Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Encouraging Children to Explore The World

 It's no secret that I love to travel. My bucket list is speckled with places to see and things that I want to do thousands of miles away. The appeal that travel has on me stems from the fact that there are so many amazing things in this world; cultures rich with history; plants, animals, and people, all waiting to tell a story. I have always known that I wanted to instill this curiosity about the world into my children, but how do we go about it with children so young?

This past week, we have been on vacation with my husband's family, in a place that is very different from where we live. Although Arizona, at first thought, may not seem like such a different culture from Ohio- after all, it is a relatively short plane ride away, in the same country, with the same chain restaurants and big box stores- Daryl and I took this opportunity to focus on the rich cultural diversities that we can find right here in our native country. When it comes to the landscape, Arizona is noticeably different for the children. Jonah literally thought that our plane had landed on another planet. Of course to a three year old, "Phoenix" sounds an awful lot like "Venus."

While commuting, we pointed out the mountains, the buttes, the desert ground and plants that were strange to us, things that we just don't see in our little corner of Ohio. We met with a family that Daryl knew from college and encouraged the children to play and talk to their children; they met the family chickens and played games that their friends don't play back home.

We also chose activities and destinations that encouraged them to learn about things different from what we know at home. We fed a giraffe at the zoo, and came nearly nose to nose with monkeys (while these creatures are not a part of Arizona wildlife, these are still experiences we cannot gain at home.)

We got up close and personal (but not TOO close) to desert wildlife and plants at the desert botanical gardens. We learned about cacti.

We met a ground squirrel.

We said hello to a cactus dwelling bird.

We even met some friends that were familiar.

I encouraged them (unsuccessfully) to try foods that had culinary roots from nearby Mexico, and fruits and veggies that were grown local to the area where we were staying, although we also had familiar comfort foods available in our kitchen at the resort. And above all, they were encouraged to just be kids and have fun!

I know they will never remember the specifics. They will not remember the names of the animals, they will not remember seeing a cactus, they will not remember looking at a mountain in the distance and shouting "A volcano!!! YIKES!" But what I hope they are beginning to develop that will stick with them throughout their lifetime, is a sense of wonder and curiosity about how people live and why cultures behave a certain way; I hope that the seeds have been planted that will grow into a drive to explore a world full of interesting stories and places. And I hope that this curiosity and drive will foster a life of compassion and understanding for cultures and individuals that are a bit different from what we have grown used to in Ohio.

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