Today's post is brought to you by Evelyn Carter - a mother of three who faces the challenge of how to keep her children entertained on their annual family holiday ...
As a mother of three children, the annual holiday was always going to be a challenge for me. My children are aged 6, 9 and 12, and each have their own strong opinions about what exactly constitutes ‘fun’. My six-year-old, Grace, is a lively, imaginative girl, who likes drawing and animals. Louis, at nine years old is analytical, and likes science, facts and figures. The twelve-year-old, Max, is very much enjoying being ‘in charge’ of his siblings, and likes to take control of situations and problem solve. With this in mind, a visit to Southern Italy presented itself as a good choice. The story of the destruction of Pompeii always engages children, as I knew from teaching, and it can be educational on many levels. Seeing history ‘come alive’ was my plan.
Keep Them Busy
I have found, as an ex-teacher, that keeping children busy and engaged is the best way to keep the peace. If this involves a learning outcome at the same time, then so much the better. With this in mind I prepared activities ahead, tailored to each child’s interests and personality. Each one has an iPad, and Max has an iPhone. I took a good look at the available apps in the AppStore, and drew up a list of potential purchased and free downloads.
My son is at that ‘transition’ stage, at the beginning of teenage, and yet still a child in many ways. I decided to appeal to his newly developing sense of maturity and suggested we plan the trip together. I set him the task of shortlisting hotels and flight options, which took an inordinately long time on the internet. We looked through them and made a decision. He was hooked. He’d found the hotel, so felt some responsibility for the decision. He’d learnt to weigh up options, based on price and priorities. We read Trip Advisor reviews and he used his judgement about whether the horror stories were one off events, or exaggerations. He was surprisingly good at spotting people who complain for the sake of it.
I spent some time with Grace looking at the superb BBC History site, which had photo galleries all about daily life in Pompeii before the eruption. The site has materials for children of all ages. For Grace, I decided to focus more on the pictures and domestic life of Pompeii. We looked at the kitchens and food shops, the beautiful murals and the baths. We printed off her favourite photos and made a note of their location so she could find them when we arrived. Her holiday workbook contained tasks such as ticking off locations on a simply spread sheet, drawing pictures of murals that she wanted to copy, and one which reflected her own life. Another task was to photograph the things she found most interesting to make a holiday movie in iMovie when she got home.
I set Louis to work on collating facts and figures about the eruption. He was engaged by thinking about the last moments of the people running for their lives, typically, and I set him a creative task to write about this, using photos and his own imagination. He used plenty of facts and figures from various sites, but the thing that engaged him most was again on the BBC page - Portents of Disaster – which was more detailed for older readers. I found he really began to engage creatively with the task, which is unlike him. I decided to try and develop this creativity his when we arrived.
Practicalities – The Currency Task
I set Max up to be in charge of handling the money. He was tasked with finding the best exchange rate for our currency exchange. For this he used a currency comparison website, and made careful note of all the options available to us. He thoroughly warmed to this task, and roped Louis in to help him design a spread sheet of all the information we needed. It was Louis who suggested we look at a prepaid currency card, which made him very proud. It seemed to be a good way of transporting money. I talked to them about the importance of safety on holiday, and how to protect themselves if their money got stolen. They also learned about ‘checking the small print’ for hidden charges, and how to fill in forms for order our currency. From the currency conversion task they learnt about maths, organisational and life skills.
For the journey out I had downloaded a flight-tracking and Travel Weather app for Louis and Max to check up on as we flew out. This was very effective at keeping them amused. I had also downloaded a free Italian phrase App, and set them a task to learn ten useful phrases by the end of the trip, using Flash Cards. They tested each other and completed this task before we arrived. I sat next to Grace and we looked out of the window and found countries on her Atlas App. She loved spotting the coastlines and seeing them on the map. This didn’t engage her for long, so learning took a back seat while she caught up on some extremely important Angelina Ballerina tasks.
Max really grew in stature when we arrived at the hotel. He had studied the website so well that he could give us a guided tour. I was delighted with how much it meant to him to have been involved in choosing our accommodation. In the evenings we went out for dinner, with Max and Louis in charge of paying the bill, and then sat looking at Mount Vesuvius in the distance and talking about the trip to Pompeii. When Grace had gone to bed we looked at some great sites about Mount Vesuvius, such as HowStuffWorks and the BBC Science page, and considered going up to the edge of the crater on a day trip.
The trip was a resounding success. In fact we had to go twice. The children could run around discovering things at every twist and turn of the streets. Grace got to track down everything on her spread sheet, with Louis and Max in charge of a Sat Nav app and electronic guide on their iPads. Max led the way, and I found them pretending to be escaping from the lava descending from above. It was great to see Louis playing creatively, and Max being more of a child again, even if they did argue quite a lot about where would be the best place to hide in order to survive. The preserved bodies were a highlight for all of them, as were the baths, murals and bakeries. They all took hundreds of photos for their holiday iMovies. I could foresee weeks of sorting ahead. We cooled down in the shade, and Grace copied a mural she could see from our vantage point.
Learning Outcomes and Technology
It was good to see the children learning with through technology, but I learnt too. I could see how technology provides a really engaging springboard to learning, which is easily transferred into real life experiences. Technology had not robbed the children of anything from the ‘real world’, only enhanced their experience of it. They spent as much time implementing what they had learnt online as they did looking at their iPads. Running around the streets of Pompeii pretending to hide was a wonderful educational outcome for serious Louis and a release for responsible Max. As a route in to learning, the technology we used in preparation for the trip was a genuine aid to engagement. Most of all they had seen that learning can be fun, useful, and wholly relevant to everyday life.
When Grace got home she spent over a week working on her holiday scrapbook, drawing pictures and sticking things in. She’d been quietly collecting tickets and leaflets and little items to add to it. It was a beautiful record, and alongside her iMovie photo slide show, provided a lasting memory of a trip I am sure none of us will forget.
Last days of Pompeii
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Streets of Pompeii
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