By Deenaz Raisinghani
If you love travelling often, it means you always look out for the best deals while planning trips. This involves researching flights, hotels and activities well in advance. However, this also means that most times you travel off season to avoid soaring rates and overflowing tourist crowds. Does this have any effect on your kids’ schooling? If you are a parent, you will know this is true. I often hear from parents who worry about travelling because their kids go to school. They put it off saying they will start travelling more when they grow up and get past their crucial schooling years. While this is definitely a major consideration as a parent, it should not be the reason to postpone your travel dreams for years on end. Here is what I suggest you do to help plan your travel with kids and also not compromise on education:
Ever heard the saying ‘Make hay while the sun shines’? That is exactly what I am currently doing and I suggest other parents of preschoolers do as well. You will never get back these initial years again when your kid was in the age group 0-5 years. These years are gold when it comes to maximising your travel dreams as parents. From my experience, I can assure that you will not regret travelling during these years. Firstly, you will save a ton of money on logistics (flights, meals, entry tickets and accommodation) when your child is in the age group 0-2 years. Once the child crosses the infant stage, you suddenly have to save for an extra flight ticket and that is when you start realising you could have made use of the first two years to earn some extra flight miles. Since I am being totally honest here, I can tell that parents know their child will not be missing out on the moon if they miss a few days of school when they are a preschooler. If you keep a tab on their classwork and routine, you will be in tandem with what they are learning in school. This can be a cue to understand what they will likely miss out on. Speak to teachers and get an idea of the syllabus that is being covered and not just homework. This way you can incorporate some lessons while you are travelling with your kids. Some preschools, such as the one my daughter goes to, are very supportive and they work with me to make sure she does not miss out on much while we are travelling.
This is especially true for older kids that actually have proper lessons going on along with extra-curricular activities in school. It is unfair to speak to the teachers just a couple of days in advance which means they will not have any time to advise or plan your kids’ absence. Most schools also have strict policies in place with a minimum attendance which will automatically filter out long absences. However, if you are one of those parents that believe in taking long-term holidays or a gap year with your school-going kids, you must speak to the school and make them understand why you think their absence will not be detrimental to their learning process. Older kids also have their own constraints and will often whine about skipping their sports practice or tests at school. This should also give you a cue about understanding if your kid is willing to try out long-term travel with you or are they the kinds that feel weekend breaks are enough as they thrive on a school routine. That being said, some schools these days are progressive enough to encourage travel and want their students to experience this gamut as well. Schools themselves take children on sponsored trips to destinations in India and abroad where they learn about the world and indulge in adventure activities. However, this is different from travelling with parents and if you can convince the school to let your child off for a month or less during one school year, you can actually travel quite a bit in a year itself including weekends, term breaks and summer vacations.
What I mean by ‘knowing your child’ here is to understand their ability to grasp things at school and outside. Every child has a unique learning curve and one should not compare this with any set standards of education. As a parent, what is important is knowing where your child is placed along this curve and how quickly he picks up what is being taught at school and otherwise. This will guide you while planning breaks and also indicate if your child should not be missing out on school beyond a certain period. You can try to encourage your kid in whichever domain he seems to have an inherent talent, and look for activities during your trips that let them develop their interests. Examples are taking them to a football field and sports museum if they are interested in sport, going to an art and craft fair if they are the creative kinds or taking them on a city walk if they love monuments, and geography. You can even take your kids to a cooking class where they will learn how to bake or cook depending on their interests.
I do this very often as we currently travel every couple of months and I want a certain kind of ongoing learning routine. I usually carry a set of flash cards that have different varieties, a set of pre-school worksheets for writing and colouring practice, and mess-free doodle pads for her to keep busy. We play games like ‘I spy’, ‘Odd Even’, ‘Opposites’, ‘Related Words’, ‘Memory’ and more to keep her mind alert and active. We also talk about the place we will be visiting by showing her the location on the map, and telling her exactly how we will be going there (flight, subway lines, and buses). She is pretty curious so asks multiple questions when she spots a monument, or when we walk into a market and she sees different coloured fruits and vegetables. I think nothing beats life skills, and these cannot be taught in a classroom so the more your child is exposed to the world, the more curious and empathetic they will be.
I have kept this as the last pointer as Indian society currently is not very open to the idea of homeschooling their kid until they are ready to go to college. While the trend is still picking up and I have spoken to a few parents that travel on gap years and school their kids on their own, I need to research more in depth to know exactly how to manage homeschooling while travelling and how to ensure their kid is not missing out on formal schooling in a way they will regret later. The other option to manage school time is to enroll them into schools while you are travelling long-term. Parents in overseas countries do this very often while they stay put in one location for a month or two. This ensures that the child follows a certain kind of school routine while travelling, but then again this seems difficult in India where admissions and certification systems are all different, and schools taking in kids just for a couple of months is very rare except for when they are military schools.
So, these were a few handy pointers on managing school and travel together. I hope these will come of use for your future travels and you will not keep off travelling because your kids go to school. Until next time, happy travelling folks!
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)