Family travel is no longer just a week to relax poolside. Instead, coveted quality family time is also being viewed as learning opportunities for both kids and adults. More parents are embracing summer travel as a way to immerse their children in new cultures and languages, or even philanthropic efforts that they otherwise wouldn’t get to experience firsthand. I’m definitely one of those parents, excited to raise global citizens who appreciate the nuances of cultural immersion. But how do we prepare our kids for these often challenging experiences?
Here are 4 ways to prepare your kids — from toddler to tween — for cultural experiences of a lifetime:
1. Find Routine in Travel. Leanna, author of All Done Monkey and founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs, is raising her two sons to embrace global citizenship alongside her Costa Rican husband from their all-American home in California. In addition to exposing kids to multicultural books, videos and personal connections from the comfort of home, Leanna’s tip for preparing young kids (especially those who are introverted) for cultural travel immersion is to maintain a bit of their routines while on the go. She says, “Routines are very important for us, so we reassure our son that a few things will stay the same during our trip, while gently preparing him for what would change (‘We’ll be sleeping at Tia’s house, but we’re taking your favorite bedtime stories!’).”
2. Respect boundaries. Relevant to kids of all ages, Leanna also advises that respecting individual boundaries is a delicate balance between travel tantrums and a trip of a lifetime. She prepared her older son (now a 4-year-old) for a great cultural experience by making sure he knew that he could set personal boundaries and by teaching him how to say, “No, thank you” in the native language. Preparing for cultural differences from language to food — or even the influx of hugging and kissing common in Latin American cultures — and allowing your child to refrain from those cultural norms will help them feel in control. Leanna says about her son, “He is rather introverted, so it was helpful to know what to expect in advance and that it was OK if he didn’t want to participate in everything, while also encouraging him to try new things.”
3. Keep them involved! Amanda of Maroc Mama has been traveling internationally with her children since they were born and only recently moved her two (almost) tween boys and husband to Morocco to fully immerse themselves in Marrakesh’s culture and language. Needless to say, Amanda has figured out how to prepare her kids for cultural immersion. “With older kids, there’s more to anticipate, more questions and disruptions,” she explains, “but there’s also countless opportunities to get them involved, have them be a part of the planning, and allow them to set the pace.” She suggested keeping kids at the forefront of planning, and to stay flexible during the trip to allow for their curiosity to roam — literally! “Often they see the things we adults miss! Our advice? Let them be involved from day one and you’ll have fewer worries and hiccups when you’ve left home.”
4. Utilize all their senses. For the creative spirits, begin preparation for cultural immersion while still at home with crafts that depict the experiences on which they’re embarking. I’ve learned that while talking with my daughter is a great way to prepare, doing so while she colors really helps cement the lessons. For instance, in preparation for the local Mexican Day of the Dead festival, we colored this custom Dia de los Muertos coloring sheet to discuss the culture and traditions of this festive holiday.
Like so many experiences in parenting, preparing your children for international cultural immersion is about knowing and anticipating their needs. Recognizing whether your little ones are adventurous, cautious or a unique blend of the two will help guide you in creating a positive experience that will speak to their appreciation and understanding of our world as they grow and mature.
One thing is certain, as more families embark on cultural immersion trips, thus creating dynamic global citizens, the better all of us will be.
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