Crossing borders? Preparing kids for foreign travel is a little bit different than prepping them to visit Gramma’s house. Here are some fun things to do as you prepare to travel with kids.
When you travel within a country as big as the United States, you don’t have to learn too many things. There are typically few language barriers and the currency is the same. Except for some colloquial differences like sub or hoagie and maybe some new regional foods, travel from California to New York is not too foreign for most Americans.
Travel across the world and over national borders, however, is a whole different ball game. While you can’t be 100% prepared for everything, there are some small things you can do to make visiting another country less foreign for you and for your kids.
(Psst. These also work if your child is doing a country project for school or you just want to learn about a new place.)
Here are some of the things we’ve been doing in preparation of our big French adventure:
This summer I ditched Friday pizza in favor of French cuisine. While I don’t think we’ll be able to afford too many restaurant meals on our trip, we will be eating with friends on occasion and splurging at restaurants a few times. I want my kids not to be totally overwhelmed by the different customs of eating.
On Fridays my girls set a pretty table while I prepare several courses in the French style. Simple having their salad served separately from their main dish was a revelation to my kids. Having course after course one particular night bowled over even my husband. He’d forgotten how sometimes the food just keeps coming. On these nights we get a chance to discuss French customs as well as cuisine and table manners.
Whenever we can we watch movies that feature life in France or the UK (where’s we’ll be staying a few days at each end of the trip). Films like Hugo, Ratatouille, and The Monuments Men help my kids visualize just a bit of the places we’ll go.
Books are one of my preferred means of learning so I hope to pass that on to my kids. I’ve been hunting down both fiction and nonfiction reads to share another perspective on French life. The Madeline series does a great job highlighting sights in Paris. The kids have enjoyed the Anatole books that Carrie reviewed a few months ago. The big boys have learned a ton of art history from The Monuments Men and Rick Steves’ Europe 101.
Practice Makes Perfect
Over the summer the kids and I took in a few museums. Museums and castles will make up a good portion of our European adventure. Visiting museums in our home city with the whole crew has been super enlightening. I have a better sense about which kids could spend all day looking at paintings and which ones need a little more patience — and maybe a few snacks.
One day when big brothers (impatient and hangry) were hassling a younger one (who could look at paintings all day), we had a good conversation about respecting others’ preferences as well as defining good museum etiquette. I now know how to better prepare ourselves for traipsing through the Louvre.
I started taking one child out to lunch each week with the express purpose of giving him or her practice in ordering from a menu, talking to a waiter, and using proper table manners in a public setting.
It’s also give the opportunity to try new foods. We have an authentic French bakery in town that serves a cafe-style lunch. My kids have had a chance to sample Croque Monsieur, Orangina, and eclairs. They learned that baguette sandwiches often come served with butter, something we don’t do at our house.
There will be plenty of surprises when it comes to French food, but at least we’ve had a taste of things to come.
Learning the Lingo
I had big hopes that my kids would be fluent in French before our trip. That isn’t going to happen. I’ll be lucky if I can get by; my French skills are beyond rusty. But, the kids do have a good base of vocabulary and are really motivated to pronounce things properly. Most importantly, they want to try!
We’ve used simple resources like French in 10 Minutes a Day and the Duolingo app. We’ve also watched favorite movies with the French dubbing selected. Since we already know the storyline, we can hear how it would be translated in French and grasp a little bit more vocabulary in the process.
You can’t truly know a country unless you go there and explore, but there are things you can do to make your kids a little more familiar and comfortable with their destination.