Why having adventures with kids is more important than conventional education.

Standing by the side of the lake last Sunday talking to a mum of the school, she mentions that our kids still had their tests coming up. Tests. Only a system gone crazy tests 6 and 7 year-olds. I prefer to assess my little boy’s school ability on how much fun he’s had and how many friends he’s made. 

The school year draws to a close and the scores are in. Papers are marked and efforts are measured simply in either pass or fail for topics of the greatest perceived importance, like maths and English. Why has the definition of intelligence become so narrow minded that school filters children into can and cannot do categories, the able and the unable, the smart and the stupid? Even though it gets softened with a smile and a patronising “you have done your best”, it’s clear to every child in the world that in most cases their best wasn’t really enough. They showed up on time, they followed the rules, they did what was asked, but it could have been just that little bit better.

Kids are the future. They will be doing jobs not yet invented, working in environments not yet created. They will need to be self-starters and solution focussed if this world has a tiny chance of sustaining future generations. In tomorrow’s world it might not mean diddly squat which diploma they graduated with and which marks they had. It will be another uninteresting story to tell the grandkids, whilst their diploma’s turn yellow in a cardboard box. It’s mean to lure children into thinking that education these days is the same it was 20 or more years ago. Learning facts and information. We are surrounded by knowledge. What to do with it, what to believe, how to assess and apply it, should be what the younger generation needs guidance with. How can they marry knowledge available and apply it to their unique ideas and innovative thinking? They need to learn what talents they have naturally, become self-aware, creative and in tune and receive coaching on how to develop that to its greatest possible potential. It’s what sustains young people from the inside that will ensure a future for us all.  

So, school’s almost out and ahead lies a summer of freedom. Let it be a time of adventure and just living. Not needing to get up on time nor engage in activities that are prescribed rather than found through internal motivation. If at all possible, travel. Whether a day trip or a tour through other countries, see something different and open their minds to the exploration of a world greater than their own, cultures of different flavours, traditions, customs.

We set out last summer in a car. A family of five. The front navigator’s seat next to the driver was up to be earned through good behaviour. From the Netherlands we drove through Germany and settled for a few days at the Tripoint of Germany, Switzerland and France. We shopped in local shops (this was like taking the kids to a museum- different fish, fruits and vegetables on display), ate local food and stayed in local people’s properties. Airbnb was a great affordable solution for us.

The second leg of our journey took us to Liguria, the crescent-shaped region of northwest Italy, west of Genoa. We worked in the day and adventured in the afternoons. The kids were impressed by lemon trees, the endless herb gardens in Albenga and the medieval festival which saw people dressed up in costumes for celebrations with music and food. There was learning every day, so much to see, to taste.

We headed east and travelled down the stunning Italian Riviera towards our beloved Tuscany. We stayed in accommodation called Ground to Sky and I have rarely felt that happy and settled. Stunning views over Tuscany in our Tuscan house with chickens and our own vegetable patch at the back. The kids could roam and help prepare meals with fresh produce which we could eat on the veranda. We visited Pisa, Florence and Luca all as impressive as the next. We lived like Italians, learned a few words and imagined what it was like to be da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Botticelli. This was education at its finest, taking in the big wide world under the safe wing of parents without any pressure but with eyes and ears open. Of course, there were ice-creams and swimming pools but there was so much fun in learning how to deal with Italian public transport, talking with hands and feet, find the non-tourist route to places and eat €3 delicious pizza in a small local restaurant without cutlery.

We headed back via Lake Garda, which we explored all the way up to Rive del Garda, where you are surrounded by the high rocks and mountains as the lake draws to a narrow point. As the sun disappears behind the structures the nightlife warms the mood. The lake seems black but remains the central point for all life that wants to be near it. Also, the south point of the lake, Jamaican Beach and the Scaligero Castle were unbelievable experiences to be savoured.

Never a dull moment. This is the kind of stuff tests should be made of. What absorbing new cultures brings is the flexibility of adaptation and the joy of exploration and curiosity. This is more than a holiday celebration. It’s a life choice to ease off the school stress and place the emphasis firmly on experiencing the world that they will be responsible for one day. If they have tolerance, understanding and ingenuity they will be able to play a much more effective part in it.

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