, as my active, car-obsessed little boy spent more than an hour moving from exhibit to exhibit, ill-fitting headphones on his head, listening intently to the audio tour. He talked about what he'd learned for the rest of the vacation. And while interest in other subjects eventually eclipsed his interest in Native American history, he was, for a time, quite enamored -- and I think the trip made him more receptive to visiting other kinds of museums.
2. Travel helps kids grow in sensitivity to others.
When kids visit new places and new people, they're often exposed to new ideas and different cultures. Certainly, this happens with international travel, but it's possible to create these opportunities close to home, too. I know a family who lives in a small, rural community with little diversity. When the family drove to a nearby, larger town for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, their child interacted with a person of asian descent for the first time. Their daughter was fascinated, in particular, by the different language she heard spoken. The family seized this teachable moment. At the local library, they checked out picture books depicting asian culture and recordings of multicultural music.
When we give kids even simple experiences with people from other cultures or traditions, they more easily come to expect and appreciate diversity in the world -- which is great, as the world is actually becoming more diverse. And in talking about these experiences with thoughtful adults, kids may learn the most valuable lesson of all: that while cultural differences abound, people are more alike than different, especially when it comes to important things such as love of family, friends and country.
3. Travel helps families grow closer.
Are you hoping to strengthen your family's bond? The shared experience of a family vacation may do the trick. Research shows that families bond better when parents carve out time apart from daily stress and routine. Some parents put off vacations because they think their children are too young to hold on to vacation memories. Making memories is important, but whether your kids remember your travels or not, they'll still benefit from the focus on quality family time.
4. Travel helps kids learn some necessary life skills.
If you've traveled much at all, you know the importance of a good Plan B. Planes are delayed or flights are cancelled. Tires go flat. Your GPS takes you on a wild goose chase. Traveling together gives kids a chance to see the adults they adore successfully handle these challenges. Few other circumstances allow us to model positive attributes such as patience, problem solving, flexibility, and good humor while our children are closely watching.
5. Travel helps kids develop curiosity and become better students. A survey of kids ages 12-18 suggests that travel has a positive impact on kids' academic performance. Kids who travel, the research indicates, tend to have better grades and are more likely to go to college.
So throw open a new window on the world! Plan a trip for spring break or summer vacation. Even a simple day or weekend excursion can yield benefits. Let your children experience the power of travel to broaden our understanding of the world, bring us closer, and help us all become our best selves.