Travel Schooling: Helping Children Learn through Travel

By Byrnes, Deborah A. | Childhood Education, September 15, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Travel Schooling: Helping Children Learn through Travel


Byrnes, Deborah A., Childhood Education


An increasing number of children are traveling, and many are missing school to do so. In 1998, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIAA), a record 91.3 million adults took children on family vacations at least 100 miles from home; approximately 36 million adults took children on a business trip with them (TIAA, 2000). Of 23.1 million U.S. residents traveling overseas by air in 1998, 6 percent (1.4 million) had children accompanying them (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000). According to the TIAA survey, during the 1998 calendar year, approximately 16 million adults in the U.S. took their children out of school to take advantage of travel opportunities.

When children travel during school sessions, teachers may be asked to prepare assignments so the children do not fall behind in school. While rarely obligated to do so, teachers can provide helpful advice and appropriate assignments that will benefit the child. If the child shares his or her experiences in some way, such planning can ultimately benefit the whole class. This article is designed to help teachers help parents create rewarding and educational travel experiences for children. Many of the suggestions presented here also will be helpful to teachers when they plan field trips for their students or when they travel as parents themselves.

For the purposes of this article, travel schooling is defined as the education provided children who are traveling for days, weeks, or even months during the normal academic year. My own interest in travel schooling came about when I had the opportunity to travel around the world with my 9-year-old daughter, while also providing educational guidance for three other elementary and middle school children. From this experience, I learned that travel schooling takes planning, creativity, hard work, and flexibility, but it can be an invaluable and unforgettable experience for parents and children alike. Teachers are in an excellent position to help parents rise to this challenge.

Travel Schooling Benefits

Traveling is always educational in some way. When children travel to different geographic locations, they often meet and interact with new and diverse people. Travel also may expose children to different forms of transportation, language, food, art, architecture, religion, dress, and/or money. Therefore, travel is bound to broaden a child's view of the world. Furthermore, travel invariably provides many opportunities to learn such life skills as problem solving, compromise, teamwork, patience, and flexibility. Travel can produce dramatic changes in an individual's outlook, enhance personal development, and increase cross-cultural understanding and global-mindedness (Kottler, 1998; Stitsworth, 1994). And, of course, travel provides children opportunities to learn and practice, in a real-world setting, concepts and skills in all the core curriculum areas.

The quality of the learning experiences that travel provides can be increased greatly through planning. As a teacher and serious traveler, I knew the children I was traveling with would naturally be exposed to many opportunities for learning. I also knew that those experiences could be enriched by providing age-appropriate background information, focusing their attention on certain elements of physical and cultural diversity, and providing them with opportunities to reflect on and record their experiences. Because the children would be returning to their classrooms midyear, I also knew that these children would need to be reasonably in sync with their classmates, regarding core-curriculum skills and concepts, when they returned home.

Fundamentals of Travel Schooling

Travel schooling, like home schooling, is a serious responsibility and one that parents should not take lightly. It can be a real challenge, and one that is easy to neglect in the excitement and activity of traveling. Meeting with parents to help them plan for travel schooling will increase the likelihood that a child will return to his or her classroom with the skills needed to transition smoothly back into the class, as well as with enriching experiences to share.

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