For my son and me, vacation means hitting the road. And, during our travel, I found that, along with having fun, my son learnt quite a few things. Apparently, not all classrooms have four walls.
By Ashwin Lobo
Last month, I managed to get a week off work. And, since my son Rahul’s winter break coincided with my leave, we thought of going on a trip together. After some deliberation, we decided to go to Kodaikanal. Bracing ourselves for the mountain chill, we packed a lot of woollens and boarded the bus to Kodaikanal.
The week we spent together in Kodaikanal offered us a unique and lovely experience — from eating delicious food to going on long walks, from playing carom to sitting around a bonfire and having open conversations, we did many activities together that brought us closer. Above all, this trip proved to be a learning experience for my child in many ways.
A while back, I came across a study titled, ‘Affective neuroscience of the emotional BrainMind: evolutionary perspectives and implications for understanding depression’, by Panksepp. This study was published in the journal, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience (2010). It explained why travelling is good for children. According to the study, two genetically ingrained systems get activated on a family vacation: the PLAY system and the SEEKING system. The PLAY system is exercised when the parent and child do a fun activity together, like the child riding piggyback on the parent. The SEEKING system gets activated when parents do something new together, like walking down an unexplored mountain trail. As these systems get activated, neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin are released in our brains. These chemicals reduce stress levels and are fundamental in building stronger bonds between the parent and the child.
I couldn't remember the last time I felt so relaxed and close to my son as I did during our trip to Kodaikanal. Not just for me, the vacation was also having a positive effect on Rahul. Following are some of the things he learnt:
Appreciating differences: Travel isn't only about going to a place of your choice, sightseeing and coming back. It is also about soaking in the regional culture and getting to know the locals. And, we did exactly that. Both Rahul and I used every opportunity to engage in conversations with whoever was willing to talk to us — from our hotel staff to the roadside tea stall owner. Speaking with them helped Rahul learn and practise Tamil, along with getting a peek into their lives. He was able to understand how different their lives were and appreciate the simplicity of their lives. At the beginning of the trip, Rahul did not appear too fond of the local food. But after a few meals, he began to take a liking to it. Thus, travelling also taught him to be more open-minded — to different foods and different cultures.
Developing empathy: Interacting with strangers, getting to know them better and becoming a part of their lives, even if it's only for a few moments, gives us a sense of satisfaction. Talking with those around us helped Rahul get to know about their lives. This helped him understand the problems they were facing. At times, Rahul would offer suggestions that he thought would work while at other times, he would just listen – a sign of assurance that he was with them. It was good to see that Rahul was learning to connect and empathise.
Beginning to value experiences: My son had been pestering me for a new bicycle or video game for Christmas; instead of giving in to his wish, I chose to spend that money arranging our trip. I did that because I wanted him to learn to be less materialistic and to treasure experiences more than concrete possessions. And, I wasn't wrong as Rahul enjoyed every moment of our stay. In fact, towards the end of the trip, he came to me with the proposal that we should plan more such tri ps during his next holidays.
Becoming resilient: Usually, in movies, they make travelling look so easy, but that’s not the case in reality. Travelling poses a lot of challenges and travellers often have to cope with bumpy bus rides, unfamiliar food and changes in weather, and much more. We too faced our share of troubles during our trip.
Our bus to Bengaluru was scheduled to leave Kodaikanal at 7:00 p.m. On the way to catch the bus from the hotel, our taxi broke down. After waiting for some time to see if the driver could fix the snag, I decided that we should set off on foot and try to seek help on the way. And, Rahul did not disappoint me. Carrying his heavy bag, he began walking. Walking at high altitude isn't easy and I could see that Rahul was tired. However, when I asked him to sit down and rest for a while, he refused saying that we needed to carry on to catch the bus. Thankfully, after we walked for some more time, a passing vehicle offered us a lift and we managed to make it just in the nick of time. Rahul stayed calm and supported me through this difficult situation. He showed that he was adaptive and resilient and wouldn’t give in easily.
The week we spent in Kodaikanal will live on in my memory for many years to come. It was the first trip my son and I took together but it certainly won’t be the last. While the trip taught him a few key lessons in life, it also brought us closer. As writer and historian Hilaire Belloc famously said, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.”
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