When we first started planning to travel long term with our two young children, I suddenly realised "Crap that means I'm going to be homeschooling my son". It wasnt something Id ever considered. I always just pictured my children heading off for their first day of school in ridiculously oversized uniforms wearing backpacks three sizes larger than a sherpa could comfortably carry, like everyone else that we knew. Then we decided to travel while Colin worked on the road and I was suddenly faced with processing the notion that for us to travel, I'd be homeschooling both of our children through early primary school!
"No problems" I thought. I was halfway through a education degree specialising in early primary teaching and had worked as an ESL teacher in South Korea. I remembered how to do long division, could explain how volcanoes work and what killed the dinosaurs ... roadschooling was going to be a breeze!
Three days into our trip I realised I'd been a little over confident.
The content that you need to cover in lower Primary school really isn't that difficult or time consuming. Apart from some formal maths and literacy lessons, the majority of the curriculum can come through every day experiences that children soak up. More and more countries are moving towards a play-based, experiential program with authentic real world experiences in the early years of schooling, which is exactly what homeschooling on the road provides. It's not the curriculum really that's the problem, its the other challenges ...
Like starting from scratch
In upper primary and high school, for the most part you are building on already existing skills. When you are teaching a child in early primary school, you're teaching them from the very beginning. The very beginning! Why we write letters from top to bottom, read from left to right, phonics, how to sound out words, grammar, why 'i' comes before 'e' except after 'c' (except when it doesn't), addition, subtraction ... as an adult you've probably been doing these things for so long it's hard to remember WHY it's done that way, let alone how to explain it to a child.
And what about just simple things like attention span? One thing children learn at school is how to sit and listen for prolonged periods of time. If you're roadschooling a child who has never been to school, you're also going to have to help them learn this skill.
Lack of interest in an area
Another challenge can be lack of interest in a particular area. Maths, Science, Reading ... the area of the curriculum may vary, but the challenge remains the same - if they're not interested in an area it can be really hard to teach it when you are on the road. Our son is just not just interested in literacy, particularly not in writing. He'll happily paint for hours, thinks maths is fun, will spend half a day focused on imaginative activities, has well developed social skills and knows his stuff when it comes to dinosaurs ... but sight words and writing are met with groans and excuses. Even bribes of lollies and ice creams don't motivate him for long.
Despite all the challenges, roadschooling our children has been easier and a much more rewarding experience than I ever anticipated. Yes there are challenges but the benefits outweigh them. In Australia, our sons birthday fell right at the end of the cut off period for starting in 2010 - which would have had him starting school at 4.5 years. Having homeschooled him, I know he wasn't ready then and would have hated the first six months of school. But holding him back for a year would have also been the wrong choice - he was ready to start by halfway through 2010, which wasn't possible in the traditional school system! Roadschooling has provided him the opportunity to start when he was ready. It's also given us the flexibility for him to tackle each area of the curriculum at his own speed, when he demonstrated an interest in learning that subject. For example, we started working informally on mathematics six months before learning phonics. Many parents report similar experiences with their children.
Roadschooling lower primary school
Putting aside the challenges, how do you actually teach the lower primary school curriculum through roadschooling? It's actually a lot easier than you might first think. The best place to start is to speak with your local school or department of education to out what the expected outcomes for each area of the curriculum in the early years of schooling are. If you are lucky, your local school or Department of Education might actually have a document that is user friendly! Ideally you are looking for a document that tells you for example, that by the end of Kindergarten, children are expected to be able to count to 20, make a repeating pattern, read 100 most common sight words, etc (these are just random examples that vary greatly from country to country!). Once you know these you'll find it's not so hard to develop your own curriculum to meet these.
Literacy in lower primary school tends to cover three areas; 'communication', 'reading' and 'writing'. Travel offers ample opportunities for children to expand upon their communication skills. Family dinners out, meeting children from new cultures who might not share a common language and learning how to use non-verbal communication skills to play together, working together as a family to decide where you are going today, recounting a trip to the zoo or a mountain. Trust me, your children will probably end up better communicators than any of their peers.
Reading can be a challenge on the road when you are limited to only a small number of story books. But you can make up your own stories at bedtime, listen to audio books and visit lots of bookstores or libraries to read from their children's books whenever you can. A laptop and iPod will probably become your best friend - online phonics programs, online children's storybooks, PowerPoint slides for sight words, iPod flashcard and phonics programs, storybooks for the iPod. There is a huge range of products out there for preschoolers and lower primary students. To cover the writing component, as well as working through a workbook, your child might like to keep a written journal or create their own story books. If you are all sitting down to watch a movie together, get the children to make tickets for everyone and movie posters. If you're going on a daytrip, help the kids write a timetable for the day. Create a pretend restaurant at home and let the children be waiters taking your order. Spending a week at the beach? No problems, spend each morning writing giant letters and words in the sand.
There are many excellent maths curriculum's for lower primary school children so you may choose to work from one of these. Or you might like to come up with your own games and activities as you go. The key to teaching any new maths topic to young children is break it down into three steps - use concrete examples, then symbolic, then abstract. If you are teaching repeating patterns, start with blocks, then once that is mastered move on to drawing those block patterns on paper and eventually move on to patterns that are only on paper, be they shape patterns or number patterns.
Lego is more than just a great toy it can be blocks for counting, addition and subtraction. You can use it for measurement and geometry. Learning to play different card games can cover a lot of areas of the early years maths curriculum, not to mention being a great whole family activity. Data and graphing can a lot of fun to teach on the road. Buy a packet of coloured sweets, like smarties, and set the children with the task of sorting by colour and then graphing them. Carry a skipping rope with you and have a daily skipping challenge for a month to see who can skip the most number of times without touching the rope, then graph your results. Measure the children's heights and compare them, give them a rule and set the up measuring everything in your hotel room. Give them the job of paying for small items like apples at the markets or their own ice creams and teach them to count change in different currencies. Estimate the speed of different modes of transport that you take in one day (tuk tuks, cars, trains, bicycles) or even just count the number of cows and chickens they see along the side of a road that you see on a day out.
Social and Environmental studies:
In most early primary syllabus, this refers to your child developing:
- a sense of personal, community, national and global identiy,
- an appreciation for diversity,
- an awareness of environmental issues,
- a basic understanding of history, geography, culture and change,
- the ability to distinguish between needs and wants.
Travel will help your child develop these skills better than any classroom or textbook. They will see these issues on a daily basis. The hardest part is knowing the answers to their questions!
Travelling offers amazing opportunities for learning science. How better to understand how volcanoes are formed than to drive to the top of one? Or to learn about endangered species by visiting a rehabilitation centre. Take every chance you can to visit museums, science centres and zoos, and then go home and use online resources to research them more. It's even possible to carry out small science experiments on the road. If you have a fridge with an freezer and ice tray in your room get the kids to add different ingredients to water like sugar and salt, and time how long they take to freeze. It's a great way to help kids understand why lakes freeze but the ocean doesn't! Then let the ice melt and learn about the different states of matter. Stopping somewhere longer? Buy some seeds and grow them in water to learn about germination. Staying somewhere with a pool or bath? Let them learn what toys sink or float and try to get them to figure out why.
Arts & Music
In the last year we've taken music classes in Indonesia and Cambodia, seen water puppet shows in Vietnam, traditional dancing in Thailand, acrobatics and dramatic performances in Cambodia and taken art classes in Malaysia. The children have listened to music from around the world, put on their own plays with hand crafted puppets bought in Laos and acted out their own stories before bed. Even if you are not a creative person yourself, the internet has hundreds of blogs made by incredibly creative people with fantastic ideas that you can adapt for activities on the road, provided you always travel with a good supply of colouring materials, an ample amount of sticky tape and glue. Actually I can't stress this one enough - colouring supplies, scissors, sticky tape and glue will become your new best friend for entertaining children and schooling!
Actually I can't stress this one enough - colouring supplies, scissors, sticky tape and glue will become your new best friend for entertaining children and schooling!
If you are stopped somewhere for a week, why not collect any cardboard boxes or juice cartons you might use (or ask a local store for any empty boxes they might have). With a little imagination your children will be creating robots, cities, airports, trains, fairy gardens. With a little paint, some good sticky take and stickers the options are endless. We've even turned pizza boxes into a puppet stage and made our own puppets from cardboard, chopsticks and marker pens.
A great idea can also be to work art lessons into your literacy or science lessons. Learning about jungle animals in Science? Why not find pictures of the animals on the net and get your children to observe them and draw then accurately. Illustrate your own stories or draw pictures for book reports. If your child is old enough to use a camera, help them create their own animation by taking photos of a drawing that they create step by step.
Share your experiences ...
Have you roadschooled your own children through the early years or Primary School? Was it easy or a bigger challenge than you were expecting? Do you have any secrets for inspiring young children to learn areas of the curriculum that they're just not that interested in?
In the next few months we'll be putting together ideas and resources for all the areas of the school curriculum, so if you have a great resource or idea we'd love to hear from you in the comments below and then we'll put them together into a great resource for everyone.