Overseas trips – a source of inspirational learning

Children of prep school age will develop hugely during an overseas trip, accelerated by external influences and exposure to new cultures, challenges and unfamiliar surroundings. 

But it is often these radical life experiences that push prep school children right out of their comfort zones which helps to nurture independence and boost self-confidence as they learn to adapt and appreciate how different communities live, develop and grow.  Are overseas trips an important source of learning for prep school age children?  I say yes; and I’ll explain exactly why.

Call me biased; travelling is a great passion of mine and one that I believe enriches lives and feeds souls.  Living and teaching overseas for six years gave me a great insight into living like a local, adjusting to new cultures and making lasting memories and friendships.  Of course, arranging and participating in overseas school trips takes careful planning and preparation but the exposure to new customs and traditions, not to mention exciting sporting and cultural opportunities, can be a wonderful extension to curriculum work. 

A thirst for adventure

I’ve been quite humbled very recently on a school cricket tour we arranged to Sri Lanka for a group of our prep school boys.  The increased levels of maturity that travelling abroad brings out in young children is quite astonishing.  It broadens their horizons as the expectation to behave responsibly and confidently is somehow magnified the minute they cross the UK borders.  What is remarkable is their natural thirst for discovery and adventure, their ability to adapt and communicate with different nationalities with ease and also to inspire others around them.

It’s worth remembering that skills like these can also be harnessed and translated into everyday learning at school.  A good teacher can ensure that these skills are retained by the children by encouraging their use in practice.  While overseas, children should be given responsibility for wearing clean clothes, for tidying their rooms, speaking to locals to get directions, or to ask for things.  They should also be encouraged to question their preconceived views (i.e. the food will be terrible if you’re visiting a developing country) – it is interesting to see how these views are altered when they experience the true reality of some of the loveliest food they have ever tasted!  Being given responsibility for being on time and for having the correct equipment are all activities we expect from pupils in the classroom and travelling overseas provides another environment where we can test these skills further.

No spoon-feeding

My biggest piece of advice is don’t spoon-feed them; however tempting it might be, allowing children to discover things for themselves and using activities to harvest their understanding of what they have found out via questions, discussion, debate and challenge is all part of the learning curve.  Can they justify their thoughts? Can they change their opinion when faced with new evidence?  Giving children positions of responsibility when back in school can also help to translate some of what they will have learned overseas.

Something else that has really inspired me is that although children are out of their comfort zones when abroad, it seems that the unknown does seem to bring out the best in their ability to concentrate and focus.  Being somewhere completely different engages the mind and most children will try that much harder to succeed.  Back at school they can be further inspired as a result of these experiences and this should be used positively by teachers to raise attainment.  The result is – the children will have discovered that by listening properly and trying hard, good things can happen.

overseas-tripsThe world is small

The nice thing about travelling is that all skills are transferable.  I’d also argue that modern life necessitates the acquisition of these skills if you are to succeed in life.  The world is actually very small and communication with people of different nationalities is essential as is having an understanding of their cultures.  Overseas trips not only engage young minds but the adaptability and ability to react to different circumstances without panic or mental collapse is a formidable skill to have in any workplace environment today.

So, now that you’re convinced on the benefits of overseas trips for prep school children, where do you begin?  With a big check list and a methodical mind.  Planning an overseas trip is time-consuming and can eat into a teachers’ free time.  Parents are likely to have health and safety concerns, worries about cost, supervision and whether their children are capable of surviving without them for any number of days.  It is the schools’ job to answer those questions and to put parents’ minds at ease.  Some schools also worry about the possible risks or reputational damage that may be caused if a trip doesn’t go according to plan.  But preparation is the key here, the more you plan, the more water-tight your arrangements and schedule is, the less likely you are to come up against an issue that cannot be resolved easily.

Here are some considerations to get you started:

  • Structure – this is the name of the game here.  A clear itinerary should be devised, communicated and put in place months in advance of departure. 
  • Agenda - Everyone should be aware of the activities planned, the travel arrangements, accommodation, meals etc.  Free time should be factored into the planning, but for prep school children this needs to be managed carefully as unstructured free time can be disastrous!
  • Ratios – Staff to pupil ratios need to be very favourable.  Each member of staff should be allocated a group for roll calls, applying sunscreen and acting appropriately in an emergency situation.
  • Purpose – Make sure you are clear on the purpose of the trip and whether you really do need to go overseas.  Can the same outcome be achieved by staying in the UK?
  • Safety – Hugely important. Is the country safe?  Have you made a pre-visit first?  Are there stringent health and safety precautions and standards (for hotels and transport)?  Do you need vaccinations? Book with an ABTA travel agency/tour operator.
  • Cost – Is the cost affordable to a sufficient number of parents?

Once you have everything in place you can look forward to a stimulating and rewarding trip that will inspire, educate and liberate all who participate.  Overseas trips will develop memories that will last a lifetime.  The experiences will also ensure that as adults, pupils will be confident to mix with different personalities and nationalities freely and with ease as they maintain a healthy global perspective on life.  Bon voyage…

 

By Ben Evans, Headmaster at Edge Grove Prep School in Hertfordshire

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