The arrival of summer means planning family vacations! Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced travel options, around 42 percent of Americans are cautiously optimistic about 2021 vacation plans. Small family vacation trips adhering to the CDC safety guidelines are definitely a possibility!
A family vacation can be a fascinating learning experience for children through cultural immersion. A 2019 survey by the US Travel Association revealed that 55 percent of Americans traveled in order to learn something new about a place, culture, or history, and 85 percent said they planned trips with the intention of creating an exciting experience for their children. With the US increase in cultural diversity, the need for cultural understanding through vacationing has also augmented as more families opt to teach their children about different heritages and cultures.
What are the benefits of a cultural immersion trip?
There are several different benefits of taking children on a culturally focused vacation!
1) Cultural Saturation
By the age of 3 or 4, children are aware of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds. Children who experience multicultural surroundings become more aware of different lifestyles and other cultures. This in turn helps activate vital developmental and social-emotional skills such as open-mindedness and empathy. It also helps children to understand inherent biases and stereotypes and how to overcome them. Through cultural appreciation and understanding, children learn to adapt to diverse cultures and environments.
2) Increased Cultural Intelligence
As infants and toddlers constantly examine their environments, every moment can become a learning experience. In an article for Parents, child psychologist Dr. Margot Sutherland stated, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction.” In other words, infants and toddlers become more attuned to the world around them and can begin to recognize differences and similarities between their upbringing and that of other children.
Exposure to different cultures means exposure to different languages. Experts suggest that children under the age of 10 are more adept at learning a new language. “If you want to have native-like knowledge of English grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that,” said assistant professor of psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted a postdoctorate study on children’s critical period for learning a second language.
Family vacations allow you to forge memories and bonds with loved ones that last a lifetime. With a cultural focus, your child will learn to embrace other communities and develop a personal connection with them. For multicultural families, a multigenerational vacation can help foster these connections as children learn about their grandparents’ heritage.
How should I plan a cultural immersion vacation?
Admittedly, planning a vacation in these times is tough. However, there are several ways of ensuring a diverse vacation while also maintaining safety. Some of them don’t require traveling too far and can take place in your own city!
Below are a few tips for planning a trip that focuses extensively on a cultural experience.
1) Celebrate International Festivals
Most families plan vacations around popular American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This year, you can also celebrate international holidays! The Diversity Calendar 2021 is a great resource that includes holidays and major events from other cultures such as the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival, or Holi, an Indian festival. You and your child can read books on such festivals together and visit nearby areas where celebrations take place. This way, your child can simultaneously have fun and learn the significance of festivals in your community.
2) Visit Local Areas
Instead of visiting the same tourist spots and attractions, look for local museums and historical villages of different communities. For instance, the Museum of African American History in Boston focuses on Black culture and hosts collections of historical items accrued the last 50 years. Another great option is the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Museum complex, which celebrates Indigenous tribes and houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts.
3) Try Local Cuisines
Book a hotel that offers cooking classes for cuisines from a different culture and whip up new dishes with your child! Another great way of assimilating cultures is by visiting local food markets and restaurants. This 2017 blog compiles all the best cultural markets in the US. Local cuisines offer a variety of dishes that will enhance your child’s palates. You can also extend their vocabulary knowledge by teaching them the local names of each dish. When visiting any restaurant, make sure to follow all current CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing wherever required!
4) Attend Local Events
Although difficult during the pandemic, live events are one of the best and most entertaining ways of learning about a new culture! Live music and dances are especially interactive, often inviting audiences to participate. In Los Angeles, a famous music festival called Mariachi USA is held annually. It features performances from Mexican and American mariachi musicians, along with other mesmerizing folkloric musicians.
As you can see, there are a myriad of possibilities in which you can help your child learn about new cultures through vacation activities. These experiences will aid children in developing cultural understanding, while also creating memories the whole family can cherish for a lifetime.