Friday, August 19, 2016

Travel as Education


Travel plays a role in educating children

We have been fortunate — sometimes on a shoestring, but many times with lucky opportunities — to be able to offer our children and grandchildren a variety of world experiences to help them understand and succeed in life.

This obviously is not the case for many children who don’t have the resources to experience the world. I empathize with children living in impoverished areas who have relatively few opportunities to see more than their own neighborhood.

Our first two daughters started to learn about the broader world as we traveled around the United States, initially camping in tents. After adding two more daughters, we had to start traveling with a trailer housing a toilet, a shower and sleeping space for six.

We later worked in five European countries for several years, allowing our children to learn quite a bit about other cultures. We encouraged them to give us feedback, which was mostly positive, but we also got comments such as “Cathedrals in France are beautiful, but we really don’t want to walk through another one,” or “The Spanish guys in the bullfight were treating that bull terribly, and I don’t want to come back here again.”

Our children also had the occasional opportunity to live for brief times with their grandparents in a rural community. Our grandchildren also live in families where they are exposed to a variety of lifestyles. We once took two of our grandchildren camping in northern Minnesota, where we took a ropes course, boated, hiked and generally enjoyed the great outdoors.

Although learning opportunities are not possible for children in many areas, there are a few good models of ways to create those opportunities to learn about the wider world. We had an inside view of one of these programs in Hillsdale, Mich., when we attended a Road Scholar music program coordinated by the Michindoh Conference Center. In our spare time, we explored what the center was doing for children.

The campus at Michindoh Outdoor Education School covers about 250 acres. There is housing for more than 300 visitors at any given time. The children come in for four or five days from a variety of support systems. Some come with religious groups, some come with school groups and others visit through Scouts.

The outdoor adventure often is the first time many kids from large cities, such as Detroit, have a chance to get away from an urban environment and into the wild.

Campers can go for a swim or cruise around in canoes or paddleboats. On our hike through the woods, we passed a ropes course with a zip line at the end. An indoor ropes course with a climbing wall also was available.

Out in the woods, we saw groups of kids learning survival skills. Some looked like they were learning about the life of pioneers. There appeared to be as many girls participating in the activities as boys. We noted the dining hall was arranged so girls and boys would sit at the same tables.

We also visited a nature center, where a young male docent brought varieties of snakes out to be handled as he talked about several different types of turtles in a nearby pool and a variety of other small animals. A swampy area nearby features a variety of birds and reptiles.

We were impressed by the variety of experiences and learning opportunities available to the visiting children, many whom are from disadvantaged homes. Four or five days was great, but we felt they would benefit from even more time at the camp. Our meals were planned, so we didn’t have to stand in the long lines that plagued the children’s side of the dining hall.

While not specific to any one denomination, many programs at the camp include some element of Christianity. Part of the fees we paid to attend our program help support the program for children who need financial aid.


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