I have no memories of anything before my youngest sister was born when I was six. If that held true for Ezra, he would remember nothing of our three trips to Mexico, and little of our trip to China or our first trip to Costa Rica.
Even if the boys do end up with memories from those trips, what will the be? When people ask them after each trip what they remember, they usually say something like, “I bought a wallet.” Or, “We got to ride in the front seat without a seatbelt.”
Traveling with children in order to make memories is probably not the best use of your time and money – which is why I think it helps to be clear about why you are traveling. Still, if there is anything I can do to influence how my kids understand and remember our travel, I want to give it a shot.
When I expressed that desire in an email to a friend, she responded:
Remember that memory is malleable… Consider your [travel] experience as part of life’s textbook. It is even more interesting when it is read, not when it is written.
Yes! The story is better when it is read than when it is written.
So when we returned from China, we studied China for an entire semester. We helped shape the boys´ memories by the stories we chose to read, to retell, to write. From science to service projects and history to health, we learned more about the country we visited as we continued to reflect on our time there.
We spent much of the semester working on our scrapbooks, which was a master memory shaper, and the reason that scrapbooks made my list of the top ten tips for traveling with children. I had control of which pictures to print, so there was no picture of and no more talk of that stupid wallet. Today, if you ask the boys about China, they are likely to talk about the Great Wall or the food.
Here´s some more advice from my friend:
The thing I have found most helpful with our family when we have engaged in a should-be-meaningful activity is to write up or speak about “what I learned.” We started with letters to the grandparents. “Honey, they’ll be glad to see the wallet. Tell the story of how you bought it.” So one postcard gets the wallet story. The second postcard will have a different one. Our kids have learned how to look back and remember something. (You can see more of her ideas here.)
So far, the postcards have not proven very inspiring. But each kid has written one blog post about our current trip to Costa Rica, and they have enjoyed doing so. I helped them pick the topics and asked them questions to help them focus on what might be important for other people to know.
You can check them out here:
As you read them, you’ll probably notice that while each child’s voice is clear, the whisper of mom’s editorial comments are shaping both the post and the child’s memory of the experience.
Journaling, blogging, scrapbooking. With the right support, they don’t just capture memories. They shape them.
And that’s true whether or not you are traveling.