By Jen Murphy
I’m one of those people who loves to travel. I love everything about it. I love packing efficiently with travel-sized containers. I love the cars, planes, trains, and buses. Most of all, I love the adventure. Unfortunately, it takes a whole lot more effort and planning with kids – but it’s worth it!
When friends of ours asked if we wanted to visit them in China, I was chomping at the bit to make it happen. It took a lot of planning, a lot of money, and a lot of reading to feel fully prepared for a trip like this one. One of the biggest hurdles: Our two high school-aged children would miss more than two weeks of school.
Above everything else, this really gave us pause. Fifteen days of instruction – that’s a lot of time away from the classroom. But with the “real world” exposure to a different culture, different language, different foods, we felt this experience would provide a level of education that could not be matched within the confines of their school.
The key for us was working to ensure that missed days would not hurt them academically. So I emailed their teachers early in the year and explained we would be taking our kids out of class for 15 days. Because we would be traveling around China, I mentioned that they wouldn’t be able to carry much more than a notebook of materials with them. A few weeks before our trip, I made sure the kids talked to all of their teachers about any work they could finish ahead of time and any alternative assignments they could complete to bring their experience back into the classroom.
For the most part, teachers were cooperative and gave my kids as much as they could ahead of time, and gave extensions for work they couldn’t complete. As parents, we did a lot of reminding to make sure the kids were completing homework before we left, and reminded them about the hard work they would have to put in when we got back.
Our son and daughter brought one small folder for schoolwork and a few writing utensils – perfect for the light packing we had to do! Because they were able to work ahead on some assignments, they could truly enjoy the places we explored. And while we traveled, they gained knowledge they couldn’t have gotten in a classroom. In their words, here’s some of what they learned:
- “Just try it.” Neither of our kids are super adventurous eaters, but we all agreed that when we travel, we will all try local foods. This even included soup with a chicken head floating in the broth! And both kids loved it!
- “Not everywhere is like the United States.” Reading the newspapers and experiencing the strict Internet filters, the kids realized that voicing ideas through print and/or speech isn’t something everyone has the freedom to express.
- “There’s a lot of inequity in the world.” We saw extreme wealth and extreme poverty, sometimes within just a few blocks or a short bus ride. It was eye-opening for our children to see fancy hotels and restaurants catering to tourists as well as small fishing villages, where people lived in very, very modest homes.
We consider each one of these priceless lessons. It was an adventure all around — unique learning opportunities and exposure to a culture completely different than our own. And we’d do it all again in a heartbeat … it was definitely worth it!
Jen Murphy is a working mom with two teenagers. She has more than 20 years of experience working with at-risk youth and is a former middle school teacher. She and her family love living in northern Michigan with their chickens, goats and bees.