I'll begin the new year answering a question I do get quite frequently. It goes something like this from a recent email I received: "I was hoping you might be able to point me in the right direction as far as resources for researching your areas of travel. I know you lived in Japan for sometime, but are there particular books, websites, etc you recommend when researching a destination? I have a strong desire to expose my children to different world cultures and to formulate ideas and opinions based on experience with those places and people as opposed to what is fed to them. My kids are 4.5 and 2.5 now. How long does it take you to plan your adventures? Do you establish contacts within the country beforehand? I don't even know where else to begin, I'm sure you get many emails like this, and I appreciate your reading mine."
Well... of course that's a lot to answer and my answers vary greatly. I will begin with Japan. Yes, I lived there and the girls' dad was working there 6 months out of the year at the time- so that was an easy choice. The girls were 3 and 5 at the time- so how did I prepare them for the trip? Here's where people get uneasy. I didn't. At that age I simply told them, 'We're going to Japan." that's it. I feel very strongly about that age- as you may know from my blog- I'm a real believer in the Waldorf method for the young years in particular. Filling a young child's head with information really detracts from their ability to fully live in the experience, I find. At that age everything is an adventure. Most outings away from home (outside of the regular routine) are new to them, so experiencing a foreign country is much the same. I am a HUGE proponent of observation based parenting. Even when traveling. I like to sit back and watch them explore. They notice things I would not and I do not go to a country with an agenda and preconceived notion of what we will glean from it. That being said, we do need to make reservations for certain things, but I really try to keep that to a minimum.
For Bali, I had traveled there before in my early 20's and it grabbed me like no other place ever had, so I knew one day I would take my children there. We made no plans and had no reservations. The maximum visa for tourists is 30 days- so we knew we'd stay the max. Everything on that dvd unfolded as it happened. We picked up hotel brochures in the airport on arrival, asked taxi drivers where to stay and eat and just bumbled along. People think I made plans to meet those children dancers and it must have been a cumbersome process, which it would've been. But we just met them and enjoyed spending time with them and hung out at that location until we were ready to move on. Bali is like that. It is magical and magical things happen.
For the British Isles the girls were getting older- then 6 and 8 and were very interested in seeing real castles. They still were (still are) firm believers in fairy tales, princesses, faeries and Harry Potter and really wanted to see these things for themselves. Ireland and northern England were obvious choices to go exploring these things. At this age the Martha books (Laura Ingalls Wilder's great, great grandma I think) were great! They are full of faerie folklore! I read up a lot on faeries as well- non fiction, that was truly fascinating. I don't get into history or any of that stuff outside of a story context, such as the Martha books- which are historical fiction, for the girls. That will likely change as they age- according to their own interests.
I made a huge mistake in doing too much internet research ahead of time for that trip. I found a lovely little cottage rental in Ireland online and wish I would've stopped there. But then I looked up all of the "attractions' in the area and the girls and I couldn't stop looking. We were so excited about the trip- the caves, the forests, the shops, the sheep, cableknits- everything was gorgeous! And when we got there in real life it wasn't quite as grand as the pictures had made it out to be. The caves for example, that showed someone climbing into it was really a guided tour with a roped off path. No climbing allowed. So I learned my lesson. It's the difference between exploration and following directions. One is fun and the other you simply check off of your 'to do' list.
Iran was a special case of course, because Americans are not allowed to travel freely in the country. I thought a group tour sounded too much for me to handle so we hired a private guide- and all of that is well documented here on the blog in the Iran travel diary. The tour company arranged where we went and what we saw. I only said to them, "I have children, am not terribly interested in history- though I know yours' is as impressive as they come!, like hands on activities and like to go to places to meet locals as much as possible. And I must go to that excellent caravansari I had seen in a video." The gal at the office sent me a sample itinerary that knocked my socks off on the first round so I sent them money- to Thailand because the US and Iran are not allowed to send money to each other. People ask me a lot- "Weren't you afraid it was a scam? How could you send money to Thailand?" Of course they were also asking why the heck I wanted to go to Iran in the first place!
Also, Waldorf education is based on a child's spiritual development, rather than academic development so the curriculum is different than most educational systems. Though I tend mostly to unschool the girls there is something about the Waldorf curriculum in each year that I do incorporate into our reading and daily life. The big sister would be in 3rd grade right now where they learn house building and study the old testament of the bible because at 9 years old metaphorically they are leaving 'the garden of eden."This is the year they really leave young childhood and begin to move towards adulthood so the curriculum teachers survival skills so they feel capable of moving into a more independent state. They learn how to build shelter, grow food and learn creation stories of how the world came to be. So Iran was an excellent place to visit. There are some areas there that are relatively unchanged since biblical times and we visited houses made out of mud with stables filled with hay. I look at bible stories metaphorically and we incorporate all religious stories into our life, so I loved being there near Christmas time, with absolutely no commercial signs of it anywhere and to say, "Jesus was probably born somewhere like that." Iranians believe the 3 kings came from Persia and spoke of it often. We bought gum that was made from the sap of a frankincense tree that was boiled in milk- also likely unchanged since biblical times, bathed with sheep fat and barley flour- also quite likely what Jesus used. It was a good time for a trip to this area for her.
History in context is very different than it being some abstract thing that I would not bring to children under the age of nine. I know- it's very different than public school. I saw a kindergarten history lesson a few weeks ago that made me laugh because a five year olds' perception of history cannot conceive of what the lesson was attempting to teach. Ask any five year old the difference between 10 years ago and 100 years ago and you'll see. Even my nine year old looked confused when the guide spoke of a ruins being 4500 years old. "Was that before Kaya (the American Girl doll)?" was her comment. I'm pretty sure 2500 BC was before 1764 AD.
When people ask why I want to go somewhere or how I chose that location it is very difficult for me to articulate. Why do I like chocolate? I don't know. I just do. Desires are like that. It is not a mental decision for me as much as a true desire to explore that location. When I'm in a location, I like to do the same. I don't like having too much of it planned out because that hinders the process of going with my gut and making it an exploration. That was the most taxing part of the Iran trip for me. I'm not used to be on a schedule like that and can't imagine ever doing it again, but who knows- maybe when I'm 80 I'll enjoy it!
When I was 16 and my sister 18 we backpacked through Europe for a summer and drove each other bonkers! I wanted to board a train and get off where it looked 'pretty.' She wanted to open the guide book in the morning, pick our hotel or hostel and make a reservation. I have often said, I would rather eat a bad meal that I've never tried before than eat a great one I've already eaten. I'm just like that. My sister and I have changed little since that time and still approach life in opposite ways...and still have challenges understanding the other's viewpoint.
Our next trip is a case of convenience. My brother is working overseas and has a big apartment. Free housing means a lot! And the country has 3 month tourist visas. enough said.
I don't know if that clarified anything or made it more confusing- but there you have it! As always, happy travels, whatever style you choose.