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Travel Sleuth - Travel Can Change A Child's Life
(2016 - Spring Issue)

Writer: Jane Stokes

Any brand new observation is a learning moment for toddlers, but when you give school-age kids an out-of-the-ordinary experience, they could very well own it for life.

Even so, parents can’t always orchestrate that bolt-of-lightning effect no matter how exciting the activity, scene, or encounter with a new role model may be. Parents can guide it, however, by coaxing kids out of their comfort zones to meet people in thought-provoking places.

Kids’ summer camp, for instance, can set them free with nature or an international sports or music-appreciation event that may inspire their athletic or artistic development. Or get specific. Stir their interest in science with a hydro tour in Niagara Falls to learn how the volume of plunging water is turned into electricity. In Mexico, let them see with their own eyes how age-old Mayans were far advanced in mathematics, astronomy and sociology. In Northern England, put their little hands on Hadrian’s Wall so they can touch the very stones the Romans touched. Deep in the Southern Hemisphere, expect their curiosity about the Earth’s geography to peak when, in July, you drive northward, not south, to experience warmer climates. Take a tour of parliament; enjoy a Broadway musical; visit animal sanctuaries, science centres and children’s museums; stay in a real medieval castle; let them help others in need. Somewhere, there is a dream-in-the-making.

Do make it easy on yourself. Until children can fully retain their experiences, it makes good sense to rely on family attractions to kindle those little flames. Theme parks, for instance, are filled with fun and learning opportunities for every age group so, if you notice a special interest is blooming in marine life, moviemaking, zoology, technology, music or sports, chances are you will find a North American state-of-the-art theme park to reinforce it.

SeaWorld, for example, states it has come to the aid of more than 27,000 animals in crisis over the last 50 years: “And during our behind-the-scenes program, children and adults get to witness up close the actual care that goes into saving manatees, sea turtles, sea lions and more,” says Dr. Christopher Dold, the corporate vice-president of veterinary services for SeaWorld Parks. Better still, he says, “when kids get to see that so much marine life is healed and returned to the wild, it teaches them people can really make a difference in the lives of animals.”

Here are five themes when travelling to spark their inner genius:

Uncover Why it is a Wonder of the World

While human ingenuity prevails in the ancient and the modern wonders, children often display a special affinity to the Seven Natural Wonders of the World: 

•          In the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Colorado River carves 1.6 kilometres deep into the Earth’s crust to reveal 17 million years of geological history. 

•          In the darkness of various countries closer to the north pole, you might witness the colourful lights of the Aurora Borealis across the night sky caused by charged cosmic particles interacting with the upper atmosphere.

•          Snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to view a three-dimensional world on as many as 3,000 reefs.

•          The summit of Nepal’s Mount Everest is this planet’s highest point at 8,849 metres.

•          In 1943 in Mexico, a small cone poked through a farmer’s field and, in less than a decade, scientists observed the evolution of Volcano Paricutin, from creation to eruption to extinction.

•          As many as 130 islands in one bay create a geological panorama in the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

•          The world’s highest cascade at 107 metres, Victoria Falls in Zambia was named for Queen Victoria by David Livingstone, a grade 4 history-class hero.

Figure Out How Things Work

Science centres, planetariums and children’s museums teach kids, in their language, why things do what they do. So for better grades, better conversation and even a fascinating career, explore such venues as the Canada Science & Technology Museum in Ottawa; Science North with planetarium and IMAX theatre in Sudbury; Science World B.C. in Vancouver; Brooklyn’s Children’s Museum; Exploratorium in San Francisco; Dorrance Planetarium at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix; Computerspielemuseum in Berlin; and Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam.

Learn How to Share

Many travellers today volunteer to cook meals, build homes or bring supplies to people in need and, in return, recipients often open a trusting window into the culture of their lives. Even just a few hours of volunteering on vacation builds character in any child. Family voluntourism trips are generally best for kids 10 and older. Here are some ideas to consider:

•          In Australia and Thailand, find out about teaching English or serving meals through the organization, Kids Giving Back.

•          Participate in wilderness management projects in Iceland (and around the world) with GoVolunteering (by Holidays for Humanity).

•          Help to build and maintain a nature trail all the way from Western Canada to Mexico with the Continental Divide Trail Society.

Awaken a Love for History

Thousands of medieval castles withstand the test of time around the world, especially those high above the rivers and waterways of Europe. Kids particularly like Schloss Neuschwanstein, a castle in the Bavarian Alps that inspired the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Walt Disney World. You and your own little beauties can’t sleep there, but you can at the Amberley Castle in Arundel, England; the Fenton Tower in Kingston, Scotland; the Ruthin Castle in Denbighshire, Wales; the Villa Tuttorotto in Rovini, Croatia; and Zamek Korzkiew in Przybyslawice, Poland.

Stay on a University Campus

When the majority of students are not around during the summer months, many universities open their dorms to tourists at attractive nightly rates. Accommodation comforts vary, but doubles with private bath are common here in Canada and abroad. Parents of teens and tweens say this type of campus exposure (including university tours) can spark permanent academic ambitions in places such as the London School of Economics whose alumni include Pierre Trudeau, Catherine McKenna and Hal Jackman; Oxford University, the school of Lester B. Pearson, Indira Gandhi and Boris Johnson; Trinity College in Dublin attended by Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and  Paul McGuinness; the University of British Columbia in Vancouver where Jane Munro, Herb Dhaliwal and Bjarni Tryggvason were schooled; the University of Toronto, which taught Stephen Leacock, John McCrae and Frederick Banting; and Dalhousie University in Halifax where Joe Clark, Kathryn D. Sullivan and Lucy Maud Montgomery studied.

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