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I think most people would agree that kids teach adults a lot, sometimes more than we teach them. As we travel this year, I’ve been reminded of some important lessons from my kids. Here are four things they’ve taught me these past few months that I plan to keep close to my heart.

We don’t have to do it all.

When we visit a new city, I used to feel compelled to see every single park, statue, cafe and museum I’d read about, and then I’d feel bad when we inevitably didn’t see them all. Whether through their words or their actions, my kids keep reminding me to slow down. When we put our energy into one thing rather than spread it out over many, we seem to be much happier and actually get much more out of the experience. I now try and focus on just a few places over a longer period of time and really enjoy those — whether it’s staying longer in a cafe to talk after the food is gone, sitting down to really listen to a street musician in a piazza or spending all afternoon lingering between just a couple rooms of an art museum. When we do that, we enjoy it more and learn much more too.

I think that applies to not just travel but so much more. Less focus on the long to-do lists and trying to be everything at once, more on the one thing we are doing right now. Changing my attitude about doing it all has truly made a difference for me. I feel more fulfilled and find more joy with our every day.

The little stuff is the big stuff.

Looking back, I very clearly see some of the absolute best moments of our trip so far. Of course it’s amazing to have visited some of the famous monuments and big museums – we all love that. But if I’m being honest, the best moments that stick out in my mind are the small ones — the times we spent telling stories over a fun breakfast, playing in the creek, wandering around old town in a new city with no particular destination, playing cards on the train or playing football on the beach.

And even though these activities won’t be found in any guidebook, they truly are the things that bring us the most joy. When asking my kids about their favorite moment of any given day, it will almost always be something small – a stone they found that turned into some magical story, rescuing the lizard from the pool or walking to the market to buy some ice cream. I’m looking (and finding) more joy and beauty in all the small things than I ever have before. I enjoy my cup of tea. I take more walks. I people watch. I pause and take notice of the small things. Those are the things that make the best memories. 

Plan for play

Play is totally underrated. “After you’re done with your work, you can play,” is a phrase we hear often. I’m learning that just maybe there are days when play should come first. We all need time to play, whether it be with some new paints, reading a book, playing cards or just digging a hole in the sand. I’m learning that downtime – time for whatever it is that fills our cups – is so important. I’ve learned that each of us – kids and adults alike – needs that time to process, to think and to recharge. I know we don’t need to always be going somewhere or doing something. When did being busy become a goal in and of itself? Why do we feel guilty just staying home and playing for a day? My kids have shown me over and over how much they need that, and I think I’ve finally learned how important play and downtime really are — for all of us. It’s so crucial to our happiness, our balance, our learning and health.

Do what you love and love what you do.

Sometimes Matt and I lose sight of why we’re doing what we do. During those travel days when Matt has to record a story in the car because the kids are sleeping in the hotel room (King’s Day Part 2 and Born to Rock were both recorded in our rental car, which turned out to be surprisingly good for acoustics) or when we can’t get wifi anywhere and end up using a McDonalds as our office, we lose sight of what an incredible path we’ve chosen. We’re writing stories for kids and teaching them about some of the things we love and feel are important — travel, other cultures, new perspectives and ways of life!

When we get stressed about deadlines or wifi or tech issues, the kids’ joy puts things in perspective and reminds us how blessed we are to be doing something we are passionate about and love.

Our kids have great dreams of their own — book illustrator, author, singer, mother — and we love that. They want to explore the world, they want to learn how to windsurf and skydive, they jump right in trying new and wonderful things. They have so much passion and desire to explore and learn. Kids should dream bigger and bolder because it just gets harder to do the older we get. Their job is to focus on their passions. And even with the mountain of challenges that life throws our way, it would do many of us adults a lot of good to follow that advice as well.

What about you? What have your kids taught you?