3 Travel Strategies Cultivating Kids Curiosity
Imagine cruising down the Mekong River in a bright red and blue long boat through the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. You’ve got Thai huts sitting on stilts over the water (looking like they might collapse at any moment) on your right and the most elaborately ornate Buddhist temples on your left. Underneath the homes there are ladies washing clothes, kids swimming, and even men scraping muscles off the walls for dinner. There is so much to see I didn’t want to blink for fear I would miss something. I wanted to think of strategies to cultivate the curiosity in my kids too. To my dismay, my 10-year-old son, sat on the cushioned bench in front of me fuming because he was not allowed to play on his phone during the boat ride.
As I was taking in the sights I was also wondering what I had done to create this electronic device compulsion in my child. Honestly, we are pretty strict with our electronics usage policy. No electronics on school days at all and a few hours during the weekend is the usual deal. Traveling overseas we’re a little more flexible as long as there are books and other activities mixed in there. But still, when the kids get tired or bored it’s like there’s an immediate demand for entertainment stimulus. My kid felt wronged and disgruntled because I was with-holding his electronic entertainment.
In good motherly fashion I started leaning into his ear and narrating everything I saw. “Look at that temple!” “Did you see that hut on one stilt?” “Oh those kids are so cute.” Until he was thoroughly annoyed. Even I had to admit I sounded annoying. But why was he just sitting there, staring straight ahead, pouting about his phone? To be fair, it had been a long day with lots of travel and he was tired. But even when you’re tired, if you’re traveling down the Mekong River river for the first time in a rainbow colored long boat, shouldn’t you be curious about what’s around you? I was! I was trying to peer into the temple, and imaging what the conversation might be like between the women washing clothes. Try as I might I could not talk him into being interested in that moment.
This lead me to the realization that cultivating curiosity requires a lifestyle shift. First I acknowledged that our culture trains children (and adults for that matter) to seek entertainment instead of knowledge. It’s easy to “check out” and engage in mindless entertainment. For us and our kids it’s quite comforting to be distracted. Most of us spend several hours a day surfing social media, watching hilarious tube videos, or catching up on episodes of our favorite TV series. How hard would it be to swap those two hours a day and instead study a foreign language? Or solely do historical research using actual books? Can you imagine telling your kids that from now on instead of electronics we are going to learn cursive writing, practice musical instruments and study a new language? “Kids, if you have free time pull out Italian for Dummies!” They’ll probably look at you like you have horns growing from your head.
Imagine cruising down the Mekong River in a bright red and blue long boat through the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. Click To Tweet
This is the “GROW” in our Bring, Learn, Grow. Our vision is to Bring our children traveling so they will Learn and Grow into compassionate, informed, educated, well-rounded people. But if they are not available to “Learn” or observe, because they’d rather be entertained, they will not be able to “Grow.”
Here’s the deal… We have one shot at raising our kids. If wearing horns is what it takes to push against our lazy brain culture, I’m in. Who would ever look back at their childhood and regret having mastered an instrument or learned a language instead of getting to the next level of angry birds? What if our kids grow up without the impulse to pull their phone out of their pocket every free moment? What if instead of seeking entertainment they are observant, thoughtful, and curious knowledge seekers?
Now the big question is of course, how do we do it? How do we retrain the mind and reshape desires? My answer is very gently! Even though I’m willing to wear horns, I don’t really want a wall of resentment between my kids and I. Retraining habits and tendencies needs to be consistent, strategic, and without condemnation. Wanting to mentally check out is not disobedience or disrespect, so consequences aren’t really appropriate. What is appropriate is constant redirection. I’ve been working on this for a while and here are my 3 best strategies:
- Allow kids to wait…without entertainment. Waiting in line, waiting for an appointment, waiting to arrive at a destination in the car, waiting in a restaurant, and my favorite… waiting for adults to finish talking. All this waiting is tricky because it requires parent involvement and you may be inconvenienced. Requiring kids to wait in a doctor’s office without entertainment means you also need to put your phone away and sit with them. If you are both sitting together waiting, you’ll be amazed at the conversations that will happen. When children are not entertained, and allowed instead to sit and wait, they become observant and inquisitive. They look around and ask questions. They will talk to you about things that have been on their mind. This is so important for family travel because you are training them to soak in their surroundings and be curious. Allowing kids (or ourselves) to fill the waiting time in their day with entertainment is actually training them to be uninterested and not inquisitive.
- Redirect, Redirect, Redirect – When my kids ask for entertainment because they are bored, and they ask a lot at first, I redirect by asking them questions. If we are driving, I’ll ask them to speculate about things we see. “How many homes do you think are in that new apartment building being built?” Or, “where do you think that lady is going?” I’ll ask them to talk about things in their lives. “Tell me what’s happening in the book you’ve been reading.” Or, “What where you and Sammy playing on the playground today?” Sometimes while waiting we’ll play a game together. When we were in Koh Tao, we had a quite a walk down the hill to get to town. You might think walking down an island road is entertainment enough. But no, it was drudgery. So we started playing “I’m going on a camping trip,” a memory game. This is a little bit like entertainment, but the difference is it’s relational and exercising our memory. Before they knew it we were in town.
- Limit Electronic Time. Everyone has their own method for this, but we all need to do it more. If electronics is not an option, kids will eventually stop thinking about it and stop asking for it. I made a hard and fast rule, no electronics during the school week. There was absolutely no budging on this, full on mommy with horns! After a few weeks the kids stopped asking. They never get in the car after school and ask for the phone. On the weekends and while traveling we do allow some electronics, but now it’s limited AND self-regulated. Set the amount of time you want to allow, but if you can, let them decide when and how they want to use it. This gives them some control and helps immensely. Kids can set the timer themselves for 20 minutes (or whatever you agree on) and be responsible for limiting their own time. Electronic time becomes intentional and not so much mindless entertainment. They may plan to use their precious minutes working on their Minecraft world. Or just spend a few minutes checking their dragon eggs and then a few minutes playing a game. The point is they are actually planning how to use their time. It isn’t such mindless zoning out without time limits. Limiting electronics also frees up time for those other pursuits like learning a language, practicing an instrument, or reading a book.
Of course, this is not an overnight fix. It will take time and consistency. But you will be surprised how quickly they (and you) will adapt. Before you know it your kids will start to become more inquisitive and curious. Even your relationship with them will feel deeper and more meaningful because of the time you spend talking together. Most importantly they will be present and available whether you are on a family vacation or just doing everyday life.