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Confessions of a Reluctant Homeschooling Dad

Published on 15 May 2012 by Colin Burns | 11 Comments |

My name is Colin Burns and I am a reluctant home schooler. 

Our son, Noah is turning 7 next month. In Australia his peers would be right in the middle of year 2. For the past 12-18 months we have been homeschooling him and our 5 year of daughter and although they are both very capable children and learn quickly I would never have considered homeschooling if it wasn't for our lifestyle. I am a reluctant homeschooler.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not writing this to say that homeschooling is wrong or detrimental to your children. Having done homeschooling for the past year and a half we've certainly discovered the benefits of it for each of our children. 

I'm here to say that if our lifestyle allowed we would 100% send our children to school. 

Before we started travelling we had never considered homeschooling. If we were still living our old lifestyle we would have sent our children to a traditional school and we probably wouldn't have even thought about homeschooling as an option even if things weren't working until other avenues had been explored.

It simply wasn't on our radar. We started homeschooling as a consequence of our lifestyle choices.

Observation drawing time

We loved our time at School

Tracy and I both had wonderful schooling experiences. Apart from the occasional suspension and more than a few detentions (I'll let you guess who), Tracy and I both enjoyed all facets of traditional schooling. I was heavily involved in any (and almost every) sport the school offered. I loved the daily interactions I had with my school mates and even some of the interactions with the teachers. Classes were often boring, but the time before school each day, lunch-times and weekends were fantastic. 

I am sure that Tracy would write something relatively similar, but hers might just emphasise how much she loved the classroom time and not so much the lunch-times. You see Tracy was a NERD. She loved Art, Math, Physics and detested Physical Education. She loved school and the teachers loved her. If the makers of "Revenge of the NERDS" had been looking for a female lead in 1994 then I think Tracy would have fit the bill nicely.

Over the past few months our children have been attending an after school gardening program at an international school in Penang. Every time we enter the school and see all the children running around socialising, the content rich classrooms and great sports programs we flash back to our school years and feel a little guilty that our children haven't had the chance to experience this. Yes we realise school wasn't all lunchtimes and sport. There were teachers you didn't like, subjects that bored you and kids that you didn't get along with. Maybe they'd hate it and we'd end up homeschooling, but my educated guess is that they would love it too.

Time away

We love our children. Spending more time with our children was one of the key reasons we chose to travel at this stage in our lives. And we do that. Everyday we both spend so much more time than we ever did at home. Having that time to spend with them has been priceless.

But when your having a bad week (or month), whether it's an overload of work, you're tired or it's one of those week's where Tracy seems to have migraines 7 days in a row (aka every second week!), the idea of having some time apart from your children for a few hours each day seems pretty appealing. Happier refreshed parents equals happier kids. I'm not saying we want to send the kids off to boarding school but having 4-5 hours a day without the constant need for our attention would good.

The kids also need time apart from each other. No matter how cool your brother or sister is, everyone needs the occasional break from their sibling(s)!

woah how big was that bird?

Inequal division of labour

To continue travelling we need to work to fund our travels and homeschool the children. And while both Tracy and I would love to give equal attention to both areas it just isn't possible for us to divide our attentions that way. It all ends up getting done half-arsed. When it comes down to it, for us at least, to do both jobs properly, I need to focus on work and Tracy needs to focus on education. Those are our strengths.

But that also creates other problems. Tracy ends up feeling like she isn't contributing enough to the relationship in terms of bringing in money, and at times it's hard not to resent being the only one that's really focused on work. And I see Tracy getting tired and frustrated with homeschooling and feel guilty for not being able to contribute to the education side of things more, and she ends up getting frustrated at not having more support.

Our Travel Lifestyle dictates that we homeschool

Given our lifestyle where we travel so regularly traditional schooling is impossible to manage even if you have a home base somewhere. We have our home base in Penang and when we returned from Eastern Europe in February we decided that this year would be a year where we spent most of our time this year in Penang. 

We already had a few small trips booked. Five days in Kuching, over on Borneo, then a 3 week trip to Sri Lanka in May (I am writing this on the flight to Sri Lanka). Then all of a sudden we were struct down in a moment of weakness (an AirAsia sale) and all of a sudden we had flights booked to Vietnam for 3 weeks in July/August and the another trip to Laos for 2 weeks in the second half of September. Not to mention the flights back to Australia for 3 weeks before heading over to North America at the end of the year. 

The total costs for all of these flight were less than a $900 for all 4 of us. I am sure you can now see why we were so easily seduced by the AirAsia sales. 

Our quiet year in Penang all of a sudden now looks pretty busy. The longest period of time that we will be in Penang for one stretch is 2 months. That's the end of this Sri Lankan trip to the time we fly out to Vietnam. Even this 2 month stretch has the possibility of a trip back to Australia to visit Grandparents who aren't doing all that well health wise. 

All these trips don't allow for regular school.

Schooling options in Penang

We have investigated traditional schooling options in Penang. Local schools are not an option given we don't have residency in Malaysia. But there are a number of great international schools. The costs are expensive, but they are something I can live with to provide my children with the same opportunities I had. 

The problem is though, that even if I was willing to pay for schooling, not many schools would accept our children being out for so much of the year. Perhaps if it was in a single block, i.e. we'll be away for the first semester and back for the whole of the second semester then this might be a possibility, but we are back for a month and then off again.

Even if we were to cancel our trips and stop for a year, the up front costs of enrolling in an international school are scary. We could justify it if we were there for several years, but for just one it's harder to justify.

Penang butterfly farm

What are our options?

It's pretty obvious what the logical progression of this is. If we want our children to attend a traditional school then we need to stop travelling so much and find a place that we want to stay in for a minimum of 1 year at a time.

Even then I think this might be unfair to the children to put them in school and then pull them out and make them do it all over again every year. So realistically if we are going to put the kids into a traditional school then we really need to be willing to stay in the one place for a couple of years at least.

Unfortunately stopping for a prolonged period somewhere won't happen for at least another 12 months if not longer as we already have plans to travel to North America at the end of this year before spending the first quarter of 2013 in a ski resort either in Colorado, or in Eastern Europe depending on what we decide to do for the rest of the year. One of the options is to buy or rent an RV and explore Canada and the United States for the rest of 2013.

Noah, Hayley and daddy

And if we want to keep travelling then we need to embrace homeschooling. Accept that it's the best option for us and find a way to enjoy educating our children and work out a way that we can all have time apart from each other to pursue our own interests, Mum, Dad and each children all separately. When we're stopped somewhere the kids can play with different friends or attend different music classes but when you're travelling it's a challenge. 

How we achieve that I have no clue. How do you change your mindset to embrace something you never really thought you would be doing and aren't really sure if it's the best option for your children. And if we think stopping is the right option, well how do we find the right place?…. 

Full-time homeschooling, full-time travelling and full-time work is a difficult combination to juggle. I just hope I'm not the clown who drops all three.

Let us know if you are in this same situation. How do you feel about it? How do you make the decision to stay or go... We'd love to hear your advice.

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  • I can understand the dilemma. I think we are faced with something slightly similar, although our daughter is only two-and-a-half, so we ... *ahem*, I mean I ... have a few more years to get the travel bug out of my system.
    The problem for me is that I HATED school. It was so incredibly boring, and I lived on the edge of the desert so it was too hot for sport. (We counted half runs in cricket if the batter collapsed mid-run.)
    My daughter is so social that I think she needs to go to school. She runs up to other kids everywhere and tries to play with them. For the past month she and I have been traveling in Europe together and I tell you I need a break. I am really looking forward to sending her off to daycare when we get home. Only for one or two mornings a week, just to see how she likes it.

    Posted by Barbara, 19/05/2012 7:42pm (8 years ago)

  • OK, lots to say:) Of course right. Not what you think though. First of all why not just travel and enjoy, relax about it all and let it unfold over the next few years. They are sooo young still. You could travel for 5 more years and then settle down and put them in school. It will be hard for them to fit in for a bit but they will roll along with all the other kids and sport in no time. There is no point worrying about that.

    Travel is important to you guys so I would embrace homeschooling by reading as much as you can about it and trying a relaxed approach so none of you, including the kids, is stressed. When settled have them take classes separately and attend where they are now. In the US and Canada there will be loads of homeschooling groups and classes offered.

    Then when thy hit a point that it is truly time to settle down you can do it then. Try not to think about what they are missing out on, they might not even like the things you did anyway, but rather focus on all that you are giving them in a closer family relationship and global perspective that few children have yet really need.

    You guys are wonderful and you will have good and bad days but those are real life things. So read up on homeschooling or **gasp** unschooling and just try and enjoy these younger years.

    OK I wrote a book, sorry! We can chat more anytime:) It is great that you wrote this so others will know they are not alone. take breaks where you can and help each other with that, maybe you could tag team parents a bit?? Either way your kids are lucky to have you!

    Posted by Mary , 20/05/2012 1:42am (8 years ago)

  • Hey Mary,

    Thanks for the comment... It's not necessarily the academic side of things that I am worried about. I have no doubt in the world that they would catch up or learn what is needed very quickly.

    The thing that is of interest to me with schooling is twofold.

    1. I want some structure in the kids lives... We have dragged them from pillar to post for the past 2.5 years. We've had a fabulous time doing this, but stopping for 6 months and putting them is school is as much for us as it is for them. I think having a bit of structure in our lives will be good. I'm not saying that we'll never leave again by any stretch of the imagination.

    2. We all need a break from spending 24 hours a day together. We love the kids, but it's important that we all get some time away not just parents time away from the kids, but kids away from each other.

    Anyway, that's our thinking...


    Posted by Colin Burns, 20/05/2012 2:21am (8 years ago)

  • Hi Collin and Tracey,

    With the kids being soo, young, it really shouldn't be too hard to do it all yourself without the homeschooling packs and resources. There is so much information on the internet these days that you can easily plan out sessions with your children. Being in contact with a school teacher from back in 'Aus' would be beneficial as they can give you the basics as to what is current in the school system. Reading, writing and maths is really the basics you need to get through life and everything else can be learnt through every day life and your travels.

    I know allot of the homeschooling packs cost allot and in the end, you can purchase things at a fraction of the price or use other things as substitutes.

    Also you have probably already researched this but there are educational websites out there that do have some helpful resources for parents. http://education.qld.gov.au/parents/information/index.html - we are based in Queensland and there are a few resources on the QLD gov website that can help with teaching children. The other states probably have the same sort of info.

    Good Luck with it all, and I'm sure it will all work out!


    Posted by Lindsey, 20/05/2012 6:25pm (8 years ago)

  • Hi Colin
    How about a home tutor? Could you find someone locally who could teach the kids a day or so a week or a few hours here and there to give you guys some breathing space and give the kids a change of face/atmopshere? I bet that would work for everyone... and shouldn't cost anything like what International Schools cost...
    Just an idea...
    We have a 2 year old and both love to travel too so reading about your experiences with older kids is really interesting

    Posted by Jeremy Head, 21/05/2012 8:03pm (8 years ago)

  • Hmmm...same thing I worry about with homeschooling. I plan to give it a go with Jono next year and my one concern is no peaceful time without him yabbering!! That kid never shuts up!! I don't know if I can take it 24 hours a day, seven days a week!!! I'm hoping that a few hours of "school" time each morning followed by the afternoon in the park, museums, movies etc will give me time when he is occupied in the science centre and doesn't need to bleed my ears!! I feel awful for thinking he'll drive me nuts but I've always worked full time and have enjoyed time away from the kids!! So I see your dilemma.

    I'm pretty sure you should contact Air Asia and explain your addiction to their site. Surely you can self-exclude yourself? There must be a programme for this sort of addiction?? If you can sort out those urges you'll be able to stay home a bit more! Lol

    Posted by Tracey - Life Changing Year, 22/05/2012 12:30pm (8 years ago)

  • We're going through something similar to Barbara and Colin. Trying to strike some sort of work-travel-life balance.

    Our son is almost two. We three have spent every waking moment together for the past two years. Whether it's at home or travelling, it's rare that we do anything separately. We, too, are feeling like we're doing everything sort of half arsed. Lee isn't enjoying himself as he's stuck in a hotel room working a lot of the time. I'm not enjoying myself as I'm stuck with Reuben most of the time who has moved into the "terrible twos" and is almost impossible. Reuben isn't enjoying himself because he's got no one to play with and seems to hate all the cool stuff we take him to do. We're one month into a two month trip around South East Asia and all of a sudden our water loving boy refuses to swim. This is making life impossible when it's so hot and we're at the beach.

    I've been looking into sending him to daycare when we are back in NZ, just to get a break. He is driving me insane at the moment. I feel guilty because it's my fault we're travelling, not sat at home in a big house playing with toys and visiting friends.

    I can see that travelling is great for his development. His vocabulary has increased dramatically since we've been away. He's learning 3-5 new words every day.

    I can see home-schooling in our future but I do worry that he's not at the same level socially as other children who have friends, go to daycare etc. He doesn't know how to share, he's rough (pulls hair and scratches) and is extremely demanding. (Is that just being a toddler!?) I feel like if he went to daycare he'd learn some of these social skills - patience, sharing, caring. I don't know why he can't learn that from us. I think being with his peers and away from parents might actually be the only way to learn these "social" skills.

    We're thinking we'll commit to six months at home and try to get his behaviour sorted out.

    Any thoughts/suggestions?

    Posted by Bethaney - Flashpacker Family, 23/05/2012 8:25pm (8 years ago)

  • Thanks for all the insight you share . . . we hope to get to share the same kind of experiences with our children some day . . . if you do make it to Colorado next year, we would love to meet you, share Colorado with you and get to chat further about your experiences! (Obviously, we live in Colorado . . . )

    Posted by Stephanie, 24/05/2012 2:39am (8 years ago)

  • These are difficult issues. It's good that you are talking about them openly and publicly :) I have a ticking biological clock but I'm worried I'd have a kid that hated travel and end up resenting the child.

    Posted by 30Traveler, 13/11/2012 5:53pm (7 years ago)

  • Hi Colin, I just come across this website , and your posting cought my interest.
    You and your family have probably settled down somewhere by now, but I would like to comment on your concerns anyway.

    It seems to me that you are feeling very guilty for your decisions and actions you take in your life. You like travelling and exploring the world, i think that is why you seem to catch those bargain flights allover the globe, but yet you are feeling guilty for dragging your family around with you. You have to realise that you cant have it always all of the time, the word "sacrifice" comes to one's mind! Ofcourse it is a subjective matter what sacrifice is for the each individual but from what you wrote, I think the SCHOOLING is a good thing and giving it up would be a SACRIFICE for you. So my suggesting to you would be is to meditate over what you need to LET GO.

    But ofcourse unschooling needent be a sucrifice if you can harmonise with your lifestyle and your family. There are many activities you can put your children into separetely to have that individual time. There are many benefits of schooling if you want to prepare your child for the structured corporate work force and it seems like you are very worried about how your children would cope with it all if they dont have that structure from the schooling. Again it comes to making choices.

    The important point I would like to mention is this ; you and your family are, in a way , pioneers of this new type of modern lifestyle of travelling and homeschooling. There are not many people out there to see or read about as examples of how their children felt during and after their travels. Fortunately websites such as this are emerging on the WWW and we can find out more about travelling families. Most goverments would probably discourage this kind of living anyhow. So I would say enjoy your life in the way you like without all the anxieties you hold Let go! while you can. You are lucky!

    Posted by luke, 09/12/2012 7:09am (7 years ago)

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