Want to travel and ‘worldschool’ your kids?

Sep 21, 2016

By Grace Koelma, Editor of Mulberry Magazine

The biggest mistake many parents make when choosing to take their family on the road and ‘worldschool’, is thinking that their kids’ education will occur in a similar way to school, or even like more structured styles of home education. But worldschooling is a law unto itself and will be an amazingly educational journey for you and your kids, if you let it.

Here are a few tips for how to plan your trip to best suit your children’s learning needs.

1. Consider what kind of ‘worldschooling’ you’ll be doing

How you choose to worldschool will depend on whether you are taking your kids out of school for a few months, or are planning on continuing to homeschool them when you return.

• Putting them back into school

Some schools and teachers will want students to keep up with what’s being learned in class, so that your child doesn’t fall behind. It’s valuable to practice mathematics while you’re away, if you intend on putting your child back into school (and therefore a set curriculum and learning pace). This is because many topics in maths are building blocks for other concepts, and if you miss a key one, learning future maths concepts can be hard. So perhaps take each child’s maths textbook with you. Other subjects like writing, spelling, art, history, science, geography and health/PE can all be learned organically on the road.

• Homeschooling after you return

If you’re intending to homeschool your kids after you return from travel, then you can go at your own pace, and choose a learning style that suits each child. To be honest, I'm a fan of unschooling for travel, there is so much to be learned simply by being immersed in new cultures and cities (more on that later!)

2. Be open to seasons of more intense learning and seasons of relaxed learning, for you and your kids

Regardless of the level of structure in your worldschooling approach, your kids will naturally form rhythms of more intense and less intense learning. It’s okay to let this process happen organically, don't attempt to stifle or accelerate it. As notable homeschool author Wendy Priesnitz said, “Life learning is about trusting kids to learn what they need to know and about helping them to learn and grow in their own ways. It is about respecting the everyday experiences that enable children to understand and interact with the world and their culture.”

3. Embrace daily journalling habits

If you do want to encourage a learning habit, start journalling what you see on your travels, and invite your children to do the same. To get them excited about the process, let each child choose a special book to write in (some kids love leather bound, others want a book with their favourite superhero on the cover). This journal can be as structured or free as they like, and include recounts of events, drawings, photos, maps, keepsakes, postcards and nature finds. The opportunities are endless. If you do need to provide proof of learning on your travels to a teacher or a school principal, this is a wonderful way to do that, too.

When I was fifteen, my family homeschooled and travelled in a caravan around Australia for 11 months. The journals I kept every day while travelling are now one of my most treasured memories of my childhood.

4. Be immersed in the joy of discovering new places together

Worldschooling boils down to this… It’s living in the present, enjoying each new opportunity and experience presented to you, and immersing yourself in culture, history and new cuisines. Don’t force your kids to do this, just throw yourself into it and watch as they catch hold of your enthusiasm. You’ll find endless opportunities for learning on the road: a wealth of rich history in museums and art gallery. Explore National parks (on land and in the sea – remember that in many countries, coral reefs are protected heritage area too), stop at roadside stalls and talk to buskers and craftsman selling wares on the street.

The physical act of travel is a wonderful learning opportunity as well. Enlist your children’s help in calculating the cost of fuel to drive to the next location, or how much you’ll be charged for excess baggage on your next flight. Show them your travel budget, and tell them what your spending limit is each day. Get them to help you do grocery shopping and help you cook meals, book accommodation and flights.

I believe the best education is steeped in the discussion of ideas. Talk about the customs of the places you visit and why cultural heritage is important. Learn the local language, and how to respect the culture as a visitor.

5. Resist trying to make every experience a ‘learning experience’

There are a lot of obvious opportunities for learning while travelling… every town has museums, art galleries, wildlife exhibits and information centres. But your kids will most certainly get information fatigue if they’re towed through one row of glass displays after another. Sometimes, even regularly, it’s okay to drive past the local tourist attraction and head to a local weekend market or go to the beach and sketch the landscape.

And then relax. Let your children process and digest what they’re seeing, the conversations they’re having and the new experiences they’re immersed in. Trust that the learning is happening beneath the surface. Every so often you’ll be the audience to an outburst and overflowing of this learning, maybe in a wonderful way you weren’t expecting. This quote by John Holt sums it up perfectly:

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.” ~John Holt, Teach Your Own