“I wouldn’t have gone without you, and then I might never have seen that – that swan, that sunbeam, that thunderbolt! I might never have heard that entrancing sound, or smelt that bewitching smell! I owe it all to you my best of friends!”
The Wind in the Willows
From Fairy Tales to Star Wars many of the greatest of stories are about journeys. Despite the fact that the world has gotten smaller via our ability to travel faster and communicate instantly, our daily lives, in many ways, have become more insular with much of our information filtered through the same media, rather than through personal experience. Imagine a family trip without electronic devices. Imagine non-virtual adventure and exploration, tide pools alive with spiny life, and hills of fragile wildflowers. Imagine watching the clouds change from white to rose to silver-gold, or traversing an ancient lakebed where once dinosaurs left giant footprints in the mud.
Video games, with their pretend mastery of pretend enemies that rack pretend points redeemable for pretend awards, distract from all the real wonders that surround us. What do we teach our children metaphorically when we teach them to enjoy the journey? That life is to be experienced now, with all of our senses acute. That life is joyful, sad, anxious, hilarious, soft, hard, sharp, and shiny…that the funny looking mountain just ahead used to be an active volcano, and that the stars above are far, far away and to innumerable to count. When we pick up a book instead of an electronic device we lead our children to a place of respect for literature, enlarge their base of learning, reinforce their comprehension, increase their vocabulary, and introduce a certain knowledge that books are valuable keys to both information and magic.
So, whether your journey is 300 or 3,000 miles, whether you are traveling by car, ship, or airplane, bring books, maps, and guides, instead of electronics. Let your child be involved in the planning process by picking out both fiction and nonfiction reading material pertinent to your trip. Even the very young enjoy creating their own trip journal. Let her draw or paste souvenirs in a blank book while you write down what she has to say. Children are fascinated by seeing their spoken words in print. This technique is often used by teachers in early childhood education as a tool in the attainment of early writing skills. Older children will be proud of being able to draw a picture and write a few sentences by themselves.
Teach your child to navigate, how to use a map scale, and what a compass rose depicts. Math and geography become relevant when one is calculating how far the fragile Monarch Butterfly migrates each year. Imagine your child unfolding a map and tracing the butterfly’s vulnerable 2,000 mile odyssey from Canada and northeastern United States to the high mountains of Mexico. The calm ocean stretching to the horizon becomes alive when you open a book about Pacific Shore Life and learn that bright orange Garibaldi, harmless leopard sharks, and bat rays are just a few of the creatures who play in underwater grottos just off shore, and that deep below, below even where whales swim, there are fish that glow in the impenetrable dark. Children are eager to hear new words: Paleozoic, migrate, metamorphoses, bioluminescent, and will absorb even scientific terms readily when there is a direct connection to the real world. Neurobiologists agree that the mind is wired to learn in a sensory, interdisciplinary, and interactive manner, and that hands on learning has a definitive impact on neuronal connections in the developing brain.
“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
John Holt/educator and author
Synthesized media is, inevitably, a part of a modern child’s daily life. Vacations are designed to free one’s self of daily routine, to see the world, or to simply see the world in new ways. A trip without devices allows time to think, time to imagine, even time to be bored…and to figure out creative solutions to fight boredom. When you get home from your trip, go to the library and pick out more books about the places you have visited. Reflection deepens and broadens first hand experience. There is no telling what will excite your child, perhaps he will want to learn more about fossils, or asteroids, or entomology. Books will open door after door into these new worlds, for it is only when we approach a subject with passionate interest that we truly learn.
So, this summer, build sandcastles instead of Minecraft, take detours, find adventure in unlikely places, and enjoy the journey.
Man misses breaching Humpback while texting