Travel buddies are a wonderful way to engage young learners in a range of activities and outcomes across the curriculum.
Having been involved in many of these in the past, including sending the Olympic mascots to New Jersey, USA and Grandma Poss and Hush around Australia, this page offers guidelines to consider when initiating or participating in a travel buddy adventure.
Establishing the purpose of the program is essential so that it can be seen as being an integral part of the curriculum as well as attracting participants who have similar goals and are therefore more likely to be active and accountable. That way the adventure will be successful and the time that is expended is worthwhile.
Outcomes can be broad concepts to be understood as well as specific skills to be mastered.
Lifelong learnings are those big-picture concepts that help the learner make sense of their word and which apply to the broad spectrum of life. Examples could be
- Shared experiences help us understand each other better.
- Where we live shapes how we live.
- Stories can take us to new adventures well beyond the pages of the book.
Specific outcomes are those that are directly related to or stated in the curriculum and can cover any aspect of it, depending on the purpose of the exchange.
Some choose to focus on having the buddy travel from place to place to explore the ways children in different parts of the country live or to retrace a journey made by a person or a book character.
Within these, there can be a host of even more specific outcomes such as learning to use a digital camera, asking and answering questions, considering the best method for presenting what has been discovered and so forth. A Travel Buddy exchange is an enjoyable and meaningful way of addressing these sorts of things in a purposeful context and can be done in collaboration with a classroom teacher or independently of them depending on the teaching mode at your school.
But whatever the purpose, it needs to be made clear so that there are common goals and expectations and these are met.
Responses to an idea floated on a local TL forum showed an extraordinary amount of interest in this concept but it is essential to limit the number of participants to keep the project manageable. Too many participants and there is a risk of your travel buddy getting lost or left on a shelf as others things take over or the journey becoming so long that the initiators lose interest.
Thus it is better to limit the age group of students so that tasks and responses are of an appropriate level and to those who have similar curriculum goals. An exchange might be between just two schools or there might be a number of them. Experience shows that six is the maximum if the buddy is to move on in a timely manner and interest maintained.
However, anyone can initiate a project so there could be any number of exchanges happening at any one time.
Each buddy adventure needs a co-ordinator to oversee the process including
- deciding the purpose
- acquiring the buddy to share
- establishing the platform where news. photos and other communications are shared
- calling for participants and managing the applications
- mapping the route and the timetable
- communicating with participants regularly
- ensuring the buddy is moving on as scheduled
- ensuring that participants are posting the buddy’s adventures on the platform to be shared by other participants and build up anticipation
- whatever else is needed as it arises
Participants must commit to
- any preparatory work that needs to be done such as acquiring and sharing the story if the exchange is book-related
- enabling students to take photos, write accounts, respond to questions and so on
- ensuring students have the necessary time to participate fully
- publishing photos and student response on the identified platform
- sending the buddy to the next school according to both the map and the timetable
- meeting the cost of sending the buddy on
- providing feedback about the experience to both the co-ordinator, classroom teachers, principal and parents
The most common buddy is a stuffed toy usually related to a particular book. However the Flat Stanley Project has participants send paper cutouts. Your imagination is the limit but be mindful of students’ interests and abilities and also postage costs.
Timing of the exchange is determined by the initiator and is run in accordance with that school’s demands. Those who cannot participate during the set time may choose to establish a different exchange at a different time.
Exchanges must allow time for travel between schools (usually via Australia Post) and for the buddy to be in the school long enough for activities to be completed.
Exchanges should be completed within a school term and be relatively short so that anticipation and interest amongst all participants is maintained.
Ideally, the organisation and adventures will be hosted on a platform such as PBWorks that allows for
- both government and independent schools to participate
- multiple authors so adventures can be uploaded by participants and not just the co-ordinator
- sharing with principals and parents so they can see the learning taking place