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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.