Sydney to Canberra- why road trips improve your child’s navigation skills

Travel date December 2016

The classic road trip is a dreaded exercise. The packing of extra bags of clothes, blankets and toys. The constant stopping for toilet breaks. Relentless screaming from a fussy child unwilling to stay in the same position for more than one minute. The added administration of having to travel by car with a child is a headache most parents can do without. You reminisce about a time (before children), when you could leave the house by simply picking up your keys, and driving off. With a child now in tow, it is necessary to ensure you tick off all the items on your checklist before you hit the road. Are the nappies packed? What about her snacks? Do we have a change of clothes in case she gets wet? How many wet wipes have we packed? Even with these lingering issues, the benefit of exposing your child to a regular car trip, has undoubted benefits, which include navigation, memory and pronunciation development.

During our travails on the road, we noticed with every road trip, Ariana had seemed to remember common landmarks. Ariana had also seemed to remember the route home from our local supermarket and from her grandparent’s place. She was able to name trucks, trees, buildings and other common features we passed on the road. Ariana was able to develop her memory, navigation and pronunciation skills with every car trip. A car trip for Ariana was a life like map. Instead of relying upon maps to show her where trees and roads led, our car trips helped illuminate what these features were right before her very eyes.

During the Christmas period, we drove the 3-4 hour trip from Sydney to Canberra along the M5 and Hume Highway (however with a child this trip ended up being 5 hours instead!!). My wife had planned to stop at a farm called  Grandmas at the farm (Inside Fedra Olive Grove 5796 Federal Highway 2581 Collector) in order to appease any of Ariana’s potential fussiness. Before the road trip began we strategically decided to drive during her afternoon nap time in order to allay any fears of discontent from Ariana. However to our dismay, Ariana was wide awake as the car trip began. As we drove away from our home, Ariana had a look of attentiveness, it was as though she was busy analysing and absorbing the surroundings outside her car window. 

Ariana’s look of attentiveness corresponded with her memory and navigation. This was apparent as she was able to remember certain trees, streets and landmarks near our home and on our return journeys. This was evident when we drove back home to Sydney. Ariana was able to point out Lake George (Australia’s famous disappearing lake) even after spending four days in Canberra. We were amazed to hear Ariana recall the same lake she pointed out during the drive to Canberra and again on our return journey. What was clear from this recall, was Ariana had developed her ability to recollect the same landmarks she had previously passed (a clear sign of memory development) and was acutely aware that she was on the way home. By recalling the same landmarks Ariana had passed during our road trip, Ariana was able to make a mental note of the direction she was going in order to comprehend she was on the way home.

travelling with kids
The road trip for Ariana was like a map coming to life. She would constantly call out the trees she saw along the way.

During our road trip to Canberra, Ariana was keen to point out all the trees, bridges, valleys, farms and hills she saw. Our Canberra road trip would have been an active lesson in nature as the trees she saw in books came to life right in front of her. Seeing all these natural landmarks helped Ariana develop her sensory skills. The road trip supplemented the daily reading Ariana would undertake before she went to bed. Ariana was also able to sense the trees she saw were the same trees she read during her bedtime reading (proof of her sensory capabilities).

The lesson of our road trips with Ariana show that the stress of preparing for a road trip is dampened by the prospect of a learning experience for your child. Children use road trips to help develop their memory of places/ landmarks they see and use it to correspond with the journey they take in order to memorise and develop their sense of direction. As opposed to adults who use games like sudoku to help improve their memory and GPS to help with their navigation.

travelling with kids
The road trip was a great way for Ariana to develop her sense of navigation. Helping her remember all the paths she takes in life.

Even though road trips can become elongated through toilet breaks and tantrums, what is clear is that children absorb their surroundings. Travel via a simple road trip is a great way for your child to study their sense of navigation. I hope through Ariana’s experiences, that parents choose to spend their weekends undertaking road trips, as opposed to days wasted in front of a TV or tablet. If you expose your child to a road trip every weekend, they will be able to recount their journey and surroundings, thus developing their memory development. Think about it, when you ask your child how to arrive at a certain destination, it is common for children to use landmarks to track their journey. This is possible if you expose your child to the journey through road trips (or walking routes if the destination is nearby) as opposed to the unlikelihood of your child analysing a street directory/ map. From my own experience, I was able to recount my way around Sydney’s roads, not through an analysis of my local map, but by my recollection of driving through the roads of Sydney growing up with my parents. If Ariana is able to remember landmarks, roads and journeys as a baby, hopefully she will be able to use this to recall  future road trips she will undertake as she develops.

Happy Travelling!!

Chris & Ariana.


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