As homeschoolers we are always looking for field trip ideas—places to visit to help develop our children’s understanding of the world. We have toured everything from fire stations to the Subaru assembly line. We have visited science museums and historical places like Plymouth Plantation. These have all been memorable learning experiences.

Last month we took the kids on an ultimate field trip—to Beijing and Shanghai.

I had been mulling over the idea of taking the kids to a foreign country so they could experience a different culture. When I saw a Living Social deal to China, essentially making the trip the same cost to our family as taking the kids to Disney World, I knew we had to do it.

My husband was a little skeptical at first. “Is this price for real?” he wondered. He read all the reviews, especially the negative ones. After some reassurances, we decided to spring for it.

In preparation for the trip, like any good homeschooler, we read lots of books. There are many delightful picture books out there for kids about China. Our two favorite chapter books were one fiction book—Chu Ju’s House by Gloria Whelan—and one non-fiction book which impressively takes thousands of years of Chinese history and condenses it into a readable, not-too-lengthy format for kids—China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah.

In the meantime, my sister-in-law and her husband learned we were taking the kids to China. They both lived in Beijing for a few years and taught English there, so they decided to come too. This turned out to be very fortunate for us. Because my brother-in-law speaks conversational Mandarin, we felt more liberty to break off from the tour group for a few days and explore Beijing on our own, using the subway.

In Beijing we visited the vast and historical Forbidden City. We explored Hutongs and had street food. We went to the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, which my kids thought was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. We also toured a jade factory.

Of course, we hiked the Great Wall, which was probably the highlight of the entire trip for all of us. I wondered if I had built it up too much in my mind and would be disappointed. No. It was incredible and seemed to stretch on for an eternity, weaving up and down the mountains. We had read in books that the Great Wall is also dubbed the world’s longest cemetery because of all the people who died building it and are buried in it. Legend says if you hike eight towers, you are a hero. We were proud of our kindergartner—he hiked ten towers, and only had to be bribed with a pack of gummies at the very end!

Hiking the Great Wall with Dad.

After a short flight in-country, we explored some “small cities”—because only eight or nine million people live there—and also Shanghai, a city of 26 million people.

Everywhere we went, our kids were constantly touched, stared at, and photographed. We had been warned that this would happen. Ironically, my shyest child got the most attention because her hair is the blondest. It is still rare to see fair-skinned people in China, especially children.

People everywhere wanted pictures with the fair-skinned children.

We went to a traditional Chinese garden, a silk factory to view the process of silkworm cocoons being transformed into sleek fabric (yes, best field trip ever!), the Grand Canal traversed by Marco Polo and many emperors, the tallest Buddha shrine in the world (which engendered some deep conversations with our kids), beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou, and a breathtaking tea plantation, with terraced tea plants on the hillsides, where we learned the health benefits of green tea. Did you know that in China you can get a master’s degree in tea science?

Touring a silk factory was fascinating!

The Shanghai skyline at night is supposed to be one of the top ten most beautiful sights in the world, something I did not know until after I booked this trip. We stood on the Bund walkway as a family and watched the skyline turn from the grayish hues of dusk to a panorama of light, with every color of the rainbow sparkling all around us. It was magnificent.

Shanghai at night.

I am in still in awe that this spring break trip actually happened. (Thanks, Living Social!)

Before we left for China, we discussed all the ways Chinese culture would be different. In the end, we were surprised that our kids mostly saw similarities. Rather than dwelling on the spicy food with random chicken parts thrown in, unrecognizable alphabet, squatty potties with no toilet paper in sight, motorized scooters jumping up on sidewalks, etc., my kids saw the modern buildings, freeways, people on iPhones, smiling babies, and families strolling together by the lake and concluded, “They’re like us!”

Eating adventures: when a chicken head shows up in your dinner, you just roll with it.

I guess that is also a good lesson to learn: You can go halfway around the world to see how different it is. But, in the end, we are all human and we are all the same too.


Photo Credit: iStock. Following pictures courtesy of author.