With international traveling not an option, mom designs make-believe voyages for kids

Posted at 1:57 PM, Sep 11, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – So far this year, the coronavirus pandemic has cut international tourism in half. But one Chicago mom decided she would take her family globetrotting anyway without an airplane.

High school English teacher Lynn Gilbertsen says remote learning got her two young children, 6-year-old Max and 3-year-old Beth, interested in far-off places.

“They'd started to ask lots of lots of questions about all the countries and you know they know all the continents,” said Gilbertsen.

But with COVID-19 grounding true world exploration, she opted for a different approach.

“It occurred to me that we could do something where we could go places instead of being stuck in our house,” said Gilbertsen.

She started with a list of landmarks and monuments that could stand in for the real thing.

That included places like a golf course Eiffel Tower for France, a Hindu temple and Taj Mahal mural for India, and a public park with a statue of Athena helped them learn about Greece.

“I wanted to feel like it does when you travel, where you get to really immerse yourself in wherever you are for a little while,” said Gilbertsen.

All of her travel destinations are within an hour of her Chicago home.

For their visit to Italy, they chose the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In actuality, it’s a half-scale replica attached to a suburban YMCA.

Another favorite was an architectural scavenger hunt for pagoda-inspired structures in Chinatown.

“It seems to me like such low hanging fruit. But they loved going to Chinatown,” she said. “If you ask them what their favorite country is that we visited. They're like, ‘oh China.’”

Along the way, they sample international cuisine.

“I think it's hitting a lot of the sort of social, emotional pieces about why we learn about the world and why we study other people and other cultures,” said Gilbertsen.

And of course they take a selfie to document each trip.

Lynn’s husband, Joe Troutman, an elementary visual arts teacher says absent actual travel, this is an activity that any family can do anywhere.

“I think this is our eighth or ninth country and our study so far,” said Troutman. “So, it's been quite a journey in its own right.”

Gilbertsen has posted their international adventures online and is getting inundated with requests to share her ideas. Right now, she’s working on a curriculum and PDF guide to virtual travel.

Her ultimate goal is to help her children become good citizens of the world.

“I want them to have a broader understanding of the world younger. I think you have a lot of catching up to do if you're an adult and you're finally figuring out that the world is really big.”