When we first decided to take our girls out of school and embark on a year of family travel the prospect of homeschooling our two eldest girls Holly (7) and Chloe (5) was an exciting one. Now after two and a half months on the road I have the chance to look back at our homeschooling, see what’s worked, what hasn’t and the direction we hope to take going forward.
With plenty of time leading up to our departure there was time to research, plan and prepare for the forthcoming challenges of homeschooling two primary school kids on the road. The reality wasn’t so straight forward and day-to-day life admin, work as well as the workload associated with planning the rest of the trip meant that homeschooling prep often slid down the list of priorities. I found the vast amounts of information available online slightly overwhelming. Some of it had a religious bias, some you’d have to pay for or had hidden costs. I cut my research short reassured myself that my task was relatively straightforward and I just needed to focus on reading and writing as well as numeracy skills – how tough could it be?
A primary school teacher friend of mine gave me some coursebooks and I purchased a few textbooks in the UK before we set off. I had a laptop, some pens and paper and 2 eager school kids excited by the prospect of what the girls had affectionately named “cool school”. I’d also printed out a workbook I’d put together – Our USA Road Trip workbook – It has pages for each State we planned to visit with maps, space for pictures and text about what they liked and learned.
School began about a week into the first leg of our travels, a USA road trip, with mixed results. Having procrastinated about the right time to start we first set up in a hotel room in Pasadena, California. I ran through a proposed outline of how I wanted our school to work, some basic guidelines and reminded the girls of the fantastic opportunity they had being able to take school out of the classroom for a year and how we should try and make the most of it.
Day 1 went well, the girls stayed focused and we managed to get a solid hour of concentration in before the lure of the hotel pool became too much for them and they lost focus. It gave me a chance for me to see first hand where they were at and what they were capable of. It sounds strange and I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I didn’t really know. How many parents do know where their kids are in terms of reading and writing? I knew that with the Swiss system they were a fair bit behind their UK counterparts but I didn’t really know what that meant. I knew that our eldest wasn’t writing full sentences or reading yet but where was she in real terms? Could she read words, did she know what syllables were? What about rhyming sounds, double letters? I knew she’d started some of this in French but how much did she know in English? And where was Chloe, our 5 year old who had just completed her first year in the Swiss system? She couldn’t read or write either but what was she capable of? She could sing the alphabet but did she recognise letters and did she understand sounds. Again, embarrassingly I didn’t know but needed to find out and quickly. I soon learned that whilst the building blocks were certainly there, there wasn’t much there yet in terms of output. The responsibility of what I’d taken on was beginning to dawn on me.
I wish I could follow on chronologically with Day 2 at Cool School but our progression wasn’t as linear as that. As we were on the road, we had to wait until day 4 or 5 before we got the books out again. We were camping and took time out one morning and got going. Again, the girl’s spirit and enthusiasm was encouraging. Chloe’s teacher from home had given her a folder of worksheets to work through. She pushed on with these as Holly and I tried to get a handle on how to teach reading and writing in a clear, concise and fun manner. We muddled through and made some progress. This continued as we made our way around the campsites of the western United States. Rachel would spend time with our youngest and I would do my best to school the other two. We’d set up school as often as we could but it was sporadic at best. We had no rhythm and I don’t think the quality of our work was great. I found it difficult and would feel anxious about the responsibility I had undertaken. I felt like I was failing to deliver.
What I thought was going to be a simple task was in fact a challenging one. The fact that they’d both been schooled in French so far and that the Swiss system appears to lag behind a bit meant we had our work cut out for us. Being one teacher for two kids and constantly on the move made our task that little bit harder.
It wasn’t until we reached a house in Colorado where some friends had lent us their holiday home for a week when we started to feel better about it all. Having a routine, a proper table, a laptop, good breakfast and fresh coffee helped us all find our feet and begin feeling better about it. I was able to better address what Holly should be working on and was able to spend time with Chloe. We discovered khan Academy and that enabled both of them to move on with their at their own rhythm, mostly on the early maths modules. We’d get a solid hour and a half to two hours in before attentions spans began to dwindle. We made solid progress and it felt good. We made some progress on our USA workbooks and it helped give a bit more structure to out relationship between travel and education.
We tried to take our classroom outdoors too. We’d often practice sums as we hiked up a mountain and Holly would try and read the road signs as we drove through the country. Holly would help me keep our spending spreadsheet up to date and they’re both big on writing signs with their drawings whilst they play. They’ve got pretty much no toys on the road and they’ve forgotten that we have an ipad so they’ve been pretty good at making up games and playing creatively.
Unfortunately we were unable to really build on our progress as much as we would have liked in the next segment of road trip. We’d get some good work done but it often felt slightly disjointed, lacked focus and we were unable to find a good rhythm. The group dynamic wasn’t quite there either with the girls competing for my time and attention. With both of them at different stages in both their literacy and numeracy it was difficult to manage and find a good balance.
The upside of course is the time we got to spend with all 3 girls often in the great outdoors and the open canvas that is a road trip across the United States (see previous blogs). The life experience they are gaining from travel is obvious and we see them growing and developing in positive manner. They’ve grown in confidence too and have become interested in an array of different subjects. I think they’ve benefitted from being in an English speaking environment, their mother tongue. It’s nice to see and we look forward to seeing how they continue to grow and develop. Our focus in the classroom so far has mainly been on numeracy and literacy, leaving other subjects such as Science and Social Studies to the the outside world and the experience of travel. French has also been on the backburner too.
We completed our US road trip and are now in a house on the island of Saint Lucia where we are staying for just over a month. Having a base and time on our hands has meant we’ve been able to move on with our schooling and catch up on some of the days on the road when schoolwork was neglected.
We made a few enquiries after about a week of being here and we’re delighted to say that the girls are currently attending a local primary school on the island. This has been a great experience for them as they socialise with the other kids and are pushed academically and seem to be flourishing in this new environment. It’s nice to have a routine and they’re always buzzing when we pick them up, although morning drop off still sometimes has it’s challenges. They’re learning about Creole heritage in the lead up to Jounen Kweyol, the island’s Creole Culture Day and it’s great to see them learning about and appreciating other cultures. I think it’s going to be tough for them to say goodbye. More about the local school experience in a future blog.
I’ve enjoyed the break too and it’s given me a chance to re-assess what we’ve achieved and what areas we could improve on. We’ll be better prepared for their next stage of their homeschooling and I’m sure the girls will be excited to show me what they learnt at the local school. We hope to have a better structure and build on what we’ve done already. We need to re-integrate some French at some stage and hope to make better use of some online tools.
At the end of our first term I’d say we’ve passed but could do better. Homeschooling has been a real learning curve for me and more challenging than I’d initially thought. If anyone out there has any comments advice or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading and feel free to share to anyone you know who’s looking to take their kid’s education on the road.