Sharing the World with Your Child Through Cruising

I have written several times in support of parents taking their children out of school for family vacations, especially cruises. Critics have argued that it is irresponsible for children to ever miss even a day of school for any reason other than illness. I have always felt that it is the parent’s responsibility to educate children in a broad spectrum especially in areas not covered extensively in the class room. I firmly believe that Children learn more about geography through experiencing the world as opposed to just reading about it in the class room. For that reason, I have never hesitated to take my children out of elementary school for a week or two as long as I felt they wouldn’t be behind upon their return and that the travel would be a learning experience for them. Now that my son is in high school, missing a week or two of school is not really feasible because of the set schedules, structure, and demands of the academics. However, when both of my kids were still in elementary school, I frequently took them out of school for a week or two so that they could experience the world first hand through cruise travel. Last week, I witness the fruits of those travels when my daughter placed tied for 11th in the Arizona State National Geographic Bee held on April 1, 2011 at the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, Arizona. I attribute much of her knowledge of geography to our family travel and the many wonderful people she has met along the way.

In the National Geographic Bee, Elementary and Middle School age students compete in a question and answer based competition covering many different aspects of Earth’s geography and the sciences related to it. Students compete in school bees. Then the winners of those bees take a qualifying written test with the top 100 + ties qualifying for the state bee. At the state level those 100 students compete in 5 groups of preliminary rounds to determine the 10 finalists for the State Bee. Students are eliminated after two missed questions in the final rounds until 2 students remain. Those two students then compete for the state title. The winner of each state bee receives a free trip to Washington, DC to compete against other state and territorial winners in a similar manner with the national final round hosted by TV personality Alex Tribek.

My older son had placed second in the school bee 4 years in a row before he moved on to high school. This year my daughter won the school bee and then qualified for the state bee by scoring well on the written test. We were thrilled that she had qualified for the State Bee, and were even more thrilled when she finished in a three way tie for 11th place. People sometimes think of a cruise as all fun and parties, however, I have always felt that any kind of travel, and especially cruise travel provides a great learning opportunity for children

We have done quite a bit of domestic travel over the last 10 years or so. These trips included driving West to San Diego and Los Angeles and driving East through New Mexico, across Texas as far as Mississippi and Alabama. We’ve taken domestic plane trips to Florida and Michigan to visit family. Several questions came up during the bee dealing with New Mexico, Mississippi, and Alabama. There was also a set of questions dealing with US airport codes.

Our first cruise with our children traveled round trip from San Diego to Hawaii. As part of that cruise both children learned about the geology, culture and history of Hawaii and Polynesia. Topics we covered included Volcanoes, indigenous species, ancient cultures, Captain Cook, and Polynesian dance. In the bee there were several questions involving endangered species and natural disasters to which the answer was Hawaii.

Our next cruise took us to the Mexican Riviera, where the kids learned about many subjects related to geography and culture including the Aztecs and other indigenous cultures, Spanish Explorers, tourist development of desert areas like the Baja Peninsula, geographic features of areas like Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas and the Sea of Cortez, and understanding the cultures fusion of Spanish and Indigenous through dance. Visiting Mexico gave my daughter a broad and more detailed understanding of the geography and culture of Mexico.

Our next cruise took us to Alaska and Canada. During this cruise the kids got an up close and personal view of Cetaceans through wale watching with our on board naturalists. The kids got to also see the force of a glacier up close and personal in our day at the Hubbard glacier. The kids also got to experience the gorges and fjords left behind by those glaciers in years long past. There is no place better to witness the slow but ever changing geography of the world than then Alaskan coastline and wilderness. Several questions in the bee dealt with the changing landscape, glaciers, and native species of Alaska which we witnessed first hand during that cruise.

Our last two cruises with our kids were Trans-Atlantic cruises which began with a one way flight to Europe. On these trips the kids got to see such sights at down town London as we approached the airport in London. On our first European trip we spend three pre-cruise days exploring Barcelona. There the kids learned about the Ancient and modern culture of this region of Spain. Here the kids could hear natives speaking in both Catalan and Spanish, see the architectural masterpieces of Antonio Gaudi, and appreciate of city with over 3000 years of history. We also visited the Olympic Park which was the subject of a Geo Bee question. On the cruise portion of this trip, the kids got to again see lands recently shaped by the power of a volcano in the island of Lanzarote and understand the cultural connection between Spain and North Africa through a camel ride on the volcanic dunes. On the island of Tenerife, the kids could see the tallest mountain in all of Spain, not on the mainland, but on the Atlantic Island, and visit a museum that displayed ancient mummies that created by native people, Guanche, who utilized the island’s dry climate to preserve their dead. The cruise also visited the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean where the kids could experience both Caribbean and Dutch Culture. That cruise ended on the island of Puerto Rico where again the kids could see the huge influence that Spain and its explorers had around the world.

The following year our Trans-Atlantic cruise began with a three day stay in Rome. Here we actually visited the world’s smallest independent country surrounded by a city, Vatican City, the subject of another one of the Geo Bee questions. We toured much of the history of that city in the ruins of Colosseum and Forum, walked along the Tiber, and stood in awe the many richly decorated churches. Questions in the Geo Bee often deal with rivers and famous landmarks. During our cruise portion of this trip we visited the cost of France and Spain and again the Island of Madeira. Also during the cruise the had the opportunity to meet many nice people from around the world who work on the cruise ships. As on all our cruises with the kids, we bring along large hard bound world atlas. The kids get the crew and staff members to circle their home town on the atlas, sign their name, and then tell the kids a little about their home town or home country. Since my daughter also has in interest in cooking, she often asks the crew members to tell us about a favorite food or typical dish in their home country. Several questions in the Geo Bee dealt with food and farming.

At the Geography Bee the Arizona Geographic Alliance handed out a sheet explaining why every student should study geography. Here are a few of the reasons listed on that sheet.

“To develop a mental map of your community, stat, country and world so that you can understand the “where” of places and events.”

“To understand the geography of past times and how geography has played important roles in the evolution of people, their ides, places and environments.”

“To be able to make sensible judgments about matters involving relationships between physical enviroment and society.”

“To understand global interdependence and to become a better global citizen.”

We invite our readers to add their thoughts on why geography and travel is important in understanding the world