Getting the Kids Ready
As you prepare for your trip, try to get the kids excited about the place you're about to visit. View documentaries and read histories, folk tales and newspapers, songs, poems, advertisements, whatever is appropriate. Don't make it more homework, or a chore, unless your kids like that kind of thing, but rather make it more in the spirit of “we're going to Beijing, what would you like to do there?”
Enlist the aid of a pleasant librarian for suggestions. Don't take your children to Paris or London without reading (or being read to) from Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline series, or for some children, watching Gene Kelley's magnificant An American in Paris.
We love the magical animation of My Neighbor Totoro and its look into rural Japan. The film is one of the best views into how a child sees the world around her, and one of the best films we have seen that evokes so strong a sense of place.
Wonderful in so many ways, the Harry Potter books offer a smarty look in at English “public” schools that would top off quite nicely with a tour of posh Eton School in Windsor.
With our kids, we like to start with picture books and/or videos, to kind of whet their appetite, and to help them think about seeing and doing things"Ã¢â€š¬being there"Ã¢â€š¬as opposed to travel being not much more than a 3-D geography lesson.
We like to look at a street scene kind of picture, say a friend's home in Paris, and ask the kids to imagine standing right THERE, there in the picture. What would they see? What would it sound like, smell like? We can then shift to a map and try and find that spot. Where is it in relation to our hotel? How could we get there?
Needless to say, it is exceptionally cool to in fact try and find the spot we picked out of the photo book once we actually get to Paris.
With some children, you might let them try and navigate the family to that very spot, or communicate with the taxi driver as best they can. If you're pressed for time, choose a spot on the way to a museum or other place you know you'll visit anyway.
Older kids can start a journal at home and continue writing down impressions right up until they get back home weeks later. Younger kids can do the same thing by drawing pictures instead of writing.
The Department of States' Country Information Sheets give all sorts of information about different countries. None of it is really guide book kind of stuff, like opening hours for museums, but older kids will enjoy comparing the info for different countries (the Info Sheets follow a standard format worldwide). What do they say about driving conditions in Mali versus Singapore?