What’s the point in taking such young children travelling around the world? They won’t understand what they are seeing and they won’t really remember it when they’re older. Why don’t you just stay at home?
Mostly, when we tell people about our travel plans they are overwhelmingly positive, Eve’s teacher’s initial reaction was “What an education!”. But occasionally someone will not understand.
So what is the point? And what can we do to prepare them for such a big change in their little lives?
Because they are so young, I think they have trouble differentiating between countries, so we are doing all we can to teach them about our destinations before we go. The older two frequently confuse, India, China and Japan for instance, so we look at picture atlases, read National Geographic and talk about our experiences of visiting some of these places before they were born.
We are trying to find out what children in our destination countries like to read, play and watch, and remembering books and programmes from our childhood set in foreign lands. So ‘Skippy the Bush Kangaroo’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ are on order and the picture book ‘I live in Tokyo’ by Mari Takabayashi is studied with great concentration as we learn about the Doll’s Festival and how to write fish in Japanese. Playdough sessions are interspered with origami making and Thai kick boxing. Although I’m now regretting suggesting the latter.
We are planning to see volcanos, coral reefs, glaciers, deserts and jungles on our travels, so we’ve been mining the library for reference books. I would love it if we went on a walk through the Malaysian jungle and one of the children said “Look there’s a …” Then I would know that we were doing the right thing. Having a geologist Daddy is helping. I’m confident that we’ll all know a lot more about glaciers and volcanos by the end of our trip. Whether we want to or not.
Learning about animals is easy, with Battersea Park Zoo down the road and a well-used season ticket to London Zoo last year. We’ve adopted a Cambodian otter and an orangutan called Sen, who lives at Sepilok Sanctuary in Borneo, a place we intend to visit. He’s the same age as Dickon, likes splashing in the bath, throwing food and playing with his toy train. Apparently, Charles Darwin’s visit with his infant daughter to the orangutans at London zoo was one of the catalysts for the Origin of Species. Hmm.
One of the great joys of travel is trying new foods, particularly somewhere like Thailand or Vietnam. But if you are four years old, trying new food can be something akin to being made to walk across hot coals, and if you add chili to the food, well you might as well be throwing your four year old to the lions. I don’t want to have lots of battles about food, so I’m quite prepared to let them survive on a diet of rice, fruit and cartons of chocolate milk for three months. But I’d love it if they could enjoy eating in Asia, so to that end, and also because we are greedy, we eat out as much as possible, and almost always Thai, Vietnamese or any cuisine involving chillies, noodles or raw fish. We have also persuaded them that seaweed makes a yummy snack.
I do realise that a four year old will have a limited memory of a trip like this as an adult, but I also think he will get things from it that are not all about remembering. He will have a year away from formal schooling, a year spent with his family, a year of learning to adapt to new places and new experiences, a year of learning to amuse himself on long bus journeys, all things which I hope will have a lasting impact.
As for not remembering, we’ll have blog posts and photos coming out of our ears by the end of the trip. Forgetting about it won’t be an option.