As adults, we travel the world to help us relax. After a long year slogging it out in our jobs day after day, we need some time to relax. But while traveling might be about relaxation for adults, for kids, it’s about learning, development, and being happy.
Although going on trips might seem like just having fun, there’s a lot that happens to the young brain when kids leave the home. Playing badminton on the beach or building sandcastles might seem whimsical and unimportant, but it’s actually essential for “attachment” where kids build closer bonds with the people around them. It also helps to send a strong psychological message to kids: what they’re doing is valuable, and other people love to play with them.
Trips are an opportunity for kids to break out of the monotony of their everyday interactions. According to research Elizabeth Buie, more than two-third of children’s daily conversations with adult authority figures are simply about their routine. On top of that, 65 percent of adults say that they only occasionally play with their children and that they spend most of their time doing other things. And, finally, just a quarter of children say that they talk to adults about things which actually matter to them.
It appears, therefore, that everyday life has a habit of grinding traditional relationships down and making them all about monotony and routine. What’s needed is some change in the routine, and that’s precisely what trips offer
Here we’re going to look at some of the science behind why trips are so beneficial to kids. This is what the research says.
It Helps With Brain Development
Going to new places and doing new things has a fundamental impact on the developing brain that’s linked to our evolution. When kids go on a trip, they’re exercising a genetically ingrained system in their minds that separate the novel from the routine. If you’ve ever been abroad to a new place yourself, you will have experienced this system in action. There’s a reason you remember everything you do on holiday and where you’ve been. It’s because your brain has switched modes: from processing the routine to processing that which is novel. Our brains are hardwired to take on new information and new stimuli and behave differently in response. For instance, you’ll have noticed that when you’ve been to a new place, you feel more tired than if you’d just done your regular routine.
Kids have the same experience too of trips to new places. All of a sudden the world opens up to them and they start taking stuff in. According to Professor Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University, once kids have these new experiences, they become more open to knowledge and more sociable. Their brains release dopamine which leads to lower levels of stress and more generosity. This, in turn, helps to generate warm sentiment among the people they are with, supercharging their emotional development.
The cool thing about these systems, says Panksepp, is that the more you use them, the better they get. In other words, the more kids take trips abroad to new places, the more emotional development they are likely to experience. Their emotional states slowly turn into their personal traits, says Panksepp, meaning you could end up with much happier and much more manageable children. Panksepp says that activating these brain systems over and over will help turn family holidays into growth opportunities. Kids will learn how to be more independent and more goal-oriented. And they’ll also have greater levels of social intelligence, thanks to the fact that they are so focused on play and the outside world.
It Helps Understand The World
There’s a reason why children go on school battlefield trips. It’s so that they can understand how the world came to be the way it is. Reading about the world in books is okay. But if you really want to understand the way that the world is, there’s no better learning tool that just going out and experiencing it. The world can be a complicated place at times, and so trips which aid understanding are essential. Experiencing new cultures helps children to see that people who happen to live in a different country aren’t necessarily any different to them on a basic level. They have the same drives since they are part of the human family.
Travel, however, also shows kids that other cultures are different to their own. Some cultures are good, other cultures are bad. It’s important for kids to be able to understand the differences, as well as why some cultures behave in the way that they do. Again, greater cultural exposure – with guidance – is associated with greater emotional intelligence.
Helps With Concentration
Many parents know how difficult it can be to get children to concentrate on a topic for an extended period of time. There’s currently an epidemic of ADHD in schools, thanks to the environments in which kids are raised. It turns out that the Victorian model of education, where children are sat in rows and have to listen to a teacher talk about something they have no intrinsic interest in, is damaging.
This is why so many schools that care about the wellbeing of children are now ditching the classroom altogether and moving into the forest. Forest schools have found that so-called “green play” increases the length of time for which children concentrate after only 20 minutes in nature. Walking around in nature helps to calm the body and reduce stress hormone levels.
Of course, all this science and research begs the question: does going on trips help to raise IQ? It turns out that enriched environments are a kind of “brain fertilizer.” They help to stimulate the frontal lobes – the part of the brain responsible for most of our higher thinking – potentially making us more intelligent. There’s probably also knock-on effects on intelligence from kids feeling more relaxed and upbeat about the world. It’s certainly a lot easier to concentrate on your school work when you’re feeling positive.