Importance of Learning by Traveling for Children

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Earlier this week my daughter and I took a very quick trip to Boston in order to join my extended family for a portion of their longer trip in the area.  We seriously couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Boston, and even though our time there was very short at only 36 hours, we managed to see and do a lot, which of course only left me wanting to go back and do more.

My daughter on the Freedom Trail

My daughter on the Freedom Trail

A post about heading out on our trip drew a fair number of comments about the merits and drawbacks of missing a few days of school each year for trips.  As a four-year-old, my daughter is still just in a private Pre-K, so the drawbacks of missed days are minimal (though we did still have two days worth of assignments to do), but it is an interesting topic to consider as she gets older.

The best advice is to take all the trips you can outside of school days to avoid absence related issues as much as possible, but this post isn’t about missing school, as much as it is about the learning that happens on trips.

Not every child has the opportunity to not only read about Paul Revere, but also walk through his house, go to the Old North Church where the lanterns were hung, and get a real feel for that turning point in our country’s history.  If your child, like mine, does have that ability, they are so lucky (as are you), because some magic can happen when the world of classroom learning meets hands-on learning.

Exterior of Paul Revere's House (no indoor photos allowed)

Exterior of Paul Revere’s House (no indoor photos allowed)

My daughter at four is learning to read and write.  She has historically had a bit more interest in “doing” rather than seeing or reading.  Her interest in books and reading has been increasing, but sitting still and reading or practicing writing hasn’t always been the highest ranked activity on her list.  Prior to our trip to Boston she had heard of Paul Revere, but during and after the trip she was so taken with the whole story that she wrote her own book about our trip to Boston.

The Old North Church

The Old North Church

This wasn’t something we asked her to do, or really even helped with at all.  While I was unpacking our clothes and cleaning up the day we got home from our trip she kept asking me how to spell certain words, which I did without thinking about it.  I knew she was drawing in a notebook, but I didn’t know what she was doing, and honestly at the time I didn’t really care as long as she was safely occupied as I had to get us unpacked and re-organized for the week.

C's Notebook

C’s Notebook

A while later she asked if we could read the book she wrote together.  I sat down to “read” her book with no expectations, and ended the story almost speechless.

She had retold the highlights (to her) of our day in Boston complete with pictures and words.  She could have done this any other day about any other event, but she picked our day in Boston.  This was important enough to her to sit and write down.

She drew Boston Common and wrote “tree”, well technically it was more like “traaee”, but close enough.

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She drew Paul Revere’s house, including the fire place that she stood in (and got in trouble for) and wrote “house”.

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She drew the Old North Church and told me “The British are coming”, as she read that page.  The book was filled with our entire day, and she loved reading the adventure back to me.  Personally, the lobster rolls and chowder would have made my “highlight reel” of Boston, but this was her story, and it was a good one.  It was one she wanted to remember, and one that I bet she will remember.

Learning in the classroom is invaluable.

So is learning by experiencing the world for yourself.

I’d love to hear about the role that travel has played in your child’s learning experience!

Comments

  1. I don’t have kids so my perspective is external,and based on myself and observations and conversations with other people.

    Basically, as long as she’s keeping up or in advance of her classmates it doesn’t matter at all how much school she misses. I missed lots of school when a kid for all sorts of reasons, and almost none of them because I was sick. I met people in Turkey from Australia who were on a yearlong trip with their kids (13 & 15) with the explicit blessing of their school system. In fact, as they had pulled the kids several times before for short travel the school proactively suggested that if they had any big travel plans in play they do it before the girls were halfway through high school. The school system there doesn’t care about trivialities like “attendance” until it comes down to the last two years of getting ready for university. Obviously you make sure they are doing the schoolwork (or some variation on it) while traveling, but there’s no need to be “in” school.

    Anyway … Boston is lovely this time of year. My one extended visit was years ago for a long weekend visiting a friend going to Cambridge. We definitely wore out our shoes wandering around, but fortunately there was lots of good food (and coffee!) to keep us going!

    • Rob, there are lots of regulations about attendance now at all grade levels, but at least here in Texas, I know you can get absences excused by working with the school. That is subjective though and will rely on the parents relationship with the school as much as anything. I’m sure we will never win the perfect attendance award, but we won’t push the envelope to the point of being in truancy court either. 😉

      • Most of the rules to do with attendance have to do with the school system getting their money from the state, from what I can tell.

        The real point of my comment is that attendance or not is of little significance from an educational standpoint, especially if the child is *actually* of median or above intelligence. The schools have to educate everyone and it’s important to remember that half of the population is below median intelligence!

        Dealing with the bureaucracy is, of course, it’s own special game. School systems and their rules are almost entirely unrelated to how well one’s child is educated and much more to do with making sure the schools & teachers extract the maximum amount of money from whomever is paying!

        • Rob, oh I totally agree with the meat of what you are saying, though most of the truancy cases I have seen in my days working in child welfare were targeted at those who are at risk of dropping out or have parents who just aren’t bothering to get their children to school. I believe funding is an issue, but I also think many of the attendance regulations are around trying to keep kids from drifting and not attending “just because”. I don’t think the intention was to punish families looking to enrich the kids life with travel, but the nets of bureaucracy catch lots of unintended fish, so it is something you have to balance.

          • Aha. I don’t really come from a world where kids have parents who let their kids “drift”. It never occurred to me that there actually was such a world. Who doesn’t make sure their kids go to school?

          • rob, sadly more than you would think. Heck, the number of cases of child abuse and neglect are probably more than most would think, too, but I’ll keep that issue for another forum.

          • @Rob “I don’t really come from a world where kids have parents who let their kids “drift”. Parenthood comes with a LOT of rigors. My own children go to school with kids from every country on the planet. We are highly educated, but my children are in school with offspring of geniuses, refugees, quite wealthy families, and average joes. The planet is made up of many colorful people. Sometimes putting food on the table trumps getting homework done and getting to school. Sadly, sometimes getting high far outweighs that as well.

          • @em: I grew up (I now realize) poor in semi-rural eastern Ontario (Canada) and everybody around me had parents who made sure their kids were at school and did as well as they could. My parents were *not* well educated but made sure that I was working hard at school and doing well.

            That’s what I meant by my not coming from that sort of world.

  2. I strongly recommend that you transcribe C’s story while she reads it to you. My girls are now in their twenties; we traveled extensively since they were infants, and some of my favorite keepsakes are the journals they wrote and illustrated while on our trips.

  3. tRAVEL TRUMPS SCHOOL ANYDAY. We traveled alot once our 2 boys hit 15 and 11 and if I were to do it all over again I would have lived in a foreign country for a year or two. They both continue to love to travel even grown up as they are, and we often reminisce of our travels in europe, mexico, central america and US. As we are priveledged to travel, it helps for kids to see how all people of the world live and how much they have in relationship to others. Different foods were always a highlight as well.

  4. I completely agree that there is so much to be learned outside of the classroom. Last year, when my son was in 2nd grade, I took him out of school for a week and a half for a trip to see polar bears in the tundra of northern Manitoba. When I told his teacher he would be missing school, she was extremely excited for him and told me that he would learn so much more from our trip than he would be missing from school in that short time period.

    She gave me all of the school work he would be missing and we worked on it on the plane and in the little down time we had. When we got back he got to stand up in front of the class to tell them about his trip.

    Fortunately, academics comes easily for my son (at this time anyways). As long as he is able to keep up with school work and isn’t missing necessary instruction that he needs to understand what he is learning, I will continue to pull him from school when necessary for travel. The world through travel is rich in educational experiences (even travel close to home).

  5. My parents pulled me out of school for vacations with the school’s blessing up until I was a junior in high school. I would take all my textbooks with me and do the assignments.

    If I was planning a long trip during the school year. I’d sign my kids up for one of the states home schooling programs. There is more than one way to travel with school age kids. As long as you have internet they can keep up with their online classes.

  6. While I agree with the idea that much can be learned from travel, and I traveled with my children as much as possible, I never was able to travel more then 185 days a year, the number of days they had off from school. Our travel policy was always to travel on the days, weeks, and months that school was out of session, and have our children take advantage of free public education on the days (a mere 180) it was available. For those point proponents who feel my method may be more expensive, I will remind you that taxpayers in my area pay almost $12,000 per year per student, which for me came to a benefit of $24,000 per year. In addition, the money I saved on private college tuition due to scholarships earned by a child who took full advantage of her free public education amounted to $150,000. While I have done well in the points game, the education game has been much more profitable for my family! Finally, I would like to point out that teachers and school systems want students in school because of the vast amount of research that show attendance is related to success. They well know that, no matter how hard they try, they can teach nothing to an empty seat!

    • John I agree that you should try and schedule around the school year whenever possible. However, if an opportunity comes up during the school year that may require missing a handful of school days, I think it doesn’t have to be an academic disaster if the school and family work together.

  7. Hi,
    I am planning a family trip of four to Paris for five nights, Amsterdam for two nights and Hong Kong for three nights this June and am having a hard time finding one room to accommodate all four of us using points. We have points with Marriott, club Carlson, Hilton and Hyatt . Most of the one I have searched require booking two rooms, which of course requires more points. Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated in finding a room for all four of us. I have enjoy reading and learning on you site. Thank you.

  8. I am in Texas too – the way I look at it (especially in elementary school) is this. My children rarely miss school due to illness (we are lucky). So if they miss 2 or 3 days a year for travel – that is actually less than many other kids. Heck – my friend’s son missed 14 days of school last year due to allergies/asthma, whereas my son missed 2 days due to us going to WDW. Either way both kids missed school. If my children got sick a lot then I would not be also tacking on days off for vacation. Of course this is not really in your control, but just something to think about. Also my son’s tutor (a 4th grade teacher in is school district) finds nothing wrong with the kids going on vacation for a couple of days, and we have never had any issues with this in other years. Once they hit junior high, we will probably stop this since the course load gets harder.

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