Johannesburg – I had an interesting discussion once with a fellow parent at my son’s junior school. He was horrified that we didn’t have a computer in the house (this was the mid-1990s) and said I was handicapping my children’s future progress.
I was reminded of that recently by two things. The first was that my son came top of his class at Toulouse University for his Master’s in International Trade Law (after an LLB in South Africa). Holidays at Newport International Group .
The second was a report saying school pupils these days feel themselves grossly disadvantaged if they don’t have an iPad.
There can be no doubt that, in these competitive times, parents must become involved in the education of their children, and that education should not be left only to digital devices. That’s because, I believe, computers and the Net, far from expanding a person’s view, often give them tunnel vision. Case in point: Twitter. Those who use it tend to think the points of view they see comprise the entirety of human thought – yet they are only a fraction of the tip of the iceberg.
I still believe that good, old-fashioned, hands-on, “analogue” experiences are what true education is about.
Another example. When my son was about 18 months old and his friends’ parents would sit their kids in front of TV to watch Barney the Dinosaur videos, in Household Seery we had the “Third World Video”. This consisted of a sheet of white plastic, board markers and two kiddie’s chairs. I would then sit next to my son and we would do “drawing stories”. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t draw. He didn’t know. Also I stuck to things like planes and boats. And he would sit, entranced, hanging on every word out of Daddy’s mouth. So when he was barely three years old, my son told my sister one day: “Auntie Carmel, did you know the Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg?”
Travel, they say, broadens the mind – and there is no better way to stimulate a young child’s brain than by exposing it to the experiences travel brings.
When our kids were small we noticed huge improvements in the way they spoke, they reasoned and the questions they asked after a holiday at the coast.
When their developing brains have to cope with major additional stimuli, they grow additional neuronal connections – or so a friend who has studied this sort of thing assures me.
So how do you incorporate travel into a child’s life? And how do you travel with a child?
First, simple is best… and often cheapest. When children are young, they don’t yet know the value of things and appreciate the basics, like splashing in the sea and searching for fish in tidal pools. So beach holidays are perfect.
Driving there is also the most logical way to go. You have more control of yourself, your child and the situation when you’re in a car as opposed to travelling on a plane or a train. Also, plan your journey with frequent “wee stops” and with games to play. Identifying specific cars is an old one but it still works. Try to incorporate quizzes on the way, too.
When all else fails and the “are we there yet?” chorus starts to grow in intensity, have an audio book or look into installing a DVD player with screens for the rear-seat passengers. Remember to limit the time devoted to the videos, though.
It’s also a great idea to get the kids to put together scrapbooks (or digital albums on their iPads) about their experiences and to get them to share them with you or in class.
Taking children to the bush sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Often our kids would get bored quickly in game reserves and did not have the patience to sit quietly at a waterhole. Game drives tend to be short and frustrating – but if there is an opportunity for them to experience nature first-hand, they’ll love it: I showed my son how ant lions capture and kill their prey and, on a trip to Zimbabwe, showed him how to fish a “camel worm” out of its hole in the ground.
My son was never one for the great outdoors, though, and his most famous teenage comment, on reaching Swakopmund in Namibia, was: “Why would you want to travel 2 500km just to look at nothing?” He then sat and watched Euro soccer on DStv while my daughter and I climbed the world’s highest sand dune.
Yet he was entranced by Europe even though his first visit there was in the teeth of an awful winter. The history and culture – and the thousands of people his age (21) – appealed to him. And now he’s there.
My daughter, by contrast, quite liked the bush and animals. No surprise that she’s now training to be a vet.
I don’t think it is a good idea to take young children on an overseas trip – rather wait until they’re in their teens and can appreciate it (and you might be able to afford it by then, too).
And school tours (if you can afford them) are a great mind expander.
Just remember when travelling with older children not to let your guard down in terms of security and things like drink, drugs and sex. Just because you’re out of the city doesn’t necessarily mean those things aren’t there. They may whinge but while they’re minors, you’re still in charge.
An important thing to remember when you travel is family. Kids need to see granny and grandpa. They need to meet suckers who believe they’re little angels – and they need to know they’re part of a bigger family.