Summer is a popular time for families to vacation together, and according to AAA, more than a third of Americans expect to take a journey that is at least 50 miles away from home. With 79 percent planning a road trip, 51 percent preparing to visit a national park, and 33 percent anticipating a visit to an international destination, the opportunity for educational experiences abound.
RewardExpert spoke with Lisa Hansel, Editor in Chief of Young Children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) peer reviewed journal, about the educational benefits of travel for children and her suggestions for making the most of this year’s summer vacation.
But First, a Little Background
A professional membership organization, NAEYC was founded in 1926 to address the quality of the nation’s nursery schools, or what we know as early childhood education today.
“The researchers and educators formed the National Association for Nursery Education,” Hansel explained, “and within a few years, they published a book titled Minimum Essentials for Nursery Education. I think that’s interesting because it’s really at the heart of our work even today. NAEYC remains dedicated to ensuring that all young children receive an engaging, joyful, high-quality education.”
With nearly 60,000 individual members and regional affiliate chapters across the country, NAEYC is the foremost professional association for the early childhood education field. In addition to promoting high-quality learning for children from birth through age eight, the organization connects childhood educators, policy makers and researchers. It also accredits early childhood education programs and higher education programs that prepare early childhood educators.
NAEYC’s publications include the aforementioned peer reviewed journal, Young Children, as well as Teaching Young Children, a magazine focused on preschool education, and Voices of Practitioners, an online professional journal. Additionally, parents will find a variety of articles and resources on NAEYC’s family-focused website.
“The family site has a great blog with lots of really interesting research-based tips,” Hansel said. “It’s all written in a lively and fun way. And across the NAEYC website, you’ll find a lot of content from both of our publications available for free. While you have to subscribe for complete access, we tend to have half of the content from each issue online for free. We’re very much about doing everything we can to serve the public.”
Building a Strong Foundation
“It’s extremely well established that the early years are a time of the most rapid brain development,” Hansel said. “I would say that the learning experiences and relationships that young children have are just as important as the basics like nutritious food and a warm, safe place to sleep.”
Children who build a strong social, emotional and academic foundation between birth and age eight are healthier and happier in their later years than those who do not. Travel—from the quality time spent with family to the new, diverse range of experiences a child can have while away from home—can assist in the construction of this foundation.
“Throughout early childhood, it’s really important to build a large vocabulary and develop in our young children an understanding of the world,” Hansel explained. “Much can be learned through books and videos, but the first-hand experiences that come with travel are very enriching.”
Combining Family Travel and Education
If you’d like to maximize the educational possibilities these experiences present, Hansel suggests planning ahead of your trip.
“No matter where you are going, there is going to be something fascinating for your child to learn,” she said. “Spend some time in the week or two before you travel learning about your destination.” Books written for children about the location, or children’s storybooks that take place there, are both great options.
“Give your children a chance to let the new ideas settle in,” she continued. “Read through the books several times and have multiple discussions. You could even do some art products to work through the ideas they have. Then, when you arrive at your destination, visit a few significant sites. That way you can create a really rich experience.”
For family trips to the beach, Hansel suggested reading kid-friendly books about ocean life and how waves form. When vacationing in a small town while visiting family, she suggested seeking out books about the history of the region. “If you’re lucky in your research, you might even find a couple of historical sites to visit,” she added.
For outings to big cities, she suggested making time for museums as well. “Find a morning or afternoon for a children’s museum,” she said. “they tend to be particularly wonderful for combining play and education. While you might find that travel can be a bit stressful for young children because of the change in routine, a children’s museum offers a much-needed opportunity to decompress.”
She concluded, “Plan your travel with daily opportunities to play, explore and rest. I think then you’ll find that travel can be a great way for the whole family to bond and learn.”