Posted on 6th June 2009
The Road Less Travelled
From Eds Up
Children love a good adventure. From the knights taming the beasts and saving the princess while conquering all fears in our fairytales to camping in the garden, building dens, feasting at cook-outs, scouring through the SAS Survival Handbook, (a must-read not only for boys) - all prepare us for the wonders and risks of future life adventures.
So, what better way then to give them a taste of what “real” adventure is all about while choosing an experience that will expand their knowledge and one which they will remember forever. If learning is for life then a break away from the routine must be a good place to start. Many of those who have been to Africa argue that a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of the many countries that the continent has to offer provides just that.
Learning includes spotting tracks and identifying animals from their dung, the art of survival in the bush, the studying of herd behaviour and migration patterns and even the making of paper from elephant poo…
But why Africa? “Most of all,” says Ali Nash who has travelled there five times now with her family, “because Africa gets into your blood, the dust of Africa seeps through into your very bones.”
“Safari”, Swahili for journey, is a major draw in choosing Africa as the setting for the holiday of a lifetime. For children, the bonus of learning about wildlife, almost within hands’ reach, is undeniable. In what other circumstances would you catch images of a lion pride lazing in the scrub, an elephant herd coming to the watering hole to quench their thirst in the hot, hot day, giraffes entwined in foliage as they nibble the sharp hostile needles of the Acacia tree and birds, so many different birds.
In what other circumstances would you catch images of an elephant herd coming to the watering hole to quench their thirst in the hot, hot day and giraffes entwined in foliage as they nibble the sharp hostile needles of the Acacia tree
The Nash family felt that they wanted to see Africa rough and ready. Taking their children the first time when they were 7 and 5 years old, their first holiday was just under a month long. Aly believes that if you travel with an open mind there is something for everyone, from first timers to hardened travelling families.
The options are diverse with regards to where to stay, be it travelling from place to place and camping in tented camps or staying in game lodges and exploring from a central base. The many countries of Africa are now well equipped to host children on safaris.
The Safari experience remains Aly’s children’s (now teenagers) top trip for the pure thrill of adventure. The Nash children will never forget the days spent on a walking safari, trekking through the bush escorted by two Samburu tribesmen leading camels carrying their gear, pitching up camp each night, sleeping under canvas in remote landscape, the only luxury being the warm water heated by the brazier and poured over their heads as an impromptu shower.
Sunrise and sundown drives, on the prowl for spottings of elephant, giraffe, hippos, rhinos, gazelle, hyenas, zebras, warthogs, baboons . . . and on . . . when animals are more likely to show their faces, shape the day. The Nash family used the in-between hours to read, take siestas, soak up the atmosphere and get into the rhythm of “Africa time”.
Fly-fishing for supper in the river, riding zebroids through the bush, canoeing down rivers searching out animals, and hot air balloon rides sweeping low over the awe-inspiring vastness of the savanna at dawn are all added to the memory bank that stays with children forever. There were, the family recalls, moments that were heart-stopping for the sheer excitement of witnessing something not many get to share: from watching a leopard lazing up in a tree from the prime position of sitting directly below it in an open top jeep with the guide trying to convince them that it wouldn’t jump into the jeep as it had just eaten and was “too full up” to make a move on them, to taking to the air in a light aircraft and flying over Lake Bogoria between Kenya and Tanzania to view the pink haze of the famous 3 million lesser and 50,000 greater flamingoes.
In the case of the Nash family, Aly says that Charlie and Miffy absolutely loved every minute: “Charlie in particular was at an age where he wanted to see and do everything and, funnily enough, there never seemed to be problem with getting the children up each day for the 5am game drives. On the contrary, the children would be standing by the jeep, ready and waiting to go.” Night drives didn’t deter them either and if Miffy got tired she would just sleep in the back of the jeep.
Taking to the air in a light aircraft and flying over Lake Bogoria to view the pink haze of the famous 3 million lesser and 50,000 greater flamingoes was a heart-stopping moment
Being part of the experience is not just about viewing animals from the relative safety of the jeep. Learning includes spotting tracks and identifying animals from their dung, the art of survival in the bush, the studying of herd behaviour and migration patterns and even the making of paper from elephant poo . . .
The children each wrote travel journals noting all that they had learnt, something which Ali highlights as an amazing achievement as it is a rare occurrence for her son, Charlie, who normally will do anything to get out of writing.
Tanzania, one of the four most naturally diverse nations on earth, is now top of their list for their next trip to the continent, with its four iconic attractions; Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti to watch the million-strong wildebeest migration, the Ngorongoro Crater and the white sands of Zanzibar.
But, Africa is not just all about the safari. The learning experience for children is not just about seeing wildlife with their own eyes. Africa offers children an insight into different cultures, tribal customs and the inheritance of ancient places and people. Rather than shying away from images of poverty, the children get to see how others live and learn that perhaps you don’t need to proffer expensive gifts to show the hospitality and generosity of spirit, that is so prevalent in many places in Africa.
With the emphasis now being placed on responsible tourism and sustainability, African experiences can teach our children much more than we will ever know about what needs to be done to protect the animals they come to see and the savannas they pass across.
Children learn that you don’t need to proffer expensive gifts to show the hospitality and generosity of spirit, that is so prevalent in many places in Africa
Here, you find what real knowledge and ‘intelligence’ is. Out in the bush in Kenya, Aly Nash was amazed at the pride in the country and, in particular, the natural world that the people she met had: “The generosity of time and the sharing of their knowledge with us was eye-opening. We were taught all about the country, the trees, the animals, the birds. In England, we are lucky if we can recognise what a horse chestnut tree actually looks like let alone know its name.”
Such a wealth of subject matter and experiences for children can and often is taken to another level. With work becoming increasingly international and our desire to get children out of the confines of the classroom to see the world beyond, many now look to combine offering their children life experiences whilst keeping them up to speed and involved in necessary school work.
Sometimes this comes at critical stages in children’s education and families are looking more and more at the benefit of including tutors in their holiday plans.
Ben Long, writer and historian has been fortunate to tutor children on both short holidays all over the world and on longer stays where families either decide to take extended trips with their children, removing them from the school system, or through work needs, have to travel and want their family with them. Experiencing South Africa on long-term stays with families and on safaris, Ben believes: “An extraordinary amount of work can be done in a very short amount of time.” Lessons fit around the heat of the day or, in the case of safaris, the morning and evening game drives: “There is no benefit in telling a child they can’t go searching for exciting animals because the Maths has to be done so the study is built into the day as and when works best.”
In the cases when Ben has travelled with a family on one-off trips, he has found that the exposure to new cultures and climates is an education in itself for children and the tutoring serves to compliment rather than overshadow it.
“There is no benefit in telling a child they can’t go searching for exciting animals because the Maths has to be done so the study is built into the day as and when works best”
There is no need to be in the classroom all day. For Ben, the physical geography of somewhere like Africa provides fantastic teaching potential: visiting the source of rivers, looking at the changing terrain around them, exploring the reserves, getting out and about or merely sitting under a tree reading together and enjoying the experience is a major component in what it is all about.
“A really important part of education before specialisation in subjects is time for art and reading but when you are outside painting pictures of a storm rolling in over the grasslands, topics move on to learning about storms, to discussing the phenomenon of thunder and lightening which then leads to looking at the speed of light and sound, all the while continuing the art class.”
Working in a different place and in a different way on a oneto- one basis means the level of excitement but also a renewed interest in learning is very high. Teaching in relation to the local environment in somewhere like Africa is a huge bonus for children: “If it’s tangible and it’s there - go for it!”
While Ben works as a tutor for Enjoy Education, his experience as a writer and historian, along with fellow tutors, who often have other diverse careers, such as photography and film-making, means that they bring more to the classroom and are able to share their enthusiasm with their students. Kate Shand, Director of Enjoy Education, notes that the tutors are “exceptionally well-educated both academically and culturally. They are people you’d like your children to spend time with.”
Apart from the usual upset tummy, Ali and her family had no health issues at all. As they were staying in an area prone to Malaria, they took Malaria tablets but didn’t find any problems with this. There were “scary bugs” which Miffy was not to keen on but the Nash family strongly believed that this was part of the experience and something that the children just had to get used to. Ali thinks that to enjoy Africa you have to not let worries deter you. If you take the attitude of getting on with it, children are remarkably resilient and tough travellers: “This is the way to enjoy Africa.”
However, some areas of South Africa, for example, offer an excellent starting point for first time travellers, in particular, in the Malaria-free areas which can take away some of the stress of such concerns. The idea of a trip to Africa with children may be a little daunting at first but with common sense, safety is not an issue and the whole family can live the adventure.
Tanzania Odyssey: http://www.tanzaniaodyssey.com/
Recommended for Malaria-free holiday: http://www.bushbaby.travel/
Tailor-made holidays: http://www.kirkerholiday.com/
Fully trained tutors in the UK system: Enjoy Education: http://www.enjoyeducation.co.uk/
Everything you need to know before you go Rough Guide - First Time Africa from: http://www.roughguides.com/