Preparing Your Homeschooler for an International Trip

So, you’ve decided to take your homeschooler on an international trip.  Congrats!  Now, it’s time to get ready.  Designing your lesson plans to prepare for your trip dramatically enriches the experience once you get there.

Global travel is a deeply enriching educational experience for anyone of any age.  Lay a solid foundation before you go to make the most of the time you spend abroad with your homeschooler.

Find it on the map.

As a population, children educated in the United States have an embarrassingly poor understanding of geography.

Travel is a fantastic opportunity to correct this.

Every time children go anywhere (even just the grocery store), the ability to visualize that place on a map gives them an “anchor point” for their understanding of geography.

Start broad, then work your way into a tighter orientation.

So, for example, if you plan to go to Italy, start by finding the country on the globe.  Encourage them to learn the shape, the contours, and the land/sea borders.   You can even use the shape like an inkblot and ask them what it looks like to them (most people think Italy looks like a heeled boot).

Then, show them the route you plan to take (if you know in advance) and the major cities.

Once you arrive, show them the local area on tourist maps and help them to gain confidence in reading a map themselves.

Learn 10 words or phrases in the local language.

Most of the time, achieving fluency in a language before you go is not a realistic goal.

But learning just 10 words helps to make kids feel empowered to talk to locals and shows the people in your host country that you care about their culture.

I like to focus on “courtesy” words, like:

-please

-thank-you

-good morning

-excuse me

Not only do words like this teach/show politeness, but these words also get used every day and your kids will likely be able to use them all comfortably within a week.

Cook traditional dishes together.

The fastest way to a child’s brain is through his stomach.  🙂

Look up some authentic recipes actually written by people who live in the country you plan to visit.

If the ingredients are rare or difficult to come by, all the better!  Make an adventure of going to the local Latin grocery to get nopales or to the Greek market to procure a block of fresh, handmade feta.

Get kids used to eating different foods before you go, and you’ll avoid the embarrassment of children who refuse local dishes because they’re unfamiliar.

Read some traditional folktales.

Do a little research and incorporate some traditional folktales into your lesson plans in the weeks leading up to your trip.

Children love learning through storytelling.  All cultures create stories that impart their values and traditions to their little ones.  Reading them to your kids ahead of time helps to orient them to values that may be less emphasized in their home country.

Understand key symbolism.

Learn any symbols that are important in the country you plan to visit.

The national flag is a good place to start.  You’re likely to encounter it over and over (in customs, on the streets, at the embassy, etc).

Also, learn religious symbols and especially symbols that mean something different to the locals than they mean to you.

For example, the swastika appears on temples in India quite commonly.  Obviously, it means something very different to Westerners.  Knowing that in advance avoids any confusion about the intention.

Similarly, cows have a special place in Hindu culture, and eating beef is sometimes regarded as taboo.

Find someone who immigrated.

If at all possible, find someone or even a whole family who immigrated from the country you’re going to.

Have the confidence to contact community centers or chat with restaurant owners about their homeland.

Ask around, especially if there’s a corresponding immigrant population in your area.

Getting to know someone here from over there makes a huge difference.  People love to talk about where they came from.  They always have great tips about traveling to their home countries (how to not offend a merchant when you’re bartering, what dishes to try, “hidden gem” attractions, etc).

Sometimes, they even connect you with people to meet once you get there.

And who knows?  You might just strike up a lifelong, cross-cultural friendship.

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