Through the Eyes of an Educator: London, England

Stacey Ebert's picture

Even at home, I find myself in search of adventure. Whether it’s a new farmers’ market or a short road trip to a new area to hike or discover-I’m in. That urge for adventure only grows when I leave the comforts of home and journey farther away from my surroundings. Once I began a teaching career, I wanted to give my students a taste of that adventure that would leap off their pages, grab their attention through their tablet screens, and ‘sell’ history enough that one day they might want to see it in living colour for themselves. Travel does that. Travel takes the storybooks, television shows, movies, and especially the history books and makes them three-dimensional. It embraces the five senses and pops you into the pages to taste, touch, hear, see, and smell for yourself. At the beginning of every lesson, teachers try to ‘hook’ their students to grab their attention for the lesson of the day. Travel is a continuous hook - one that sets off a recurring light bulb that can’t soon be dimmed.

It was years before I ever thought of entering the education field that I first set foot in London. On the typical American backpacking post-university journey, this cosmopolitan city was my first stop and entry point into Europe. It’s almost twenty years later, and I continue to return finding new adventures that still teach in their own special way. First it was the Griswold’s version of European Vacation with photo stops at Big Ben, Parliament, & Westminster Abbey, but since then, my love affair with London has developed into a learning experience that continues to grow as I do.

History books in the United States teach about England in a few ways. In American History classes, there’s the colonial affiliation leading to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. In Global History classes, there’s the powerful reach of the monarchy and the part Britain played in the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods. The rest is left to the traveler’s vision, and cultural gaps can be filled in firsthand. Landing in this multi-cultural city, home to the likes of Harry Potter’s wizarding world and the secrets of James Bond, you feel plopped in the middle of history. Whether it’s architecture, industry, transportation, or cuisine, everywhere you look in London, there’s learning to take place.

Have a child interested in architecture? You’re in the right spot. A ride to the top of the entertaining London Eye will give you a bird’s eye vista of the entire city skyline. Old and new buildings collide as the Thames runs directly through the city. There’s more to London than Buckingham Palace, but standing beside those wrought iron gates is an impressive feeling. Children can see firsthand where a royal monarch resides and the hierarchy that goes along with it. To watch the event of the Changing of the Guard shows tradition, pattern, precision, loyalty, military, and so much honour. It may seem like a ‘touristy’ thing to do, but the education and cultural value is not lost on those who wish to see.


The London Eye along the Thames


We happen to have a friend who is presently a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force and lives on a base dedicated to flying. We had the privilege of visiting and actually getting to see bits of the base and where he works. For two people with incredible respect for all military members and their families but little interaction with it in day-to-day life, this was an unbelievable experience. To be able to see a working helicopter up close, actually set foot in the Officers’ Mess, and watch as fellow members saluted our friend as he passed by was an experience we’re not soon to forget. Getting to see the inner workings of any military base is something special - an eye-opening learning experience different to anything you’d read or see on a screen.


At the Royal Air Force Base outside of London


History buffs will be floored by the abundance of museums in this great city. Many are free and open to the public regularly to share details of artistic works, historical artifacts, and the immense cultural heritage of Great Britain. If you’re interested in mixing history with a bit of the theatrics, take a tour through London’s dark past at The London Dungeon. History is everywhere in London. A museum, architectural wonderland, and fun pedestrian site all rolled into one is The Tower of London. You can check out the sparkle of the Crown Jewels and learn about royal history right above the river. On a sunny or cloudy day it’s hard to miss the bright blues of Tower Bridge. If the steel and tombs below could talk….the stories they would tell!


The Tower Bridge, London


And what about the water? Featured in countless films, the Thames is a central focus in London. Beside this emblem, you’ll find the headquarters for James Bond and his mates. Recognize the line from any early Chevy Chase movie and you can find both Big Ben and Parliament looming large across the way. Of course, some of the best lessons are learned through wandering and observing, and the cobblestone winding corridors of the waterfront have much to share. Throughout decades and centuries industry, tourism, and life happens along the river Thames. London is a large, sprawling city where many of its discerning qualities are shaped by the river.


Big Ben and Parliament, London


Some of the best lessons in cultural diffusion are found in London. This city is a true cultural blending from all four corners of the earth. Walk down any street in London and your ears pick up accents of all kinds. Types of cuisine meet the amounts of accents you’ll hear throughout the city. There’s Brick Lane, for arguably some of the best Indian food outside of India, along with fish and chips, ubiquitous kebab shops, and tea as far as the eye can see.


Fish & Chips in London


Want to teach your kids the benefits of public transportation? Do it in London. Whether you jump in a black taxi, take a ride on those iconic bright red double-decker buses, or learn how to correctly utilize an Oyster card on the colour-coded tube, the skills they can gain learning about transport in London are priceless. In all the cities we’ve been, London has one of the best tourism information, located at most Underground stations. There’s always someone to address your questions, provide directions, or point you to the way of that particular museum you’ve been looking to see. The experience felt and learned from the kindness of strangers is a life-long lesson in people skills!

Science and math buffs and fans of cartography will delight in Greenwich. Beside a year-round market filled with flavours of the world, the Cutty Sark ship, and delicious vegetarian and noodle-filled restaurants, you’ll find ‘the first shop in the world.’ Filled with nautical artifacts and all things ship and map related, this shop abuts what year nine New York students only see on a map: the Prime Meridian. Who would imagine actually seeing zero degrees of longitude in real life? This special Greenwich spot manages to bring an imaginary line into three-dimensional reality. Budding cartographers can walk on a line of longitude where its only equal can be found in Ecuador’s Equator. There’s even a spot where visitors can stand on either side and see up close the meaning of Greenwich Mean Time - pretty cool! There’s truly something to be said about standing where time starts.

Markets are filled with everything in London. Sociology behaviorists could easily conduct studies at any of London’s fabulous markets. Aromas assault your senses and colourful displays catch your eyes the minute you enter. Borough Market at lunchtime is filled with crowds queuing for a taste of the delicious. Paella pans larger than the radius of your average car tire are loaded with spices, seafood, and that sweet smelling saffron rice. There are some of the tastiest cheeses, interesting vegan treats, my husband’s favourite salt-beef rolls, and tasteful Indian samosas that take you right back to the streets of Jaipur. Flavours from all corners of the globe are here along with people whose voices float through the air as quickly as smoke leaves the hot pans. Learning happens through each sense as all are heightened in the rush of this particularly amazing place.


Cornish Pasty, London


Culture is everywhere in this cosmopolitan city. So much that is no longer found in traditional schooling or diminished through public school budget cuts can be found readily available to all. For Shakespeare fans, a visit to The Globe Theatre is necessary. People yearning for life in creative fields are welcomed with open arms in London. The first time I visited the theater in London’s west end, I was twenty-one, and a singing usher serenaded us as he brought us to our seats in the upper levels to see Sunset Boulevard. The magic of the theater district continues to buzz and astound. Later in life, we sat in the stalls watching one of my Broadway favourites, Idina Menzel, open Wicked in London - the magic of Oz, that voice, and the entire setting was not lost on its viewers. The artistically designed landscape of these architectural British icons only helps to bring shows to life. Any evening, Leicester Square is filled with people purchasing their last minute tickets to take in a show or chatting about the spectacle that is akin to New York’s Great White Way.

And then there’s sport, a definite art in this city. Be it cricket, football, rugby, or tennis, there’s something quite distinct about athleticism in London. Tennis at Wimbledon, football at Wembley, county cricket at Lords, or following the English National team in their quest for The Ashes win over the Aussies - no matter what the sport, it’s all there. My husband loved living in London, knowing that on just about any channel at any time he could find a sport he loved. There’s talk about the latest player Arsenal signed in a local pub, inexpensive tickets to a cricket match, or even the ability to tour some of the world’s most prestigious stadiums in this capital city. And then, of course, there’s the fact that recently London hosted the people’s games in one of the most spectacular summer Olympics in recent history, helping to further cement the city’s already synonymous name with sporting greats.

Looking for adventure, culture, sightseeing, or a cup of tea and delicious scone, there’s a place for you in this city. Not to mention, of course, that a look up at the arrivals/departures board at London’s Heathrow airport can give you a geography lesson of your own, taking you on a whirlwind journey to just about anywhere imaginable. It may not be filled with quidditch playing wizards or Aston Martin-driving spies, but London has a pulse all its own. Even the thought of seeing a phone booth in person is a learning experience to the iPhone carrying generation. There’s informal learning in adventure…all you have to do is go. London’s calling!




Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert