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June 2011

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Of course you?ll send them out for high school… won?t you? 

But what are you going to do about science? Or calculus? 

How can you  possibly teach everything she?s going to need for the SAT? 

Won?t she want to go to the prom?!”

Home schooling is becoming more mainstream in many countries. In the USA, Canada, the UK and a few other places, folks don?t bat an eyelash when you announce that your young child isn?t attending a brick and mortar school. Most thinking people realize that to teach a child to read, and the basic content of an elementary education, is well within the realm of any average adult.

But then your child turns thirteen, and all of a sudden there?s a noticeable shift in public opinion. The above questions begin trickling in, gently, from well meaning friends and family, a little less gently from the harsher critics and for the first time you may find yourself questioning the wisdom of continuing and your ability to meet all of those “scary” high school needs.

In the next few paragraphs I hope to help to restore the confidence you?ve had all along, that you CAN successfully educate your child, from cradle to graduation.  I?ll tell you part of our story and share some resources that I?ve found helpful and that perhaps you will too.

The Main Point Of This Article

The one thing I hope you?ll take away from this article is that there isn?t one way to get this thing called ?education? done. The brick and mortar schools, public or private, do not have the corner on the education market and they?re not necessarily best for every child. That being said, we need not throw the baby out with the bath water and some kids benefit greatly from having part of their education come in the form of traditional classes. There?s no right way to do it. There?s only what?s best for your individual child.

Doing what?s right, educationally, for your individual young person requires a certain amount of bravery, mixed with a healthy dose of deaf ear to the nay-sayers balanced with value placed on the input of others who share your vision and know what they?re talking about.

A Bit of Our Story

You may be asking who I am and what my qualifications to talk about home or road schooling through high school are. Fair enough, it?s important not to take everything you read at face value.

I?m Jenn, I?m the mama of four wild adventurer children who we?ve home educated since birth. They?re currently aged 9-15 and are in ?grades? 3-12. I’?ve spent the last decade doing educational consulting and curriculum design for families who wish to educate differently. I composed a curriculum that is a blend of the Classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies that runs pre-school through approximately 10th grade. My degree is in education and I’?ve taught in public and private school classrooms at a variety of grade levels. I, myself, was educated by a variety of means including public, private, catholic & road schooling. We?ve been on the road full time for well over three years now, schooling as we go. Two of my children are in high school now. Gabriel, 13, is just beginning, and Hannah, almost 15, is almost finished with her ?required? work. If you?d like to learn more about our family, you can visit our website: www.edventureproject.com

I am not an unschooler. Although much of what we do looks like unschooling and I?m very excited about democracy in a child?s education and interest driven learning, I do believe wholeheartedly in a parent-directed, liberal education for all children, regardless of their natural bent. Especially in the early years. I believe, as a parent and professional educator, that it?s the job of the ?teacher? to facilitate a child?s passions, teach to their strengths and work diligently to develop areas of weakness so that the developing person is prepared for any path in life he or she may choose later.

Getting Started

My Uncle Dick?s 7 P?s apply to so many areas of life, and certainly to road schooling your high schooler:  Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Half of what?s daunting about tackling high school is the sobering realisation that what you accomplish, or don?t, during those crucial years really does affect the rest of your child?s life. That?s scary stuff. You can?t approach it lightly.

The most important thing you can do, from the beginning, is to plan your attack. If you’re a traveling family then you understand the concept that if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be very hard to get there. You have to create a map:

  • Think up front about what you?re trying to accomplish,
  • Talk with your teen about her plans and goals,
  • Research basic graduation requirements,
  • Look into the admissions requirements for the specific Universities she?s interested in,
  • Tailor your educational plan to your childs over all goals for the next ten years.

 

PLAN YOUR ATTACK and do this with your student.


Covering the Content

This is the part that has too many parents shaking in their boots: “How will we ever teach …” fill in the blank with the subject that you failed in high school.

Relax. Take three deep breaths. 

First, you have to figure out what the ?required content? really is, and that?s going to vary depending on the longer term goals of your student. 

This K-12 table is useful in outlining the basic definition of a high school education in the United States.  That doesn?t seem so bad, does it? If you’re not from the US, contact your country or states Department of Education to find the right “required content” for your child. If at any time you’re having trouble communicating a subject to your child, there are resources to help like tutors at takelessons.com.

Because what you teach within each subject area could vary widely, depending on whether you have a future musician, engineer, journalist or potter on your hands, I?m going to refrain from telling you what curriculum ?works? for me, or others, and instead provide a few resources that might be of use to you in finding a good fit for your students:

 

English:

There really is no substitute for writing, and writing a lot. We made a deal with our high schoolers: that when they become published writers (for money and not just a contest for kids to win, or a couple of short blog posts for $10 each) they can quit taking English as a subject.

Of course, what I know is that once they?re paid authors, they?ll never quit pursuing increased excellence in their writing!

High School English Resources

Institute for Excellence in Writing: We?re judged, not by what we know, but by how well we can communicate that. Writing is perhaps the most important thing your child must learn to do well in the high school years. Regardless of whether your child is ?advanced? or ?struggling? with writing you?ll find a solution here.

The One Year Adventure Novel is a fascinating approach to teaching English ?outside the box? and will be inspiring to just about any sort of student. I love that at the end of the year they?ve written a real novel!

This article http://www.home-school-curriculum-advisor.com/home-school-writing-curriculum.html gives a review of quite a few writing programs to help you find one that might be a good fit.

Mathematics:

It?s tempting to cover the basic ?required? math and call it a day. Can I encourage you not to do that? Pursue excellence in all things. If your child is through the ?required? courses by 14, as our daughter was, keep going. The more math your child has under her belt, the more marketable she?ll be in a variety of fields.

This Homeschool Math article provides a very comprehensive list of math curriculum options, reviews, comparisons and first person testimonials from families who?ve loved or hated them. Very useful!

 

Science:

?Chemistry!? Shivering in your boots yet? Breathe. You have options and your kids are NOT going to suffer because you don?t have an entire lab set up in your bike panniers.

This article compares and contrasts a few of the science curriculums available to home schoolers.

Other science resources that are outstanding:

MIT Open Courseware: Not just for science, check out the AMAZING collection of completely free courses from MIT. These are the real thing!

How Stuff Works and their Stuff You Should Know 

Radio Lab:  Sigh. We?re in love with this show.

Languages:

The only way to really learn a language to the point of natural fluency is to travel and go live where the language is spoken. I speak three languages, you can trust me on that. However, if you?re looking for a high school level language program then I have something to admit: I?m biased.  We?ve tried a bunch of things, and at the end of the day, Rosetta Stone our favorite because it really, REALLY works.

It?s expensive, I know. But if you want the second best thing to living there, a program like this is it. There?s no price you can put on fluency in a second, or third language. You can trust me on that too.

 

History & Social Studies:

Read, read, read and write, write write! Keep a list of every book your child reads and a copy of every written record or reflection. Keep track of museum and historical sites attended, and every other thing that relates to history or social studies in any way.

Homeschool Reviews provides some great reviews of various social studies curriculum possibilities as well as a dizzying list of reviews of the history options. Not all of these are specific to high school.

Electives & Getting Ahead:

This is where it gets fun! This is also where you child?s future goals should be in the driver?s seat. Our daughter, who turns 15 in July, has one eye pegged on journalism for a career and the other on social justice. Our son has never wanted to do anything but farm.

The result? We?re creating courses for Hannah with names like ?Ecological Awareness 101? and working with her to invest her time in getting her writing career off the ground before she ever enters college. This winter she took her first solo backpacking trip with her friends, to Belize while we were living in Guatemala, and she?s using it as a spring board for her travel writing aspirations.

Our son applied for an internship at a hydroponic lettuce and sheep farm (the sheep aren?t grown hydroponically!) for the summer and he got it! He?ll live dorm style with the other college aged interns and work 40 hours a week for part of the summer and get paid to pursue his passion. And it will count toward his high school hours. Did I mention that he just turned 13?

GET CREATIVE. Use these years to do some FUN, outside the box things that will give your kids a leg up on their university plans and their long term goals. Your kid?s life doesn?t start at 18, nor need his career, his life is happening NOW. The teen years are some of the most energetic and passionate of a person?s life, let loose the reins a little and watch your kids fly!

A few books we’ve found inspiring on this front:

The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn 

The Global Student by Maya Frost

College Without Highschool by Blake Boles 

What About Testing and University?

How will kids raised outside the system perform on the dreaded tests? Will they be able to attend University? We all chew our pencils in unison with fear. Don’t worry! 

Entrance to University is certainly possible for children homeschooled throughout the high school years, but it is important to check the requirements for the country where you plan to send your child to university. You also need to check with the University that they would like to attend. Requirements change from country to country, university to university, and between degrees. Some universities have their own entrance exams, others accept standardised test results like the SATs. Some require children to be enrolled in an official distance education program for at least the final year of high school, while others have very few requirements other than an application and demonstration of learning, such as a port folio or internship. Many Universities allow students without a university entrance rank to enrol in a single subject. If your child passes this subject with high enough marks they can then apply for full entry.

Since the requirements vary between countries, Universities and degrees it’s important to find out what they are in advance so you can plan ahead. 

I’m going to cover the requirements for America, because that is what I am familiar with. 

For Americans

If you plan to send your child to university in the USA, then you should consider taking some AP classes and tests.

You should also consider the CLEP tests to help your child get college credit for ?high school? experiences

You might also consider enrolling your high school student in a community college, at home or abroad to get dual enrollment credit. This is called ?double dipping? and saves thousands of dollars while putting your child ?ahead? in terms of his college timeline, and it?s completely fair and above board.

You?ll want to invest some serious time into preparing for the SAT exams, as well as the ACT and PSAT to increase your child?s competitive edge for college admissions.

If you?re NOT planning to send your child to university in the USA, I have some GREAT news: You can skip the SAT, the AP tests, and most of the rest of the standardized test rodeo that defines the American higher education system, AND you will not put your child at a disadvantage!  Just think of what she could learn with all of that extra time on her hands!

How is this possible? It?s kind of a long story, but the short version is that international schools don?t use the same admissions procedures or measurement tools as American schools do. They are often much cheaper and of equal, or higher quality than their American counterparts and your child gets the competitive edge of having ?study and work abroad? experience added to their eventual resume. It?s a win-win situation.

The Global Student by Maya Frost breaks it all down for you and makes it highly doable.

Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller explains the whole ?test for credit? approach to getting ahead, saving money, and quantifying those out of the box learning experiences in test form.

Are you from another country and homeschooling a High School child? If you know the requirements for your child to attend University in your country, leave a comment on this site so we can add it to the article and build a fantastic resource for road schoolers! If possible, include a link to an official website in your comment.

 

What About Socialisation?

When people ask this question I have to work hard not to roll my eyes, because usually it comes directly on the heels of some ?Wow!? observation about how ?great? my kids are in some capacity. 

Our kids have missed out on bullying, the experience of being confined to a desk for hours at a time, standing in straight lines, eating industrial food lunches, being forced to work ahead when they don?t get it or held back when they do. They?ve missed out on bad language, wasted time, exposure to drugs in the sixth grade, blow jobs given on the back of the bus in seventh grade (true story) and the pressure to have sex by ninth grade.

Instead, they?ve traveled the world, become fluent in a second language and learned parts of five others, climbed ruins on three continents, attended political rallies in Rome, learned the difference between pot and hash in Amsterdam, swapped stories with backpackers in hostel common rooms, played board games with grandparents (not their own) in Belize, taken salsa and swing dance lessons, played their instruments in restaurants and bars, and had dinner with Israeli fighter pilots.

Clearly, they?re at a social disadvantage.

I?m not really that concerned about whether or not they miss prom. A good share of kids IN high school choose not to go to prom; are they at a social disadvantage too?

On the contrary, teenagers freed from the social constraints (yes, you read that right) of a traditional high school often turn out to be some pretty fabulously creative, interesting and trail blazing individuals. When they spend half of their time worrying about which outfit is LEAST LIKELY to get them mocked, beat up, or jammed into a locker on a given day there?s not a lot of brain space left over to pursue a passion; especially if that passion, too, would cause them to be the object of ridicule and be ostracized.

My teenagers have been known to blend seamlessly into a group of backpackers, casually sipping their licuados and discussing where to go, or not, in a given country. They love to sit and visit with octogenarians, ?They know so much, Mom!? They have quite a following of little children who think the moon rises and sets on them because they?re happy to sit in the grass and roll a ball when most ?big kids? don?t give the littles the time of day.

Socialisation is about learning to be a functioning member of society at large, across the generation gaps and age boundaries. High school doesn?t help kids do that. Road schooling always does.

Let go of the socialisation fear.

 

Some Resources

There are SO MANY great resources out there for high school kids to further their educations in really fantastic, out of the box ways.  Here are just a few. Be sure to share others you know of with us in the comments section:

The Khan Academy: Have you seen this?!! 

iTunes U: Free courses from the best colleges!

NROC National Repository of Online Courses

Homeschool Transcripts to help you produce a transcript a university will recognize

Getting Started: Homeschooling Through Highschool an article with links to help you get started

HSLDA Home School Legal Defense Association especially if you are a legal resident of the USA, this organisation can be a great help as well as providing legal services if you ever need them. They write a letter for us every year that we carry with us as we travel, stating that we?re homeschooling legally. This is particularly useful if you plan to travel in some of the less ?homeschool friendly? regions of the world; Germany for example.

MIT Open Courseware. It?s not just for science!

 

Babies stay where you leave them, and some even sleep. My youngest had just turned 1 when we started travelling, but my thoughts are that the baby-travelling wouldn’t be much different to the baby at home.  Toddlers and preschoolers?  I’ve travelled with children at each age from 1 year olds to 10 year olds.  My experience is that the 5 and under club is the hardest.

 

Toilet Training

Quite frankly, I’m scared to toilet train my children overnight until they’ve had dry nappies for months on end.  I just don’t have access to enough water to wash their bed sheets.  How can I let them just go without when it may be a week before I can wash those wet sheets…and that’s living in an RV.  I only have room to carry two spare changes of sheets, which is not nearly enough for toilet training over night.  My situation is probably easier than the parents who are backpacking, house-swapping, staying in hotels or other rented accomodation.  How can you toilet train when your kids are always sleeping in someone else’s bed?

 

Toilet training during the day is possibly even harder on the road.  I’m currently toilet training a toddler.  Toilet training is enough of a challenge already, but when the toilet is in a different place each day it makes it harder still.  How do you toilet train when you are spending a few hours in a car, train, bus or plane?  The toddler tells you they need to go to the toilet — you have a minute or two to get them to that toilet.  If you are in the car, this means finding somewhere safe to pull over almost straight away, getting out a potty, getting the child to the toilet, and back in the car again  — only to do the same thing 20 or 30 minutes later, sometimes more if your kid decides this is a great way to get Mum or Dad’s attention.  Not to mention the mess if they fall asleep in the car, which they often do!

 

 

Attention

Kids of this age want and need a lot of attention.  This isn’t any different if you are travelling or living in a house.  This is where a huge advantage of travel comes in for the child.  The parents often get to spend a lot more time with the kids.  For our family, it also means that their Dad gets to spend a lot more time with them.  My husband has commented many times on how much he enjoys seeing our youngest grow as a toddler.  

 

 

Dirt

Think how dirty kids get after camping for a few days — my son has been camping for a year and a half.  With limited access to water.  In other words, he is a dusty child who is in need of a good bath.  He loves playing in the mud, and will quite happily build with sticks and stones.  He loves being in a baby sling or backpack when we go for hikes, or on a baby seat on the back of his dad’s bike.  This closeness to his parents is something that he takes for granted.  He thrives on having two parents and his siblings around all the time, and seems to learn things very quickly from his brother and sisters, as well as his parents.

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 wasn?t something I?d 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 challenge?

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, it?s 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. 

But …

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 son?s 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:

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.

Maths:

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!

Science:

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. 

 

 

 

 

Water. If you’ve grown up in a developed country, then chances are access to clean water is not something you’ve ever had to consider for your family. Maybe you have a filter but generally it comes out of the tap safe to drink and wash in. But on the road, water can become a big issue that concerns many families, particularly those new to travelling. 

This issue changes depending on your style of travel and what countries you are travelling.  For those who are staying in accomodation such as hotels around the world, or hostels, caravan parks or motels in developed countries, you may not have such an issue with a clean water supply, particularly when in larger towns and cities.  For others, the potential for water contaminated with toxins including faeces, bacteria, viruses, bacteria and vectors is a serious risk.  There are many regions where the quality of drinking water is a major risk for diseases and major illnesses. 

The vagabond family needs to be particularly aware of this as kids are particularly susceptible to both the health risks and dehydration.  The issues will change region to region, and what works for one family might not suit another.  This article is not an exhaustive discussion, rather it is intended to be a conversation starter to get you thinking about the issue before your family hits the road. So, what do you do for your family?  What works for you?

These are some of the issues we’ve come across so far in regards to water:

 

Swimming

Not every area with water is safe for swimming.  It may be that the currents are too strong, there is a rip, or the sewerage is emptied directly into the water way.  It could be that jellyfish, piranhas, crocodiles, sharks or other animal that I’ve neglected to mention are found in the region.  My rule of thumb is always to check first when you get to the area. Hopefully there are signs that will tell you how safe the water is. If there aren’t any signs, ask a local or use common sense.   

Water Pollution with Trash Disposal of Waste at the Garbage Beach

In Australia, there has been an extensive campaign to only swim betwee the flags at the beach.  These areas are patrolled by life guards.  Other areas may be safe, but there is no one there to help you if you get into trouble.  Areas that are not marked may not be safe to swim.  There may be a strong current, or a rip.  These can cause trouble for someone swimming, particularly a child.

Animals are a major concern in some areas.  From animals that swim up into your privates if someone pees (never great with kids), to box jellyfish, or crocodiles — these scare me.  Floating down a gorge on tyre tubes, I had hallucinations of a snake swimming up under the water and biting my bum.  Highly improbable, but it took away from my enjoyment of the moment.

 

Grass Snake

The take-home message is just to play it safe, and check at local Tourist Bureaus, with other travellers, or signs if it is safe to swim in the area or not.  Never assume that it is.  Have you got any rule or experience in picking safe swimming spots?

 

Bathing

Is it safe to bathe in the local water?  This really depends on your accomodation, where you are travelling and the age of your children.  

Another concern is the child who is still young enough to want to drink the bath water in areas that don’t bathe in drinking-quality water.  This is a bigger concern. I see it mentioned all the time on travel forums – “How can I stop my child drinking the bath water? What alternatives are there?” I can think of four options.  The first would be to shower with Mum or Dad so that there is no possibility of drinking bath water.  The second option would be to sponge the child off with a face washer in lieu of a full bath.  Another option would be to bathe in an inch of drinking water, but probably not so helpful when the child who will drink the water is also likely to pee in the water.  A combination of these would probably work over a longer time frame, or one that works particularly well for your family. A final option, for families that are just travelling for a short period of time would be to carry water steralising tablets, like Miltons, that can be added to the bathwater prior to bathing. 

Tin Bucket Baby 2

Ice

When travelling in developing nations, most people naturally avoid drinking tap water for quality concerns. But what about ice? Is it safe to drink something with ice in it when travelling overseas? Do you have a general no ice rule or is there was way you can tell if ice is OK? Choosing whether to drink ice in a foreign country can be tricky. You may have to ask yourself how long you are going to be travelling in this area. If it’s for a longer period of time, how hard is it going to be to avoid ice? What are the consequences of drinking local water in ice form? This varies from country to country and area to area greatly. You might get nothing more than an upset stomach for a day and decide it’s worth taking the risk if you are unsure about the quality of the ice in your Long Island Ice Tea. But if you are in an area with more serious water quality issues, then you might just not want to take the risk for you or your family.

So here you are sitting in a restaurant after a hot day out in the sun with your kids. The children are whinging about how thirsty they are and your drinks finally arrive filled to the top with ice. What do you do? It’s a good idea to have figured this out beforehand, because when your thirsty it’s amazing how quickly you forget issues like ice and find yourself halfway through a drink before even realising it. And if you are going to veto ice, are you prepared for the tantrums from the kids? What about milkshakes? Some countries make milkshakes on a mix of ice and ice-cream, so you might not even realise it has ice in it.

Generally ice served in a hotel or an international chain restaurant will be made on filtered water. Outside of this it can be harder to tell. Tubular ice (like that served in McDonalds with a hole in the middle) is usually made in a factory somewhere from purified water, with relatively high hygiene standards and is safe to drink. Usually. You’ll probably be fine drinking this type of ice but nothing is ever guaranteed, so it’s really up to you and what risks you are prepared to take. Shaved ice or ice chips however are something to be cautious of. Even if they are made of water, there’s no way of knowing under what conditions the ice was ‘chipped’ or ‘shaved’ off the block. In many cases, you may find that even if the water was purified, the ice has been chipped on the bare ground by hand and transferred to containers using hygiene methods that could leave even the most hygienically relaxed backpacker feeling a little queasy. 

 

 

Drinking Water

Many parts of developed nations even such as Australia lack a reliable supply of drinking water.  The water available may be from a dirty creek, river, or lake.  It may be tank water, or it may be bore water.  Some may be safe, or it may not be.  It can’t be relied upon unless you know it’s safe.  Boiling, filtering and treating water with water purification tablets are some options for improving water quality.

However, not even high-grade filters are necessarily going to protect you  The filter may not not remove smaller viruses, not do they remove smaller pathogens that are known as vectors or prions.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no water filter that can remove these.  It is important to be vigilent to only fill up that drinking water supply from places that you are sure have clean, safe water.

If you are travelling in an RV, maybe consider putting in a seperate drinking tank for water so this can be kept for drinking-quality water.

There are many other places in the world where bottled water is the only sensible option for travelling families.  In these places, you will need to plan ahead to have the facilities to both purchase and carry bottled water.  There’s nothing worse than getting the kids safely tucked into bed and suddenly getting a cry for a drink before bed when you suddenly realise that you forgot to pick up any water before heading back to your room. If you’re travelling in hot countries, you will probably find that your kids will need to drink more frequently than they do back home. 

water is unfit for human consumption

Another consideration with water is when going on a long walk or a bike ride.  Personal preference plays a role here.  You may prefer to use a camel-bak or similar, which is a backpack that holds a bladder with water in it.  You put a nozzle in your mouth and can suck on it.  Other families may prefer to carry a drink bottle each to drink from.  It is important to make sure that going on a long walk or bike ride that you carry enough.  A five hour hike when you run out of water half-way could be rather unpleasant to say the least for adults, let alone children.

 

For further information:

Safe Food and Water — general advice on staying healthy with the food and water you eat overseas.

Up-to-date Country specific advice in available here that includes recommendations for water and more.

 

What works for you?  Do you do the same thing in every area, or does it depend where you are and what you’re doing?

 

What have you done about water?  Do you carry extra, or do you rely on local water supply, water purification tablets or filters?  

  • ?You?re brave?
  • ?Rather you than me?
  • ?I couldn?t do that?
  • or ?I?d love to do it, but I just don?t have the patience?

These are just some of the common responses that homeschooling parents get. When you are travelling, you are still going to face these same misconceptions and challenges. Education is not something to be daunted by.

This is to be an introduction in our series on education, or road-schooling, for VagabondFamily.org. It will focus on the benefits that road-schooling can entail, and try to ease concerns for future travellers. Future articles will follow with information on methods, curriculum, styles, and the legalities of home education for different nationalities. For now though, we?ll focus on convincing you that it is a lot easier than you think.  My personal opinion is that this age group is the easiest to home school, and to travel with.  This article focuses on primary and middle school children, who have already learnt to read.  Kids of this age are often independant readers, and with basic reading skills already in place, this may be one of the easier stages.

What other travelling families have said:

?We?ve all learnt so much as a family while we?ve been travelling. The kids have seen that Mum and Dad are still learning, too.?

?The kids now realize that learning comes in many shapes and forms ? it?s not just something you do from 9 ? 3 in a classroom.?

?They have learnt so much from their travels, it?s been incredible watching them grow and learn.?

?I was so worried about my own ability to teach them, we nearly didn?t start travelling. Now I don?t know what I was worried about.?

?They?ve learnt more than they ever could have learnt if we?d stayed at home ? and that?s in spite of me!?

Convinced?

Think back to your school years. If your school was anything like mine, it would have consisted of reading books and watching films together in your English class and then analysing the text as a group. You would have done basic sciences such as chemistry and biology. A foreign language class was compulsory, but I didn?t do so well at it because it just seemed like memorising long lists to me. We did art, cooking, and physical education. Then we had a rotation of social studies subjects from geography, history, environmental studies, international studies, and politics.

I?m going to look at these in reverse order. The social studies are almost so easy to teach while travelling that you don?t need to think about them. Visiting ruins, shipwrecks, and museums it is all there in front of you. It?s living and it’s interesting. Think about it.  History? Would you rather learn about Australia?s convict past while walking around the historical prison at Port Arthur, or would you remember and enjoy it better reading about it in a book? Are you going to appreciate why a particular coast is called ?Shipwreck Coast? looking at the photos and memorising statistics and dates, or are you going to be inspired by standing on the cliffs sprayed by droplets of ocean water?

Geography is not just a name or feature on a map, but conjures up images of cliffs, deserts, chasms, canyons, oases, and reefs. Your children may see ancient rainforests being logged and the effects that this has on the people, land, and animals in the area. Or your children may get the opportunity to walk through mines, and have those images to draw back on. Visiting different countries or even just travelling around one country is a far better way to learn about geography than staring at a world map. It provides memories and a context for children to base their understanding within. 

Politics and international studies come alive when you roam from country to country.

Politics and international studies come alive when you roam from country to country. Your children aren?t hearing about some foreign irrelevant place on the news ? they are riding or walk through the streets of these countries and experiencing it for themselves.

What about learning to Read and Write?

In my opinion, there are two aspects to language teaching that are really tricky. The first most kids seem to do without too much help ? they learn to talk.  They listen to their parents and other people around them and begin to understand what is being said, then they start to talk.  The second is teaching them how to read. If you have an older child who can read and talk, this area becomes easier. It depends on the child, but some can just be handed an e-reader or book, and will avidly read a large selection of books. For others, they may need to have assigned reading time. In our family, we find that the kids tend to use the time travelling to read. Our family will discuss books that we?ve read or audiobooks that we?ve listened to. This is done in place of having formalised book reports like you would have in a classroom.  We understand that reading, spelling, and grammar are some of the biggest educational issues for travelling families, so they will be covered in other articles.  

Foreign Languages

What about teaching foreign language while travelling overseas? You?ll hear the locals using it, and there will be a reason to learn it. Your child will probably learn a few words and phrases of the language just to get around even if you are there for a short time, or you may spend longer in that region and the child may begin to speak the language. It will seem relevant, and they will be more inspired to learn. 

Learning Maths on the Road

Math is one subject where many homeschooling and travelling families have widely differing approaches. You may choose to cover maths from a text book or curriculum. Others may make the child calculate how long it will take to get to the next town when travelling at a certain speed, calculate the amount of change needed at the shops, or convert one currency to another. The approaches taken vary dramatically on age and child, and this will be the focus of a future article.  It is just too much detail to cover here.

 

How to teach Science on the road

?I couldn?t possibly teach science, I don?t know it well enough myself?

?I couldn?t possibly teach science, I don?t know it well enough myself,? is a common stumbling block for homeschooling families, particularly as the children get older. We?ve found that travelling often helps with teaching science. We?ve found a perfect skeleton of a kangaroo with bones picked clean by scavengers. We?ve seen the effects that an ancient inland sea has had on the landscape in central Australia, and then seen sand that is half-way between being sand and sandstone. We?ve learnt about how opals are formed, and different types of rocks and how they are formed. We?ve laid on the ground staring up at the sky with a sky chart to find the various constellations and planets.

Any and all of the Science subjects can be learnt just from the places you visit. How much you focus on these, and the depth you go in to them will depend on you, your child(ren), and how interesting you find the particular topic.

Get inspiration from others

To finish with, I?d like to share a few examples that I?ve seen recently in family travel blogs:

?Soul Travellers 3? recently blogged about their sponsored travel trip to Jordan, and their daughter?s opportunity to see this peaceful country, surrounded by many others that are currently undergoing massive civil unrest.  

Family On Bikes” have summarised some of the best learning experiences they had in 3 years of cycling from Alaska to Argentina.

?Travels With A Nine Year? recently described how she used staying in Catholic monasteries in Asia to explain some of the religion to her son.

?Vagabond Kids? shared how they experienced classic Indian transport and a traditional Indian wedding.

1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure” discussed experiencing a communist country in Cuba.

The kids from ?The Edventure Project? shared with ?The Great Family Escape? their experience of riding in the typical South American Chicken Bus.

?Our Travel Lifestyle? has discussed the logistics of carrying enough resources for homeschooling.

And across at ?Livin On The Road?, my own 10-year-old son has recently shared his views on what it is like to be road-schooled from a child’s perspective.

What is the right way to Home/Road School?

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to home/road school, just different opportunities to teach and educate your children. In future articles we’ll be giving you some suggestions on how to take advantage of different opportunities that you’ll come across every day in your travels.  We’ll discuss different styles and methods, curriculums and resources.

In the comments below we’d love to hear any unique opportunities you have had to teach your children something based on the location you were travelling through. In my article above I have outlined how we taught our children about Australia?s convict past while walking around the historical prison at Port Arthur. Share with us some of your favourite experiential teaching opportunities.