Editor’s Note: Good morning. Heather Beckett is back with more of her family’s year-long experience of living in Australia. Today she focuses on how her family extended their learning beyond the classroom. Makes me want to pack my bags and head out into the world immediately. Here she is:
Often when we think of learning we may immediately envision the conventional setting of a classroom. While a lot of great learning happens in this place, learning also happens in many other ways and throughout our day. In Australia, we were reminded of this daily; meeting people and seeing new places provided great opportunities for learning. So with a year in Australia, my family was exposed to a whole new world.
To be truthful, Australia is not that dramatically different than Canada. The food is similar, English is the dominant language spoken and it has First Nations and British roots. We knew we would be experiencing a very different natural environment, but did not expect to be immersed into a diverse cultural environment.
We were proven wrong. Brisbane and our children’s school turned out to be a microcosm of the cultures of the world. To live in this city and to be a part of this school was a fabulous experience. There were formal celebrations through events such as Harmony Day, where kids performed traditional music and dance, read out poems and shared art.
But there was a subtle form of learning that happened for my kids. My son said, “It was interesting because some of the kids would play games from Africa during recess and kids spoke in the language of their country while at school.” Although we didn’t travel to different countries of the world, my kids learned about diversity through their fellow class and school mates.
While we were very satisfied with our children’s learning experience at their Australian school, another reason to go on this trip was to extend their learning beyond the classroom. Australia’s landscapes and animals are completely unlike anything we have in Canada. We wanted our weekends and holidays to be about experiencing the natural world of Australia – it was too unique to not do so.
Over the year we explored as much of the country as we could. During our times away from the formal classroom there was so much to see and do, to satiate our need to explore the outdoors. As Edward O. Wilson so aptly puts it, “Getting outdoors is crucial to the human experience. There is no substitute for having your personal, precious body out there in the middle of nature.”
Although we visited many amazing places, when I asked my family what place they loved the most, the responses were unanimous - the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef. Both of these areas are not only unique, but are quintessentially a part of the Australian landscape. This is what travel means to me, to experience what makes a place special; to be somewhere completely different than anything you could experience at home.
Shortly after our arrival in Alice Springs, we headed off to Alice Springs Desert Park – highly recommended as a starting point to learn about the unique ecosystems, plants and animals of the Outback. After our visit there we left feeling ready to begin our plant and animal treasure hunt. We were keen to find a death adder snake (only if enough distance was between us and it!), a thorny devil lizard, or a black-footed rock wallaby. But in order to spot these creatures we would have to be keen observers. Walking amongst the red rock formations, ghost gums and spinifex grass we needed to use our eyes and our ears to scour our surroundings. The act of observation forces us to notice the details; it connects us to nature so that we see, hear, touch and experience our surroundings more intimately.
During our day exploring the MacDonnel Range west of Alice Springs we had a special moment – one of many during our time in this area. We went to Simpson’s Gap in the late afternoon with the hopes of seeing a rare rock wallaby. Not more than 15 minutes into our arrival my husband spotted one of these elusive marsupials high up on the rock face. The kids were thrilled to see a wallaby in the wild. We took our post on the sand and quietly watched as three wallabies gracefully bound across the rocky slope. We felt so lucky, and as my daughter put it, “It was very special because these are rare animals only found in certain areas of Australia.”
We had countless moments like this one in Simpson’s Gap. Throughout the year we were lucky enough to explore unique ecosystems, scramble on the ancient sandstone rock of Uluru, look on as a humpback whale played in the water beneath our boat and stand in front of thousands-of-years-old aboriginal rock art. Our experiences were numerous. Every outing provided the possibility to learn something, to expand our knowledge.
Whether it was about ecology, biology, geology, practicing math skills during hundreds-of-kilometers-long drives or to gain a deeper understanding of the Aborigines and their culture, we were always being exposed to something new.
The benefits of travel do not just have to be about learning concrete facts or about places and things. It can also be about personal development and growth. We all gained life skills such as, self-confidence, patience, compassion and cooperation.
Through this travel experience, my family and I had the good fortune to learn more about our world and experience a very special continent. I was, and continue to be, in awe of how much we learned and how much we all fell in love with Australia. I wasn’t prepared for that. I now carry the feeling one gets from travelling – a feeling of being rejuvenated - and my mind is bursting with all that I saw and experienced over the year.