Learning on the road
Before we embarked on our adventure, one of the most common questions we were asked was “What are you going to do about school?”. I wrote a post about it, and the most honest answer that I could give at that point was “We’ll figure that out as we go.” And, 19 months into our adventure, we’ve figured out a lot about what works for our children and our family as a whole.
How we “do” school…
The first thing that we figured out, was that formal academic work does not work for us while we are doing more “intense” travel. So, we made the decision early on to only do formal academic work with the kids when we were in one place for a significant period of time. We did last year’s school work while we were in Penang, and this year’s work while we have been in Mexico. This has allowed us to create a structure and routine for learning, and has relieved the pressure on all of us during our more rapid phases of travel.
So, our “school year” is 5-6 months long, and we work 7 days a week when we are doing academic work. Yes, you read that correctly – we work 7 days a week. We avoid the whole “Get back into routine on Monday” phenomenon through this. Schoolwork is a part of our day, every day during the “school year”. At the beginning of each “year” we figure out how much work needs to be done each day for the kids to complete their requirements within the 5-6 month time frame. We talk with the kids about what it will take to accomplish this goal. Our kids both know what the expectations are, and more often than not – they actually want to surpass their daily requirements.
But, formal school work does not “consume” our days. Depending on what the kids are working on, it can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours a day. Marcus works with Artie, and I work with Morgan. So what do the kids do with the rest of their time? They do what they want. They pursue learning things that they are interested in. They develop their own passions.
Many families opt out of formally homeschooling their children at all when they travel, and adopt an “unschooling” philosophy. This allows learning to be fully self-directed, and focused on the interests of the children and the opportunities that present themselves in day-to-day life and travel. This is a philosophy that is endorsed and practiced by some of the greatest minds of our time. A child learns something, because they have an interest or a need to learn it for a self-determined goal. These are in many ways, aligned to the four principles that Knowles expressed a fundamental to “andragogy” (the core philosophy in adult learning). It is what makes “life-long learners” tick. I think that the structure that we have followed with our kids during our travels has given them the best of both worlds. They’ve learned discipline, and some skills through their formal daily academic work – and have plenty of time to explore, pursue and develop their own interests. It has allowed them to develop more of that internal, self-motivation that will help them to continue pursuing learning throughout their lives.
Our kids generally had great (actually fabulous) teachers, and principals, and secretaries while they were in school. The kind of educators who are really doing what they are doing, because they care about children. But, this didn’t mean that there weren’t challenges. Truthfully, both our kids experienced a LOT of challenges while they were in school – and the majority of those challenges weren’t academic ones. They both changed, and not for the better when they were in school. At one point, we were getting almost daily phone calls from the school. I was spending several thousand dollars a year on various programs, therapists and resources in an effort to help make my children “able to handle being in the school environment”.
Each and every night, we spent anywhere from 30 minutes, to 2 hours (do those numbers sound familiar…?) helping them process what had happened at school and on the bus. I was spending so much of my time, money and energy as a parent, trying to help my children “endure” school. I remember sitting in my office one night, flipping through photos of my children before they started school – and after. It struck me like a rock to the head, just how happy they looked in their pre-school pictures… and how sad they looked in their pictures after they started school. I sat in my office and wept, not sure that I could ever forgive myself for what I had done by putting my children into an environment that had changed them so much. There were a lot of uncertainties I felt about travelling. There were a lot of uncertainties that I felt around “how” to educate them when travelling. But, I never doubted that taking them out of school, was the decision that was in their best interest.
Learning through travel…
And, none of this even touches on what our kids have had the opportunity to learn while we have been travelling. It is an incredible privilege to be able to do this with our kids, and we can’t ever pretend otherwise. Our blog is full of stories about our “learning adventures” along the way. They have had the kind of rich, hands-on learning experiences that I know so many parents and educators would love to be able to give students. I have LOVED being able to share those experiences with our kids. I’ve loved hearing them bring up memories of those experiences as they are pondering something.
I get a big kick out of working through a “formal” lesson on something like the Sphinx in Egypt, Siem Reap in Cambodia, or Greek Mythology knowing that our kids have actually been these places and learned about them first hand. I LOVE the deep discussions that we get to have about cultural differences, the impacts of political decisions, and history, and the rich context that our kids now have to participate in those conversations. I love that both of my kids think deeply about what they want to do when they are older, and are considering now what they need to learn and do to achieve those things. (BTW – if anyone knows where my son can learn to be a hacker… let me know… I get asked this question weekly – and I really don’t have a good answer for it).
An unexpected gift…
We’re nearing the end of the “School year” for our family, and yesterday was a rainy, stormy day here in Playa del Carmen. Artie decided he wanted to get through as much school work as possible yesterday, and he and Marcus worked through 12 days worth of work. They worked until Marcus frankly – couldn’t do anymore and needed to take a break. During Marcus’s break, Artie fell asleep. When he was still sleeping at mid-night, we decided to move him to his bed. He woke up briefly, and in a groggy voice said “Let’s get back to that schoolwork”. We told him to go back to sleep, and we would start again in the morning. At 7 am this morning, he came into our room, threw the curtains open and said “The sun is up, it’s time to get back to school work!” No, we weren’t happy at that sort of awakening… but it made us remember an earlier time with Artie. It made us remember the little boy who when he was in Junior Kindergarten accused us of lying when we told him that school wasn’t open on the weekends. The little guy, who on a snow-day, packed himself a lunch and walked himself out to the bus stop in a blizzard because he was determined to get to school. I wasn’t sure we would ever see that little guy again. The little guy who loved learning, and couldn’t get enough of it. If the only gift that our travels gave us, was the experience of seeing our child loving learning again – I would have to say that it was all worth it.
About the Author
Professionally, I am an e-learning instructional designer who breaks down the barriers of space and time in learning. Personally, I'm the Mom in the Little-Green Family, and co-planner in our adventures.