Travel can be hugely beneficial for kids.
Taking your kids traveling, even for a few weeks at a time, can expose them to a whole different culture and be a fantastic learning experience.
Ex-pat kids tend to grow up with a better understanding of foreign cultures and world geography, and are often multilingual.
But kids living ex-pat lifestyles tend to stay in one place for a year or more at a time and often have access to exclusive private international schools.
At the other end of the spectrum, kids on a two week vacation with their parents will return to their stable home and school at the end of the trip.
But what if you, and your partner if you have one, simply want to keep up the globetrotting lifestyle you had before you had kids?
Can kids fit in to this lifestyle, and is it responsible of you to expect them to?
Extended travel is possible with a family in tow, and it can even be an enriching experience for everyone involved, whether you’re traveling for a set period or embarking on a truly open-ended trip.
I’ve heard it said that kids need a routine, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Often it’s adults that need a routine, and usually we find one fairly quickly, even when we’re traveling.
How many of us have got into the habit of an early morning coffee in a particular café, for example, even if we are only in a specific place for a month, or even a week?
Kids will find their own mini-routines as well, or more likely, help their parents stay out of them.
Kids are always finding excitement in everyday activities. Just as you get settled into that morning coffee routine, they’ll notice that the café across the street has a giant chess set, or a gumball machine, or a pet parrot, and you’ll have to change to a new place.
Of course kids have to go to school don’t they?
Well, no actually, legally kids have to be educated, not necessarily schooled.
That’s why home schooling is a legal option in countries all over the world, and why many home schooling parents actually prefer the term home education.
Educating your kids while you travel is feasible, and easier than you might imagine.
To feel comfortable keeping your kids out of the formal education system (or taking them out if they are at an age where they’re already in school) it helps to first re-define exactly what we mean by education.
My personal definition of education is the acquisition of knowledge, preferably knowledge that will be useful in everyday life.
In my opinion it’s not necessary, or even desirable, to acquire all of this knowledge by sitting down to a classroom based set of lessons each day.
Kids on the road learn naturally.
They learn about physical and human geography, world history, religion (although not just the dominant one in their country of birth), wildlife, nature, environmental issues, campcraft, cooking, art and science.
They also learn manners, tolerance, and respect for other cultures. They learn to make friends, and say goodbye.
They learn foreign languages, and how to communicate with someone when you don’t have a single word of formal language in common.
They learn budgeting and the value of money, and that if you run out of money you may have to make base camp somewhere while mom or dad works for a while.
They learn that one of the most pleasurable and satisfying things you can do is not “acquire more stuff”, but “learn new things”.
How you choose to educate your kids while on the road will depend on your plans for the future.
Of course you want them to have the advantages of being literate and numerate, but whether they need the advantages of reading the entire works of Shakespeare and understanding advanced calculus, only you can decide.
If they are returning to formal education at a later date I can’t guarantee your “home schooled on the road” kids will know everything their classmates do. I can only guarantee they will know an awful lot of stuff that their peers don’t.
On a planet where world leaders send troops and weapons to places they can’t find on a map, your child will at least know the layout of the world, not to mention a little about the everyday lives of people who live outside their own country, culture and political system.
If you’re cradling your new born baby, or even waving your grade schooler off onto the school bus, and you think your days of long-term travel are over, you may want to think again.
What could be irresponsible about raising informed world citizens who recognize just how interconnected we all are?
The Matador community believes in the educational power of engaged travel. For more, check out the following articles:
If your a parent of high-school age children who believes in the educational value of travel, check out the youth travel programs offered by Where There Be Dragons.