The Dolphin Way

Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger

How Travel Opens the Eyes, Minds, and Hearts of Youngsters

A look at the incredible benefits of travel for children.

Schools Out for Summer, but the Lessons Still Continue: How Travel Opens the Eyes, Minds, and Hearts of Youngsters. 

As my husband piles the last piece of luggage into our jam-packed car, I slowly roll call all of my family’s travelling necessities in my head. Passports? Check. Toothbrushes? Check. Bathing suits? Check. Sandals? Check. Reassured that everything is successfully stowed away, I calmly slump in the passenger seat and take a sigh of relief…Ahh, summer vacation. With all the hustle and bustle of my family’s everyday lives, we collectively look forward to our summer vacations together. I turn to the back seat and look at my three beautiful explorers, travellers, adventure seekers. Radiant smiles were drawn across their faces as they investigated maps and brochures for our new destination. Happiness and pure excitement exuded from their chatter and laughter; not only were they out of school for a couple of months, but they get to spend their time off doing one of their favourite things - travelling. Family holidays can provide great learning opportunities for children, all without a book or classroom insight! Exposure to diverse cultures, picturesque scenery, fun activities and people can teach kid’s valuable life lessons and broaden their horizons…sometimes without them even knowing it. 

New Perspectives: Encompassing 196 countries the world offers a vast cultural landscape. Immersing yourself in a new culture can inspire new perspectives and insights, which can be a holistic learning experience for children. When I took my two kids on a trip to India, we visited Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial. It was amazing to see, my two little boys learning how the powerful movement of civil disobedience was rooted in India’s non-violent struggle against British rule. Immediately recognizing the importance of the story behind Gandhi, they curiously asked me questions about him, his message, and the battle for independence for the rest of our visit. This experience opened my sons' eyes to the powerful and inspiring motivation behind the quest for freedom, cultural equality, and the importance of lessons from history.

Adaptability: Along with new perspectives comes new customs, traditions, and ways of life. Travelling can teach children how to become adaptable to their surroundings and try new things. Have you ever tried to cross the street in India's second most populated city? With no traditional pedestrian stop signs or signals to guide them across, my kids and I were quick to learn how difficult it can be to cross a street in India. They had to adapt to the busy streets in order to discover a safe way get to the other side. This experience taught my sons how the rules and courtesies we take for granted in our own country can be very different in other countries. And of course - to always look both ways!

Stop and Smell the Roses: Travel can require a lot of waiting as delayed planes, detours and other unexpected situations can arise on vacation. Everyday, we are continually rushing to school, work, practice or a play-date; vacations are a time when children can see the value of being patient and living in the moment. Patience instills a quality model of thinking within children. If children recognize that things take time early in life, they are more likely to channel this positive mindset into future goals and aspirations.

Giving: During our trip to India, I took my boys to Kabliji Hospital and Rural Medical Centre. At this centre, my children saw poverty and the fragility of human life firsthand. This experience opened their eyes, mind and hearts to those who are less fortunate then they are. On their own, my boys decided to give their whole piggy bank from years of birthday money ($575 dollars) to the charitable hospital, which sponsored five patients to receive cataract surgery. Children who perform acts of kindness at a young age experience increased wellbeing and display more signs of philanthropic behaviour as they get older. As a proud mama, I am hoping this experience leaves a lasting impression on my boys and that they continue to strive to help those in need.

Gratitude: Travelling can teach children the value of appreciation and to treasure life's everyday affordances. Not every child in India (and many places in this world) has access to the Internet, a soccer ball to play with, or even a parent to tuck them in at night. But what many of these children do possess is optimism and a sense of gratefulness for what little they have. Experiencing different cultures can help children recognize what they do have and what you really need to live a happy, healthy and motivated life. Countless studies exist on the beneficial effects of gratefulness, such as an improved sense of happiness, personal growth, better social relationships, better sleep, less depression, less stress, and better coping skills.

The slam of the trunk door snaps me out of my nostalgic daze. I take one last look at my little travellers, reassure them to buckle up and get comfy for the journey that awaits us. As the car engine begins to rev and soft melodies echo through the radio, I look out the window and recite one of Gandhi's memorable quotations in my head; You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Travel provides children with the opportunity to see the world and reflect on the person they aspire to be, their role as a global citizen, and the changes they want to make on our world.

Shimi Kang, M.D., is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way.

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