Winter break is right around the corner, which means we’re about to host lots of family trips with school-aged children — and we can’t wait! As you know, we love family volunteer vacations because they’re educational AND fun.
If you’re about to embark on your first family volunteer vacation (or trip abroad, for that matter), you might be wondering how to prepare your kids. After all, you want them to get the most out of this experience by being excited and curious — rather than scared and unhappy. And to do that, you’re going to need to take a few steps before getting on the plane.
With that in mind, here are six ways to prepare your kids for a volunteer vacation:
1. Find your destination on a map
Pull out a globe or world map (or Google, if you must) and have your child find your hometown; then, together, find a few other familiar locations (Grandma’s house, your favorite beach, etc). Next, take their finger and guide it to your volunteer vacation destination.
Just knowing where they’re going, in relation to where they’re from, will broaden your child’s understanding of what they’re about to do. You can even compare yourselves to modern-day explorers, heading out on a grand adventure to the unknown.
2. Volunteer together in your hometown
If you’re traveling abroad to volunteer, chances are you’ve volunteered in your hometown before — but has your child? It’s essential for them to understand the concept of volunteering — what it is and why it’s important — before going abroad to do it. The concept will be much easier to grasp in a location they’re comfortable in, so make sure you volunteer at least once with your child locally. (Search VolunteerMatch for kid-friendly opportunities.)
3. Read books, watch movies, and listen to music about or from your destination
Expose your child to the culture of your destination before traveling there through books, movies, or music. Even if you can’t find material about the specific country, look for things from the general region. Books about the animals they’ll encounter work really well, as does funky music. YouTube is a great free resource for music and short videos from every corner of the world.
4. Learn a few phrases of the local language
Having a few local phrases under your belt is beneficial for the whole family, so make it a fun bonding activity for you and your kids. The best part about kids is that they have no fear — whereas you might be embarrassed about your pronunciation, your child won’t have any problem exclaiming “asante” (thank you in Swahili) to every person they meet.
5. Openly discuss your expectations
One of the most important pre-travel steps is to have an open discussion with your child about both of your expectations. How do you want your child to behave while abroad? What should they do if they feel scared or uncomfortable? How should they react if they see someone who looks or acts differently than they do? Then let your child tell you about their expectations for the trip. If they need prompting, ask them what they’re excited about, what they’re nervous about, and what they would like to learn.
6. Pack at least one “comfort item” that will help them feel at home
Sure, it’s great to pack light — but don’t pack so light that you leave your child’s favorite comfort items behind. Remember they’re going to be in a strange place, meeting lots of new people, and they’re going to need a little bit of home to make them feel secure. Whether that’s their favorite t-shirt, teddy bear, or book, make sure it has a place in the suitcase.
Have you brought your children on a volunteer vacation before? Any other tips to share?