Outside of Bad Reichenhall, Germany, my nine-year-old son, Anders, and I climbed a mountain. This wasn’t a stroll around a nature trail; this was a serious 3,000-foot ascent. What started as a steep trail led to cables and metal bridges over sheer rock. We used hands and feet to cross snowfields. And when we reached the top, we were thrilled with our accomplishment. This is not something we could have done a couple years ago.
Traveling with my husband and two boys, now eight and ten years old, means we can do things like climb mountains and visit museums, but we still cuddle up together at night to read or watch movies. In my experience, kids in middle childhood still genuinely like hanging out with their parents, are excited to try new things (most of the time), and are very capable.
We are currently traveling through Europe for a year and Worldschooling Anders and Finn. At these ages they are soaking in the history, culture, and environment of the places we visit. They are old enough to carry a backpack with all of their stuff for a year through customs, on and off trains, and to get to our rented apartments. They have their own ideas, curiosity, opinions, and sense of adventure that enriches travel for all four of us.
Cognitive behaviorists say that decentration is a hallmark of this stage. Our kids should be able to more successfully take another’s point of view and be able to consider more than one dimension simultaneously. This is a handy skill when trying to wrap our heads around how the different cultures we visit operate. We are all forced to take the perspective of someone else, which can only make us better people.
We explored Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions at a hands-on children’s museum in Florence, learned to paint frescos at Palazzo Vecchio, performed most of the 60 experiments at the House of Experiments in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and made friends with locals in Salzburg while playing Pokémon Go! While these outings were ostensibly “for the kids,” my husband and I learned a lot, too.
Even experiences that aren’t specifically for kids, including viewing Botticelli’s Primavera at the Uffizi Gallery and learning about the Third Reich in Munich, deepen when we have the boys with us. I find myself doing more research and gathering more background information for them, which ends up broadening all of our horizons.
And these boys are making me have more fun. We found a high ropes/zipline adventure course outside of Florence, Italy. Without the kids as an excuse to get out and play, my husband and I would have missed out on a really fun day. We wouldn’t have bought sleds to slide down the hill in our backyard in Germany, and we might not have been inspired to jump into the Adriatic Sea in December in Croatia.
I love this age for travel. I’m not carrying anyone or changing diapers, I am having real, interesting conversations, and my kids still want to hug and snuggle first thing in the morning. And it doesn’t hurt that we still get discounted kids tickets at most of the places we visit.