A while ago a reader pointed me in the direction of an article on MSN Travel about how travel is wasted on kids. I didn’t even have to read the article to know I seriously disagreed with the author.
The author, Bibi Lynch, said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, parents, but travel isn’t benefitting your kids in any way. Do you think you’re broadening their horizons? Well, yes, you would be — IF THEY COULD REMEMBER THESE TRIPS!”
Seriously Bibi – travel benefits kids in ways we’ve never imagined and in ways we will never know. We can come up with some conjectures and all that but, truth be told, we will never truly know just how far-reaching the changes can be.
I can think of many reasons why one would believe travel isn’t good for kids. I could understand the belief that kids need to sleep in their own bed at night or that predictable food is critical to their growth. Some may feel that routine is critical to their development or that exposing them to different environments can compromise their health.
All of those beliefs would be perfect justification for keeping your children at home, but the idea that travel is worthless for kids because they won’t remember it is ludicrous. Flat out absurd.
Bibi maintains that parents should leave their kids at home because, as she put it, “travel is wasted on kids.” She feels small children won’t remember their adventures so parents should leave the kids with grandparents while they head out traveling. I think that is ludicrous.
“What exactly do you think your children will pick up from these travels? Malaria aside,” she continues. “A cultured international feel? A few key phrases in many languages?”
All that and much, much more. Travel is good for kids of all ages – yes, even babies. Here’s why:
Travel changes children’s brain structure
Environment has the power to enhance or minimize an infant’s potential
The reason we, as parents, do all those things is to help our children develop both physically and mentally. Kids learn to speak by hearing others speak to them. They learn coordination skills by climbing on furniture and rock piles. All those skills are building blocks that will, in turn, be used for more complex skills later in life.
When children learn, the actual physical structure of their brain changes as they develop connections between brain cells. Those physical connections – called dendrites – grow in response to stimulating, challenging surroundings. Put a child in her playpen and few dendrites grow; take her to the park and she’ll grow more. Getting kids in new, exciting environments fosters the growth of those connections in the brain which lays the foundation for their entire life. Travel can provide that challenging, stimulating environment
Travel helps develop tolerance and acceptance
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain
Children learn to accept what they grow up with. If they grow up with people of many colors and languages cooing over them, they learn to accept people of all races. If they grow up eating a wide variety of foods, they learn to accept all those different tastes. Getting kids into circumstances where they experience those differences will help your children develop acceptance of them.
When children (and adults) know and love people from other races and religions, they are more likely to be tolerant of those races or religions as a whole. If my children – blond, English-speaking Christians – have good experiences with black, curly-haired Muslims, they are more likely to be tolerant. When the media touts the evils of that entire cultural group, they will be better able to see through it.
While they may not remember being held and cuddled and sung to by that beautiful Ethiopian woman when they were small, babies’ attitudes and beliefs are being shaped as they grow. Those experiences, at six or eight months, lead to acceptance at age 1. Acceptance at age 1 means the fear is lessened and they are more accepting at age 2. And finally, as adults, they see lovely a person rather than an evil terrorist when they see a person of a foreign race.
Travel provides lessons in flexibility and adaptability
Children are defined by what they take for granted
It’s easy for parents to take the easy road. Our children demand mac & cheese for dinner and we’re tired and don’t want a battle – so we give it to them. We have a ton of work to do so we park our kids in front of the TV rather than taking them to the park. We tend to do what is easiest, rather than always focusing on what is best for our children. It’s way too easy for us, as parents, to allow our children to get set in their routine and expect the world to revolve around their wants and needs.
While traveling, however, things rarely go according to what our children want. Nap time gets messed up because that happens to be when the flight is leaving, food is a bit late, it’s too cold or it’s too hot. While traveling, children have no choice but to adapt and accept it – so they learn how to do that.
Travel models chasing dreams
You are limited only by your own imagination
It seems that every parent I know says they want their children to chase their dreams. We tell our children with words that pursuing your passion and following your dreams is a good thing, but many don’t model that.
In one of my education courses at university, my instructor said, “There are three best ways of teaching: modeling, modeling, and modeling.” If we want our children to live their dreams, shouldn’t we, as parents, be modeling that idea? Can we realistically expect our children to chase THEIR dreams if we don’t chase OURS? Maybe we should go book some plane tickets on a budget airline and go?
Travel gives our children options
All the world is your oyster
When children travel at a young age, they learn that the world is their playground. Bibi has a point that toddlers won’t know the difference between Idaho and Thailand, but they will know the words. They’ll know that they had a great time playing with that group of children in northern Vietnam, although they have no way of knowing that Vietnam is on the other side of our planet. To them, any place is accessible for an afternoon play date. Growing up knowing those countries are options takes the fear out of them when you’re older.
If parents take it to the next step and provide a map as a play toy, toddlers will be able to point to various countries on the map, even though they don’t truly understand what they are pointing at. As those children grow, their comprehension and understanding of the maps and world geography expands.
I think my son, Daryl, said it best. When we crossed into Costa Rica as we cycled from Alaska to Argentina I turned to him and said, “Congratulations sweetie! You just crossed into your eighth country.”
When children travel they are learning that when you strip away all the wrappers – when you look beyond the language they speak, the color of their skin, the god they worship, or the currency they spend – that beneath it all, we are more alike than we are different.
If only people of all ages could understand that, this world would be a better place.
There are plenty of bloggers out there that disagree with Bibi. Here are few: