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I’ve been a traveler my whole life — and was lucky enough to have a family that prioritized experiencing new destinations throughout my childhood. Now, it’s my nephew’s turn. At two years old, with seven countries down, he’s on his way to becoming a citizen of the world.
While traveling with a child at any age may seem like a daunting prospect, experts claim that it can significantly boost development. They say travel can expand a kid’s world, making them more empathetic toward cultural differences and helping them adapt to changing situations. It can even shape their linguistic development as babies.
“They’re going to start learning the tools for developing meaningful relationships, especially across differences, from an early age,” Dr. Robin Hancock, a global education specialist with Bank Street College, told Travel + Leisure. “Travel has the potential to create a new narrative that teaches children about the similarities with others [and] lays a strong foundation, especially in the early years…We have the potential to raise a generation that knows how to live and coexist with each other.”
I’ve watched my nephew try beans for the first time at La Guarida in Havana, picking up and considering each individual one, almost as if testing it. I’ve seen him stick his feet in the Dead Sea (and then quickly pull them back out again), as well as try gelato under the shadow of the Duomo in Florence.
He may not remember these adventures, but they will impact his development, according to Hancock. The most rapid brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life, and especially in the first three, she said. Surrounding kids from birth to about three years old with people who are different than them “normalizes” that experience.
“Travel and educating children about their roles as citizens of the world when they’re young ensures they will retain that message into their adult years,” she said. “When somebody begins a habit or a tradition… early in life, that becomes the foundation through which they view the world for the rest of their life.”
Traveling with young children – even as young as six months old — can also help them with linguistic development, said Erika Levy, an associate professor in communication sciences and disorders at Teachers College at Columbia University.
“We know that in terms of language, babies perceive sounds differently from adults. As they get older… they lose the ability to distinguish many of the other speech sounds,” said Levy. “If we surround them with speech sounds from all around the world… then we are keeping those categories going, which helps later on in life with their language.”
And when they return home from a trip, their experiences can actually help them in school, according to Hancock.
“It makes them more open to try new things [and] less cautious of people and scenarios that are not familiar to them,” she said. “It will inevitably make children more open and remove bias.”
Here are a few tips on how to maximize your child’s experience while traveling.
Take a stroll in a local neighborhood.
While it’s great to see the major attractions in a destination, walking around a local neighborhood can be one of the most impactful moments for children, said Hancock. A child’s brain tends to make connections based on what is familiar to them. “If you’re in Venice, spend time on the Grand Canal, and if you’re in Paris, spend time by the Eiffel Tower, but the pieces that really resonate with children are the experiences they can relate to,” she said. “It’s going to be meaningful for your child if you just find a quiet neighborhood and go forwalk…Inevitably, you’re going to see people sweeping out their front yard and local vendors. And that’s much more meaningful — you’re going to get a better slice of what everyday life is like and your child will, too.”
Create a tradition while on vacation.
Traditions can help kids connect to a trip. For example, as children, my sister and I collected soda bottles in every country we visited. “Traditions are meaningful for kids,” said Hancock. “Anything that you can relate back to the child’s world is going to be a meaningful experience to them.”
Have your kids play with other children.
Grouping kids with other children around their age will help their development, even if they don’t speak the same language, according to Levy. “Have them meet other children — they will play, learn, and find ways to communicate,” she said. “And they’ll learn that not everybody speaks English.”
Turn your trip into a game.
Asking children to point out things that are new to them, Levy recommended “Have them show you three things they’ve never seen before at home.” She said, “You can do a treasure hunt for them.”
Prepare your children in advance.
Preparing children for what they’re about to experience can go a long way, according to Levy. For example, tell them in advance about jet lag, or if they’re nervous traveling, bring a special toy on the plane. But ultimately, you shouldn’t be too worried: Levy said that children tend to be “more adaptable than we are in new situations.”
In this week’s interview, correspondent Ole ter Wey talks to climate activist Grace Fong about the importance of climate education. Drawing on her very personal experiences with the impacts of climate change in her home country of Fiji, Grace Fong provides insights into what led her to work for Climate Science, an international organization that promotes comprehensive and accessible climate education for children and young adults around the world.
“Imagine if the politicians that are in power right now had this climate change education when they were in school. That can impact all their decisions they make right now taking into account the whole problem.“
In this interview, correspondent Polly Nash talks to fire fighter Cami Schafer about one of the many frightening effects of climate change; the ever-growing threat of wildfires around the world. Last year California was hit by the Dixie Fire, the largest single forest fire in the state’s history. Burning for four months, the Dixie Fire destroyed over a thousand buildings and devastated entire towns. Cami Schafer, who was fighting this fire alongside her colleagues, gives insights into her daily work, her struggles and most importantly, what kept her sane and motivated during the demanding operation.
“You try not to be emotionally attached but you can’t really help it. Those are people’s houses, people’s livelihood, that’s all they have. But then we have to hustle and keep going the next day.”
This article is part of Earth Refuge’s Spotlight Series on Philadelphia
During the summer of 2021, cities across the United States (‘US’) have seen record breaking temperatures to an extent that scientists say would have been “virtually impossible” to reach without anthropogenic climate change. Cities are especially prone to such extreme heat because of particular characteristics which cause people within urban areas— particularly low-income residents — to bear an undue burden of the effects of climate change.
What is the Urban Heat Island Effect?
Heat islands are urban areas that experience higher temperatures than their surrounding areas for a variety of reasons. For one, cities contain more man-made structures, such as buildings, roads, and dark roofs, which absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural land does. Additionally, more vehicles, more air conditioning units, and more industrial facilities all contribute to the heat island effect felt in cities across the world.
The city of Philadelphia is a paradigmatic heat island. Since 1970, Philadelphia’s average summer temperature has increased by three degrees Fahrenheit (-16 °C), leading to more extreme heat events. In the past fourteen years alone, heat-related events have caused nearly 150 deaths in Philadelphia. The magnitude of such tragedy is only expected to grow larger. Just this past summer, Philadelphia declared a Heat Health Emergency, which only occurs from May through June when temperatures are expected to reach 101°F (38 °C) or higher for two consecutive days, or 98°F (37 °C ) or higher for three or more consecutive days. This designation puts services like the city’s heatline into effect and bars any residential utility shutoffs.
The Disproportionate Impacts
Philadelphia is a quintessential heat island not only because the city has become hotter overall, but also because within the city — as in so many others — low-income neighborhoods and communities of color face disproportionate impacts of the increasing temperatures.
Philadelphia’s Hunting Park neighborhood, one of the city’s most impoverished areas, is illustrative. A recent report from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission showed that more than 75% of land cover in Hunting Park was comprised of buildings, roads, and paved surfaces. By contrast, tree canopy — which helps reduce heat — covers only 9% of the neighborhood. As a result, the neighborhood tends to be significantly warmer than the average city temperature: average surface temperature data shows that Hunting Park can be as much as 22°F (-6 °C) warmer than other neighborhoods.
These differences in landscape between Hunting Park and the rest of the city are largely a consequence of redlining, the systematic denial of financial services to residents of particular areas usually based on race. Redlining largely influenced historic housing policies in the US that led to the residential segregation that still exists today. Research shows that surface temperatures in formerly redlined neighborhoods in urban areas across the country tend to be up to 36°F (2 °C) warmer than non-redlined areas. While these trends are most pronounced in Southeast and Western cities in the US, the Philadelphia Heat Vulnerability Index shows that they remain consistent in Philadelphia as well.
Fortunately, action can still be taken at a more regional level to combat the effects of the urban heat island. Two of the most straightforward solutions are to increase the number of white roofs and to increase tree cover. Data from the Center for Clean Air Policy shows that white or light-colored roofs can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s rays in comparison to the 70% heat absorption of black roofs, in turn allowing homes to stay at lower temperatures.
Adding more tree canopy would also go a long way. Trees tend to absorb anywhere from 70 to 90% of sunlight in summer, and 20 to 90% of sunlight in winter, leading to significantly reduced temperatures in Hunting Park and other neighborhoods that are rapidly warming.
Although both solutions would require substantial investment, the benefits outweigh the costs. Indeed, data shows that more trees provide stormwater benefits and increase property values. More importantly, investment in reducing the impacts of the urban heat island effect and climate change more generally represents a small piece of a large effort owed to underserved communities. As climate migration continues to drive people to seek refuge in cities, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that cities are prepared to provide these types of resources to current and future residents.