“Of course you want your children to have fun on your family vacation, but why not give them a flavor of the local culture while they’re doing so?” said Niamh O’Connell, vice president for guest experience at Rosewood Hotel Group.
“When kids have some understanding of the destination they’re in, their trip becomes more memorable and enriching,” she said. “It goes beyond the usual fun in the sun escape.”
O’Connell is the brain behind Rosewood’s new Explorers program for children, which focuses on giving young guests a cultural experience during their stay, and has advice on how to do the same for your children when you travel.
Seek out local arts and crafts
While markets are full of trinkets to buy and bring home, crafting these items with your children will help teach them about the local culture and customs of your destination. “Arts and crafts inspire creativity and also build empathy for cultural differences,” O’Connell said.
If you are in Thailand, for example, try making and flying traditional chula or pakpao kites. Other activities include creating clay sculptures modeled on the local wildlife, or making potpourri from local leaves and flowers. Both activities will help kids get familiar with indigenous animals and plants. Check with your hotel concierge or travel agent, or search TripAdvisor for local arts fairs, craft events for children, or local artisans that open their shops to visitors eager to learn about the culture, not just shop for souvenirs.
Take a cooking class and visit a market
Taking a cooking class where your children learn how to make typical local dishes is a fantastic way for them to learn more about the heritage and culture of the region you are visiting.
Many hotels and resorts offer cooking classes for children or will teach private ones upon request. Similarly, many places globally have local cooking classes for children, some at culinary schools and others in the home kitchens of local hosts. O’Connell suggested looking for classes that involve a trip to a market so your children can get involved in picking the ingredients for the food they make, and learn more about the local plants and produce.
Tune in to local music and dance
Exposure to local music and dance gives children (and adults) a sense of a location’s traditions, culture and history. Try tango lessons in Argentina, for example, taking in a Flamenco performance in Spain or watching a Haka, or traditional war dance, in New Zealand.
In most cases, these traditional dances are not just done to entertain tourists, but also to explain local history and cultural traditions to people interested in learning more about them. “Even a little glimpse into local music and dance will deepen your child’s understanding and connection to where he or she is,” O’Connell said.
Get out to where people really live
While every traveler wants to hit the big attractions, tourist traps are not where locals spend their time, and they are not where you and your family will get a feel for the culture of your destination. Instead, take your children to play where the local kids play, and visit community centers away from tourist centers, where more interesting — and engaging — activities take place.
“Kids can best experience local culture by going where local kids go,” O’Connell said. Visit neighborhood parks instead of the ones near the city center. Join local sporting activities if you can find a pickup game — it is another great way to immerse your kids in the locale. A game of soccer, beach volleyball or boules can be the beginning of a new international friendship.
Look for a hotel with a culture-rich children’s program
Historically, children’s clubs and activities at hotels usually included run-of-the-mill activities like cupcake decorating and painting. Now, many hotel companies and resorts have introduced programs for children that give them the opportunity to explore the cultural riches of a destination.
Look for a property that offers immersive activities that take kids out to see their surroundings — it could be hitting the beach to learn about ocean life or getting out into the city to visit a market, museum or other cultural site. Check with your hotel before you book to see what activities they have for kids, or do a quick web search or TripAdvisor search for leads.