Meet Laura Curtis, founder of Deliberate Travel.
Bébé Voyage was co-founded by two moms who have spent countless hours pouring their energy into the business and the community. Between getting a startup off the ground and managing a family, they know what it feels like to be stretched! Along this journey, we have met so many amazing mompreneurs. The “mompreneur” community truly feels like a sisterhood. We have been so grateful to the community and this series is about profiling our powerful “mompreneur” sisters out there, making a difference in your communities!
Q. Could you tell us a little about you?
A. My name is Laura, I’m 32 and from the UK, although I currently live in Amsterdam, NL. I’m a Learning Designer and founder of Deliberate Travel Kids. I spent a lot of my childhood travelling with my parents, then continued in my 20s. The first trip I remember was to Jamaica when I was 6, and my favourite country is Georgia. I’ve lived in Lebanon, Turkey, Serbia and travelled to every single ‘Stan (Uzbekistan is my favourite). I’ve also spent (too) many years in academia and worked teaching kids for almost 10 years before becoming an LD (Learning Designer).
Q. How did you come up with the idea of Deliberate Travel? How did it all start?
A. I’ve always enjoyed learning about a place in-depth before I visit. I find that the more I know about a place before I travel there, the more likely I am to make different decisions, talk to locals differently, and remember it better. But that often involves reading tens of books and several months/years of prep, which is a lot of work.
The initial idea for Deliberate Travel Kids was to make educational travel content for adults and fill a bit of that educational gap, but literally, the month we started, the pandemic hit, we went into lockdown and the travel industry essentially disappeared.
So, my partner and I decided to spend our lockdown hours making something along the same line for kids, except using educational activities to show them and spark their own curiosity, rather than just having them read a book. Initially, we provided the workbooks for free and they were really popular, so we decided to make it into a business.
Q. What have been the challenges to set up this new business during a pandemic?
A. It’s been difficult for us to get out and talk to people, whether that’s people in the travel industry or parents and kids, or even schools. Everyone seems to vacillate between being incredibly busy or being furloughed. We’ve had loads of positive feedback from travel companies who have essentially said, in a normal year we’d love to work with you, but nothing is happening right now. We’re hoping it will come back soon.
Q. How does Deliberate Travel work? How do you choose the countries and what to highlight?
A. We have an online platform where people can access our workbooks for kids. Each workbook is based on a country and consists of 6-8 different activities which are a mixture of online and printable activities. Kids print off worksheets that have an Answer Grid that they fill in as they move through the workbook. When they fill in the Answer Grid, a 6-8 letter word is revealed. There are currently 23 countries available.
[insert photo of Answer Grid]
We choose the countries to cover a broad geographical range. The point of DTK is to show that all countries are fascinating, not just the ones we already know a bit about. There’s plenty to learn about France, but there’s also loads to learn about The Gambia and Jamaica, and Viet Nam. Eventually we hope to have a DTK workbook for every country in the world!
The activities start with introductory stuff, like capital cities, flags, and currencies. We always have a map activity to get kids familiar with the geography of a country. Other activities are an opportunity to dig a little deeper, going beyond stereotypes and basic information. For example, in our Morocco workbook, we have an activity to learn more about the Amazigh people (also called Berbers, although it turns out that’s not a very nice word) and in our Mexico workbook, we have an Aztec Calendar Stone activity to help kids understand Aztec celebrations (there were a lot!). In our Russia workbook, we use cartoons to cover a timeline of Russian history from 882 A.D. to 2021 – it sounds like a lot but when it’s in an engaging format, kids don’t mind.
Q. What is the goal behind Deliberate Travel?
A. The goal of Deliberate Travel Kids is to spark kids’ curiosity to learn more about different countries and cultures, and hopefully contribute to an attitude of open-mindedness and exploration – so the thought isn’t “It’s weird that people do X” but turns into “I wonder why people do X – I want to find out more”.
We’re fully aware that we can’t cover everything about a country in 6-8 activities, but we want to spark curiosity for kids, so they want to learn more. We also really encourage developing research skills as part of the workbooks – we’ll often ask kids to find out the answer to something themselves. For us, research skills are absolutely crucial for developing resilience and independent learning skills in kids. We hope we can spark their curiosity and show them some simple ways to satisfy that curiosity at the same time.
Q. Why do you think active learning is so important for kids?
A.There are lots of things that adults find interesting that are so boring for kids. Loads of kids need to be tempted or induced into learning and don’t want to sit down and passively ingest information. One way to tempt them into learning is through activities. Active learning gives kids a sense of agency over what they’re doing – we don’t tell them how to do something, they get to work it out for themselves.
We want kids to develop good research skills. Particularly in a digital age, seeking out and assessing information is a key skill and active/research-based learning is a great way to get kids started with that. We don’t throw them in the deep end and tell them to ‘research X’, we introduce them more slowly. Hopefully, they’ll end up being more engaged, interested travellers in the future, willing to learn about the world around them not just visit it.
Q. One of your core values is that we all need to learn difficult history. Why do you think this is important and how do you make it accessible for kids?
A. I have always believed that kids are capable of understanding anything provided it’s explained to them in age-appropriate language. Slavery, war crimes, genocide, prejudice don’t need to be discussed in all their horror with kids, but there are plenty of ways to talk about them so that kids understand the outlines.
In the past, the uncomfortable bits of history were dealt with by not being talked about, a “we’ll talk about it when they’re older” sort of approach. But research shows that approach really doesn’t work.
So, we talk about these parts of a country’s history in our workbooks. We talk about slavery in our Jamaica workbook and about land ownership and settler colonialism in Australia (although we don’t use those exact words). Again, we can only ever hope to be a small part of kids’ education, but we want to make sure we’re not avoiding issues just because they make adults feel uncomfortable.
For some issues, we make sure to warn parents at the beginning of the workbook that they may want to keep an eye on their children as relates to some content. We had a chat with our community recently about how best to talk about landmines with children in our Viet Nam workbook. Almost all the parents wanted it talked about, but with a brief warning for parents before, so that’s what we did. We also supplemented that with some additional materials for parents to be able to learn more about landmines. A lot of the time parents themselves don’t feel adequately prepared to talk to their kids about these issues but are really happy to learn more.
We’re also really willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything about history, difficult history or the experiences of other peoples. We want and need to learn too and we’re constantly trying to find ways to do that. We regularly acknowledge to kids that when we tell a story we’re telling ‘a’ story, not ‘the only’ story of a historical event.
Q. What is next in your plans?
A. We only launched as a digital platform in February 2021 so we’re hoping to make it through 2021 having produced all the workbooks we promised to produce! We’d love to work more closely with schools in the future, hopefully getting Deliberate Travel Kids in some classrooms, or available as homework.
We want to include more local people and experts in the creation of the workbooks, although we’re very clear that we will pay people appropriately for their work, so it’s not feasible just yet.
At the moment we produce one workbook per month, but we’d love to increase that to 2 or 3 workbooks per month. We’ve got 195 countries to cover after all!
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