One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part three of their adventure.
I’m often asked if I believe there is true benefit in traveling abroad with young children. Will they remember their experiences? Couldn’t we simply take them to any beach or pool and they’d have an equally fantastic time? My answer – well, yes and no. Children are typically quite perceptive and are often more cognizant than we assume. Sure, my children love any beach at any time, yet my motivation for taking them abroad and exposing them to new cultures, beliefs, and attitudes is primarily because I believe that these experiences broaden perspectives in children (and adults). Through each and every traveling adventure, we are challenged with all that is new and different.
So, what do we do with all the newness? How do we process it both during the trip and after- to extend our understanding and to ensure that the experience of traveling abroad does not end when we unpack our suitcases and settle, once again, into our daily lives? Like many travelers, our family takes photos, utilizes travel journals, and we purchase works of art that transport us back to our time abroad. These mementos enable us to deepen reflections and observations once home.
On our latest adventure through Southern Africa, we decided it was time for our children to take a more active role in documenting their experiences in order to help solidify their individual memories and give them an avenue for sharing our trip with others. To help with the documentation endeavor, we provided each of our six year old twins as well as our six year old niece with a camera. The cameras were given well in advance of our departure to ensure that our children knew how to use them and be responsible for general care. Additionally, a blank journal, colored pencils, watercolors, and crayons were provided to allow freedom in documenting daily experiences through stories, words, or simply drawings.
Watching the documentation process throughout the trip was a fascinating experience. When happening upon large African beetles, we would have predicted running and screaming from our children, but found that they chose to photograph collect, analyze, and draw these strange creatures. Massive thunderstorms, which are rare in Alaska, were also documented with photos and later drawn with great detail. Our children drew pictures of an African woman transporting a fifty pound load on her head. They painted a double rainbow over Victoria Falls, and pictures of elephants and giraffes filled their SD cards. No doubt, these kids were recognizing an abundance of unique stimuli.
Now that we have returned home, our children are working to turn their photos into books, and have enjoyed sharing both the pictures drawn, stories written, and photos taken with friends, classmates, and family. With each sharing, I’m certain our children deepen their memories of this adventure.
As we’ve begun to unpack our memories and experiences, we recollect the many differences along the way; weather patterns, food, dress, language, customs, and routines- that were very different from those in our daily lives. Yet, we find the differences both curious and fascinating. Our children have begun to recognize that differences are neither good nor bad, but always mentally stimulating. Perhaps, they are also recognizing the commonalities we have as humans and that we can work to respect differences and learn from one another. And perhaps, we can use our broadened perspectives in our daily lives.