Pint-sized Pilgrim's Joy In Learning

September 08, 2008


How do you teach a child about Santiago de Compostela and the famous pilgrimage that people have been doing for centuries? We like Mozart to get a real sense of history as we roam, so are always looking for ways to make it come more alive to her in fun ways. Young kids can get excited about history if you bring it down to levels that they can appreciate, experience and feel a part of in a form that relates to their lives.

As they grow and can absorb more information, they will always have the past experiential first-hand learning, to enrich deeper knowledge. Mozart will have a strong reference point for Santiago and pilgrimages when she later studies it in greater depth. This is one of the great advantages of slow travel with children and as a family.  Europe is so rich with opportunities for learning

We started talking and reading about Santiago before our arrival which builds a certain excitement. We looked at the most famous routes on maps and saw that we were coming a different way than most and using a different mode of transportation. We got to compare and contrast on how we were like the pilgrims and how we were not. A great part of roadschooling consists of conversations, reading, mapping and using every situation to learn naturally.

The traditional way the pilgrims dressed in the middle ages was with a brown cloak with a staff ( walking stick) with a gourd for water and a hat. The statue of Saint James at the cathedral in Santiago shows a good example of the dress that was common during the middle ages. When they completed the journey they would get scallop shells which was the symbol that they had made it. One sees scallop shells everywhere in Santiago which one can not help but appreciate their simple symbolism.

When we first arrived, we allowed Mozart to dress in the traditional pilgrim outfit and get her picture taken in it. She loved it! Yes, it is a corny touristy thing to do, but just like trying on a princess outfit for a picture at the Alhambra, it is a fun way to help a child connect to the history.

These things make impressions on little ones. Later when we were at a local cafe to use the wifi, Mozart was busying herself with some drawing on her napkin. I did not pay too much attention until later and I saw she had made a little picture of an old fashioned pilgrim! I asked her why it had a frown on it's face and she told me that was because she was a pilgrim and had been on a very, very long walk, so now she was tired and her feet were hurting. (She has probably heard her mother talk too much about her feet hurting when we go on long walks. )

Later we found a fun book for kids about Santiago and the pilgrims called "The Flying Pilgrim" by Lawrence Schimel ( ISBN  8480039086). It is a lovely little picture book which tells the story about El Camino de Santiago from the perspective of a small bird who sees the pilgrims arriving to his city and wonders what all the fuss is about. He flies east to the beginning of the way, learning as he goes, what the journey of pilgrimage is all about.

After visiting the cathedral we found a nice shady spot to sit, right across from it and read this book aloud together and discussed it.When I can, I like to bring the kid's books about an area with us to the location. It is just another beneficial way to connect the book and location and make it an enjoyable learning session.The book and our family photos plus videos help to keep the experience alive in her long after we are gone from this location.

Mozart had been given a bubble blowing necklace gift from the tourist center, so blew some bubbles and watched some pilgrims hug upon meeting again. We had a nice snack, gazed at the cathedral and it was a sweet family moment. History can be about bonding, love and fun!

Even though her age peers at home have just finished first grade, Mozart is capable of reading the adult materials of places we go and she does that, but I feel the child related materials connects her to sites in a way that is more child oriented. Kids like to have fun, so I think all learning at Mozart's age should be enjoyable. I don't always know how to bring the essential elements down to a child's level, so really appreciate books that do this and help us parents along.

I think running around the Plaza del Obradoiro, dancing to a bagpipe-playing young man off to the side of the cathedral, dressing in a pilgrims costume and reading this book,  right along with touring, all help Mozart understand why we came to Santiago and the rich history here.









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I Googled the title of the book to see about ordering it for my granddaughter and found this site and thought you might enjoy reading her thoughts on the pilgrimage and the book:


Reese has been fascinated with Knights lately, so we picked up a knight-themed activity box at the bookstore the other day.

There was a board game in there that talked about pilgrimages, and the end of the game, in order to win, you had to read...Santiago de Compastela first!

Loved your pictures. It's always amazing to me to see architecture like that, so very old, but still stunning.

As always--thanks for sharing your stories!

Beth (DesertMama)

What a touching post. I love how children can communicate though drawings. (I love the photo of Mozart swinging on the tree!)You are giving her a tremendous gift.


Wonderful! You are really making history come alive for your daughter!


Thanks Tee!

HappyCampers-Thanks! Funny that Reese should get that game just now! ;) Show him the video of Mozart in Santiago!

Thanks Teresa! Glad you have enjoyed it ( and have settled in to Alaska).


It would help also if parents traveled their own country, the United States, and taught their kids about the history there. I was tutoring a boy in 4th grade Texas history and the Indians that lived there but he didn't learn anything from me. He didn't even know what a teepee or a buffalo was. Everything I was saying was going in one ear and out the other because he had no basis.


What a great story! I remember taking my children on travels when they were younger and how much they learned by actually experiencing it rather than just reading about it. I worry with the economy, how much will families be able to travel to see what it out there.

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