TravelFor Forney Shell, a tour guide at Monticello and a travel agent with Globe Travel, there is nothing better than travel – seeing other places and experiencing different cultures. Many never take the opportunity to travel until after retirement when “they have time.” Shell believes that age is irrelevant when it comes to learning about other countries and cultures and that people are never too young to start learning.

“One of my passions is to encourage parents to take their children on educational trips. If they can’t then there are other ways to teach about different cultures and people,” Shell said. Shell appreciates trips within a school context, such as when students visit Monticello, but believes exposing children to educational opportunities outside the school environment has great benefits.
Shell is not alone. Experts agree there are a number of ways that educational travel can benefit children and the entire family by promoting stronger family ties and increasing learning for both parents and children.

“Begin with finding out what the kids are studying in school, what did they study last year, what are they studying this year, and what they may study next year, and tie that in with educational opportunities during vacations,” said Shell.

Not all families have money available to travel overseas or even to various states in the U.S. But Shell said there are other ways to remedy that problem and still give children opportunities to learn. “Take them to an Indian, Chinese or Japanese restaurant if they are learning about Asian cultures, and learn about utensils such as chopsticks and different foods,” he said. “Try taking them on a day trip to a nearby Native American Indian powwow to learn about the different tribes that inhabited Virginia.”

Taking advantage of vacation destinations can also provide educational opportunities. For example, Shell said, a family that takes its vacation every year at Virginia Beach has many educational activities at its fingertips.
“I’m not saying a family should have the vacation revolve around education for the kids, because the family will want to have fun, but there are many things to do in that area including the Military Aviation Museum and False Cape State Park,” Shell said. There is something to interest any child, including a National Wildlife Refuge with wild horses, loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, varieties of migrating birds, and even endangered species. The entire family can hike, go surf fishing and even try animal tracking. This teaches them about the natural environment and why preservation is important. This form of education leaves behind the confines and structure of the classroom and encourages hands-on learning.

There are also historic homes and a modern art museum for the child with a creative bent. Or consider exploring the history of pirates – a topic that usually delights children’s imagination with romantic and adventurous notions, but also teaches them what piracy really was back in those days. Most of these activities cost very little or are free.

“It is just taking 15 minutes to say, ‘What can we do to educate the kids?’” Shell said.

Festivals are another great way to experience culture. There is an annual Greek festival every year in Richmond that provides a wonderful chance to learn about an ancient civilization: its dress, food, music, dance and more.
Shell added that taking children to a different place of worship to experience a different religion through their ceremonies helps to expand a child’s education, resulting in a better understanding of that culture and their beliefs.

“Even visiting some of the museums in Washington can teach so much about different points in history,” he said, adding that his visit to the African American museum was thought provoking by its layout and display choices.

“The design of the building is unique in that it symbolizes an African headdress. Inside the lighting is dim in the rooms downstairs where slavery is discussed but it brightens as you ascend to the upper floors when you see displays on Colin Powell and Barack Obama,” he said. He added that the tour guides are very good at explaining the mindset of different times in history and what it meant for the African American people.

For young children, flash cards with items such as chopsticks, a geisha, the Tower of London, tulips, or a wooden shoe can open doors to recognizing things outside the boundaries of their familiar environment. This done in conjunction with travel or other fun activities broadens the limitations of their minds, benefiting brain development and increasing the number of neural connections.

If parents have the money to travel to another continent when the children are younger, this would be a great addition to their education, said Shell. But older children may be able to seize that opportunity later prior to attending college. A foreign exchange student program is ideal for the student who may not be able to travel overseas but can still learn from another student what life is like in their country.

“Visiting Disney world’s Epcot Center and discovering countries like Norway, Italy, Germany and Morocco or traveling to Hawaii to experience different tribal customs is an alternative to traveling outside the U.S.,” Shell said.

Lastly, community friends and neighbors are a great resource for teaching children about their country and culture, including Americans who have lived abroad. How many people already know someone in the community from Africa, Asia, England, Ireland, Scotland or Mexico, who would love to talk with their children about their homeland. Opportunities are everywhere to educate children and parents might learn something as well.