Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Wise Owl Baby about one of our favorite picture books, Ladybug on the Move, and I’m excited to welcome Christy, from The Simple Homemaker, who is giving us the scoop on homeschooling while traveling the United States.
When we were awaiting our first child 16 years ago, we knew we would homeschool. When we mentioned the idea, people thought we were downright weird, that it was just another one of our crazy ideas, and that we’d get some sense knocked into us somewhere along the way.
Sixteen years and 7 children later, we took our “weirdness” to a new level. After the Nevada economy hammered the death nail in the coffin of our home business, we went from part-time to full-time with my husband’s contemporary Christian music mission, Stephen Bautista Music.
Currently, we travel the country together in a travel trailer for the music mission, homeschooling…or roadschooling as we go.
As roadschoolers, we deal with many of the same challenges as stationery homeschoolers. There are, however, a few extra perks and a few unique challenges thrown into the pot.
While on the road, we are rarely in the same spot for more than a couple nights. We sometimes have to be in two towns on the same day. Laundry, showers, cooking, exercising, play-time – everything requires a little additional effort, foresight, and planning.
This requires an immense amount of flexibility. So how do we do it?
First of all, we keep the learning natural. There are opportunities around every corner to learn, and we take advantage of as many as we can. Yes, museums and such are great, but the real world experiences we encounter are just as, if not more, edifying to the children.
Take, for example, the day we were exploring a river in southern California when suddenly a man carrying a machete hacked through the underbrush, plunged into the river, and emerged on our bank. Despite my instinct to run away screaming like a sissy, we held our ground and were rewarded with a mini-lesson about river surveying and the government’s river redirection project.
Secondly, we use some textbooks, but we do not stress over the texts. In our life there are days when we have three concerts in three towns within a 24-hour time period. We’re not going to stress if nobody cracks a math book those days!
There are also days when we visit national or state parks, historic landmarks, and regional operations…in the same day. Education doesn’t always require a textbook.
Third, we don’t do the unnecessary. Let’s take spelling, for example. Four of my five readers are excellent spellers. I therefore do not waste time with spelling lists.
Is the time required to study and drill spelling lists better used reading great works of literature or writings from our country’s founders, through which they will be exposed to those words (and some great ideas)? You betcha!I able to assess their spelling through their writing assignments and correspondence.
You noticed, didn’t you, that one of them is not an excellent speller. That child, when old enough, received an independent spelling workbook that took about ten minutes of her time a day. No lists. No extra work for Mother. No tears. Her spelling has improved dramatically.
Fourth, we “do school” in the van whenever the scenery is particularly uninspiring. Unfortunately, our van’s CD player died, making the excellent option of audio lessons out of the question. Also, our van is quite large (no mini-anything in our family), so reading aloud for more than, say, a chapter of the Bible, is pretty much out of the question for this ol’ mama’s voice box. We can, however, watch educational videos as we travel.
We also break into groups and work on different subjects. I help the children nearest me with their reading lessons and language arts, while my older children in the back work together on catechism lessons, English, foreign language, and whatever latest music they’re making up. The van also provides an environment for discussing deep issues…if we talk loudly enough.
Fifth, we teach independence from the start. The older children work through their science texts and many other projects on their own, discussing what they have learned with us and each other. They also work with the younger children. Thanks to Math-U-See, they all progress through math relatively independently as well…with supervision.
We nurture and encourage independent progression in areas of our children interests and talents. Because many of our children are talented musically, this requires a bit of creativity as everyone attempts to practice piano in the churches we visit.
Finally, we stay relaxed. We school year-round and on Saturdays, because we have to take every opportunity to squeeze the book-learnin’ around the real life educational opportunities. But if the books need to be set aside for a time, so be it. We can see that they are progressing, and together we can make an extra push in certain areas as necessary.
We also stay away from the “if only’s.” Would it be easier if we could afford laptops and unlimited data usage for everyone? Yes. Would it help if all the kiddos had Kindles, since weight restrictions prevent our bringing many books. Sure it would.
Would it be easier if we could afford to replace the CD player and load up on audios, or download freebies online. Of course. But if we were going to let the difficulties hold us back, we would never have become homeschoolers in the first place!
My children can manage a home and care for children at a level I hadn’t learned until I was married for years. They have worked in our family business and are vital to the operation of our music mission. They help manage a family blog and one keeps a personal blog; in the process they are learning online marketing and computer skills.
They manage a sales table independently. They come into contact with more people on a daily basis than most children encounter in a month. They are traveling this great country of ours and experiencing first-hand what most children only read about in textbooks – the Hoover Dam, the Laura Ingalls homes, Daniel Boone country, the Alamo…you name it! They meet people from all walks of life and are learning empathy and to look beyond themselves.
They are living examples of family, togetherness, cooperation, and sacrifice. No textbook could teach them that.
Is roadschooling perfect? No. Is it more fun and memorable to get out of the van and follow tarantulas across the road in Texas than it is to read about them in a book? I believe that’s a rhetorical question…although we did both.
It would indeed be easier to make it through a textbook if our home were set on a foundation instead of on wheels, but with glorious America for our backyard, the learning opportunities for our family on the road are unparalleled.
What my children learn between the covers of a book is valuable, but what they experience from sea to shining sea and everywhere in between is absolutely priceless.
If you are interested in hearing about our adventures on the road, check out our family travel blog, The Travel Bags.