The number of traveling families and those embracing an alternative education is most definitely on the rise, particularly in first world countries. According to The Guardian, local authority statistics in the UK reveal a 65% increase in children recorded as home educated over the last six years. By no means a new affair in the U.S., homeschooling has been on the rise since 1999. In some regions of Australia, homeschooling statistics reveal a 300% increase in registered homeschool students.
Road schooling is just another strand of homeschooling, whereby instead of living in one place and being educated by parents in that same location, children are taken on a journey across the country (or sometimes the world) to learn… on the road. Some subjects, including gardening and its related strands, really lend themselves to a road schooling environment, but more on that in a bit.
The road schooling pros and the cons
There are so many parents out there who blog about their road schooling experiences that resources and advice for the novice are plentiful. There also seems to be a general consensus surrounding the pros and cons of road schooling too. Most parents highlight the positive impact on their children’s development and interest in education. They see their children taking an active role in their own learning and developing a greater sense of curiosity.
Most seem to agree that the greatest challenge is socialization. While children undoubtedly get the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with lots of other adults and many children (particularly when signed up to child-focused groups that parents find en route), it’s difficult for road school learners to develop long-term bonds with anyone as they’re always on the move.
A green-fingered learning experience
Some children are blessed with a garden at home. Some are lucky enough to attend schools with small vegetable or herb gardens that, as a collective, the children tend to alongside their teacher, learning a little about gardening basics along the way. Road school learners are given the opportunity to play in the rainforest on one day, walk through woodland countryside the next, drive alongside desert cacti the following week and go apple-picking in an orchard a month after that.
When you’re on the road with your children, the world becomes your educational garden and gives you all the resources you need to teach them about how different plants are cultivated, what they’re used for, where in the world they grow and how they provide perfect living conditions for local wildlife. It’s the kind of sensory experience that enables children to learn through sight, touch and smell all at once.
A lesson on the yucca
As an example, let’s imagine you’re journeying through South America and your child comes across the yucca plant, popular with gardeners of all experience levels. You can teach him or her that there are over 40 different species of the yucca plant, all of which are native to the hot and arid regions of the Americas and the Caribbean; that a number of species have cleverly learned to adapt to a range of conditions, making them ideal for gardens in almost any location.
Your children will be able to touch their tough, evergreen, dagger-shaped leaves and practice their green-fingered skills by cutting from the cane or stem to grow additional plants, without damaging the original. If you’re traveling in a campervan, there’s nothing to stop you from creating a small indoor garden and making your child responsible for the cultivation of a yucca plant cutting over a set period of time; a kind of school project with tasks and goals.
Knock-on effect on other areas of the curriculum
Another option is to take what might have been a simple gardening lesson at a traditional school and turn it into a holistic project by teaching your child about the many other benefits of the yucca. The banana yucca and soapweed yucca are both edible species, which means an entertaining cooking lesson could be in order. Teach your child about cultural customs and how Native American cultures use the sap from the yucca as a skin balm to treat ailments like cuts and scrapes.
Moving on to bigger issues
Spending time surrounded by nature while on the road can teach your children a huge amount about the greater issues of life too. One way of giving them a hands on education in trade and the food industry is to spend time picking fruit on a farm. You could choose apples, berries, grapes, you name it. Whatever happens to be local to the area you’re traveling in and wherever you’re able to start picking with your children in tow. The UK is a particularly great place for an activity of this kind.
As well as the direct contact they have with nature, the physical labor and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, when children go fruit-picking they are also given the opportunity to learn about the many different factors that go into the cultivation, preparation and packaging of the fruit they buy with ease at the supermarket. They experience how tiring it can be picking fruit and making sure that the crop is good. They learn about the use (or not) of pesticides and how farming actions could ultimately affect their health, the health of local wildlife and the fragile balance of our environment.
These experiences give way to conversations that delve deeper into government legislations and the need for regular monitoring. The role that agriculture has to play in any country’s economy makes for an interesting project for adolescents. It’s a meaty enough subject to allow them to really probe into complex issues relating to Fair Trade; the policies, what they mean, who makes them and how they are employed to protect the economic interests of local farmers in developing countries.
How to begin
The best way to get started with an effective green-fingered education on the road is to just get out there and explore. The content of the curriculum you choose to deliver to your child will depend greatly on the places you plan to visit. So, the most important thing is that your child has the chance to interact directly with his or her natural environment and develop an organic interest in those interactions.