Friday, 6 November 2009

Globetrotter Parent says no! to cultural vacations with small children

When people find out that I have this blog, they sometimes ask me for travel advice.  In particular, they like to ask me what kinds of trips they can take their small children on that will expose their under-six years old children to "culture" and "history".  After all, the mind of a small child is like a sponge, so their child should be able to absorb all that knowledge easily, no?

Actually, funnily enough, we don't travel a whole lot, except to move residence.  And when we do, it's usually to head to a beach.  My advice on how to give small children a cultural experience: wait as long as you can.  Wait until they're older and for the time being, stick to places where there is a pool and / or a beach.

You may be surprised that a Globetrotter Parent such as myself would give such advice but seriously, how much is a four-year old going to really get out of the Roman forum (heck, without a guide explaining to me what all those broken stones are supposed to be - I don't get much out of the forum) or even the Colosseum?  We lived in Rome for three years and my daughter still has no inkling as to what the Colosseum was for.  I do not regret not having explained Roman history to my completely uninterested three-year old.

Your eight or nine year old will appreciate the Parthenon in Greece and the Pyramids in Egypt much more than your four-year old.  Your twelve and thirteen year old even more so.  Trying to stuff culture and history into a mind whose preoccupation is with getting fed, running around, and playing in water is an uphill battle.  Leave it be for now.

"But my five year old will love the Eiffel tower!" I hear you say.  Yes, and your nine-year old will love it even more.

That doesn't mean it's not worth taking your child to Egypt on vacation.  But how about taking them for some swimming and snorkeling and leaving the scubadiving - and the pyramids - until they are old enough to think the activity worth the effort?


SilverJewelOman said...

I have taken my children anywhere and everywhere. My 4 yr old has been to more than 25 countries and 1 yr old many as well. Whenever we travel we always visit historic and cultural attractions. While it may not be directly evident now I believe that any opportunity or experience we can give our children is worthwhile. When we travel we do not do the usual tourist thing and we love to get out and about. Plus there are many options for kids, from kids museums, science museums, zoos, parks, even shopping in a different country provides different opportunities - rather than sitting around a pool (I can do that anytime) - unless you really need a break - then it may be just what you need!

The Globetrotter Parent said...

Hi Silver Jewel! I don't count zoos and parks as cultural and we certainly don't hesitate to take our kids to see the lemurs in Madagascar or visit the Central Park Zoo in NYC!

As for science museums, I find that the vast majority of them are for kids about 8 or 9 years of age and above. The Cité des Sciences in Paris opened a section for younger kids a couple of years back, which isn't bad, but for the most part, science museums tend to be more of interest to elementary school kids.

My daughter gets bored stiff shopping, unless it's in a toy store.

I wouldn't say you necessarily have to go to a pool but I do think that that vast majority of "cultural" visits are not going to be of much interest to a 2, 3 or even 4 year old. If you can do it without your child repeating "can we go now?", "I'm hungry" and "I'm bored" over and over again during the visit, great.

A lot of museums will offer workshops to children while you visit but these workshops tend to be for elementary school kids as well. The few times I have seen them offered to under-6es, my daughter has refused to leave my side to participate in it. And why should she? She is in a strange city and we would be effectively leaving her with strangers.

Diane said...

My parents have taken me traveling for as long as I can remember. It almost made me hate travel and I abhorred artsy fartsy museums (I didn't learn to appreciate them until my late teens!). We traveled all through Europe when I was a small child, and the only thing I remembered about Paris was the pain au chocolat and the only things I remembered about Germany were: a salt mine and a wooden puppet shop! Oh, and a water castle in Austria. The rest? I couldn't have cared less! So funny what kids are interested in and remember about "cultural" vacations.

Ilaria said...

I ahve to disagree...It depends on where, I think. Europe is ok to do with kids (we've done it and enjoyed it), but Asia is GREAT! My kids have been all over Asia and I couldn't imagine not having taken those trips with them! The temples at Angkor Wat, the beauty of Luang Prabang...nope, they beat a beach vacation any day! (we've done a lot of those too living SE Asia for 5 years)
We actually avoid all kiddie spots and we don't do zoos kids enjoy exploring and that's what they expect vacations to be. Gotta run to book our junk cruise on Halong Bay now... ;)