The coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives. Many families have been forced to cancel travel plans. However, you can still explore foreign countries with your children and ignite a curiosity for different cultures in their hearts. Embark on a trip across the globe together with home-school lessons that take your kids out of the books and into the wider world. Don’t worry about memorizing capital cities or pronouncing words correctly; your goal is to spark an interest in undiscovered lands and the people who inhabit them.
Grab a globe or world map and start your adventure by choosing your destinations. You can focus on just one city, country, or continent, but for a true around-the-world experience, pick four or five locations that are spread out around the globe. Try to visit places that intrigue you, and your enthusiasm will spill over to your family.
Download free printable passports for kids (there’s a good one on MakeAndTakes.com) to keep track of your journey, and then gather your resources and start planning. The best way to make your lessons fun and memorable is by engaging your children’s five senses: taste, smell, sound, sight, and feeling.
Stimulating the senses of taste and smell is easy: try the cuisine of the destination that you’re exploring. Cook a recipe together with older students or order takeout from a local restaurant. For busy moms and/or picky kids, just do something simple and snack-ish, like French baguettes and Brie cheese. You can shop for a variety of ethnic foods at local groceries. Before you eat, Google the name of the food you’re trying plus the phrase “fun facts” (e.g., “lomo saltado fun facts”) to discover fascinating tidbits to talk about. And don’t just chow down – really smell your food, taste it, feel it (if it’s not too messy), and talk about what makes it similar and different than what your family usually eats.
Music is the easiest way to incorporate sound into your globe-trotting adventure. Search Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube for playlists that will transport you to foreign lands. Traditional music and folk sounds are good but be sure to play tunes from the modern era, too. While France’s Edith Piaf is an undeniable musical legend, most young French people would rather listen to L’Impératrice, Lomepal, or Petit Biscuit, and your kids probably will, too.
Engage the sense of sight with eye-candy travel pics and videos. Record family-friendly travel shows on good old PBS (channel 13), including “Globe Trekker,” “Rick Steve’s Europe,” and “Expedition.” You can also watch videos on streaming sites (like Netflix and Hulu) and cable (try the Discovery Channel, Science, or National Geographic). The Fort Worth Public Library maintains a stash of travel DVDs you can borrow plus numerous travel books and guidebooks with useful maps and information. There are plenty of travel videos online, of course, but your kids are probably already staring at their computer screens all day long. Keep things interesting by changing the setting. Hook up an old DVD player and hang blue sheets for a trip to the Greek Islands. Look at pictures of Egypt in the sandbox. Sit on the floor to read about Thailand, just like Thai schoolchildren do. A small change in your environment can make a big difference.
“Feel” your destination by getting hands-on. Rip out pictures in travel magazines and create collages. Design Indonesian-inspired textiles with markers and graph paper. You can also feel the enthusiasm of a person who’s been to the location that you’re studying. Do you know anyone from Paris, or who has visited South Africa on vacation? Many travelers are keen to talk about their trips and show off their photos. If they have souvenirs to pass around – postcards, foreign currency, ticket stubs – so much the better. These will give your kids a real, tactile connection to the country. If you need an excuse to shop, you can also find decor made in other countries at stores like World Market and HomeGoods. Or simply search your home for elements that evoke the spirit of a place, like brightly colored blankets for Guatemala or seashells for the Philippines. Bring all your plants into one room to visit the jungles of South Africa or cut the A/C low to explore the coast of Iceland.
Most of all, let your children’s interests and unique personalities guide you. Have fun together and just do the best that you can—and perhaps someday, you can experience these far-away lands for real on a family vacation.
Raised in the Fort Worth area, Shilo Urban moved to Austin, Maine, Paris, Seattle, New Zealand, and Los Angeles before finding her way home a few years ago. Along the way, she has had over three dozen different jobs, including high school French teacher, record label manager, and farmhand for endangered livestock breeds. She’s traveled to more than 50 countries and always has the next trip planned. Shilo has been a freelance writer for over a decade and has published in Fort Worth Magazine, Fort Worth Weekly, and Afar. Her interests include lost civilizations, jalapeño peppers, and Game of Thrones. She is currently writing a thriller and lives in Fort Worth with the stars of this article, Steve and Lenny.