Travel is important for children’s development, experts say

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Traveling with children of any age is challenging, but experts say travel can have significant developmental benefits. Traveling expands the world of little ones, teaches them to be more empathetic towards cultural differences and helps them adapt to changing situations — and can even shape language development, in the case of babies .

The benefits of traveling with children
“Travel has the potential to teach children about commonalities with others and sets a solid foundation, especially in the early years. We have the potential to create a generation that will know how to live and get along with each other,” Robin Hancock, global education specialist at Bank Street College, told Travel + Leisure . “Children will start to learn the tools to develop meaningful relationships, especially across differences, from an early age.”

Traveling with children can transform their view of the world

The most rapid brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life, and especially in the first three, said the expert. Surrounding children from birth to around age three with people who are different from them “normalizes” this experience.

“Travelling and educating children about their roles as citizens of the world while they are still young ensures that they will retain that message well into adulthood,” she said. “When someone starts a habit or tradition early, it becomes the foundation through which they see the world for the rest of their lives.”

Benefits of traveling with young children
Traveling with young children — even as young as six months old — can also help them with language development, said Erika Levy, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Teachers College at Columbia University.

“We know that, in terms of language, babies perceive sounds differently than adults. As they age, they lose the ability to distinguish many of the other speech sounds,” Levy said. “If we engage them with speech sounds from around the world, then we’re keeping those categories going, which helps later in life with their own language.”

And when they return home from a trip, their experiences can really help them in school, according to Hancock. “It makes them more open to trying new things and less afraid of unfamiliar people and settings,” she said. “This will inevitably make children more open-minded and eliminate prejudice.”

Walking around the neighborhood helps
While it’s great to travel far away and see all the attractions in a destination, walking through your own neighborhood can be one of the most impactful moments for kids, Hancock said. A child’s brain tends to make connections based on what is familiar to them.

Lap babies and international travel
Let the kids see the everyday life of places, not just the attractions

“If you’re in Venice , spend time on the Grand Canal, and if you’re in Paris , spend time on the Eiffel Tower, but the pieces that really resonate with kids are the experiences they can relate to,” she said. “It will mean a lot to your child if you just go for a walk around the neighborhood. Inevitably, you’ll see people sweeping the sidewalk, shops and local vendors. And this is much more meaningful — your child will have a better view of what everyday life is like.”

Create traditions during the holidays
Traditions can help children connect with travel. Like collecting postcards or magnets from every country you visit, for example. “Traditions are meaningful to children,” Hancock said. “Anything that you can relate to the child’s world will be a meaningful experience for the child.”

Make your children play with other children
Getting your kids together with other kids their age will help their development, even if they don’t speak the same language, according to Levy. “Get them to meet other kids — they’ll play and learn and find ways to communicate,” she said. “And they will learn that not everyone speaks the same language.”

Turn the trip into a game
Ask the kids to point out things that are new to them, Levy recommended “Ask them to point out three things they haven’t seen before at home. You can do a scavenger hunt for them.”

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Traveling can be fun. even for children

Prepare your children in advance
Preparing children for what they are about to experience can help a lot, according to Levy. For example, explain to them in advance about the effects of jetlag . If they are nervous during the trip, take a special toy on the plane. But in general, don’t worry too much: kids tend to be a lot more adaptable than we are in new situations.