Lessons Learned on the Road - Episode 1
As we were planning to take this year off, the second question that everyone asked was “So…uh….what will the kids do for school while travelling?”
Given that Zoe and Isaac are 11 and 8 respectively, we figured that it would be enough for the children to focus on their 3R’s: -- Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic – with the rest of the time spent travelling internationally they’d naturally be immersed in geography, history, social studies, archaeology, phys-ed and ecology. We also wanted Zoe to keep up her French so that she can rejoin the Grade 7 immersion program, so we're planning to spend some time in France and Morocco.
To make sure that we were on track, we met with both kids’ teachers last spring to get their advice. Both of them said they were excited that the kids had an opportunity to travel, and they were both surprisingly chill about how much we “covered the curriculum”. “Just make sure that they don’t get too far ahead,” one quipped. They also pointed us towards the provincial curriculum objectives, and also suggested a few online resources that we could incorporate (e.g. IXL Math, Duolingo, Khan Academy, Brainpop).
We also checked in with Tricia’s sister, Heather, and her cousin, Sandra, who have both home-schooled kids up through high school. “Don’t worry too much about structure,” Sandra said. “They’ll be fine.”
But as someone who is never one to worry about things – especially structure! – I did a bit more research on how to “road school” kids. It seems that most vagabond families either:
- Enrol their kids in a local or international school (not practical given that we’re moving a lot);
- Sign up for more structured correspondence or online courses – again a bit tricky given that our access to internet will vary dramatically this year
- Pack text books and workbooks – a bit heavy given that we’re trying to carry everything in 4 rolling bags, but we did purchase the JumpMath curriculum that a friend recommended;
- Take the “unschooling” approach and just let the kids learn wherever they go from whatever’s around them,
So far, we’ve used a mixture of 3 & 4, designing topical learning task designs as we go, and drawing upon the “teachers,” we meet and the “generative themes” from where we travel. For example:
- When we were visiting my parents in Durham, Ontario, my mother taught them how to bake butter-tarts, and the kids wrote out the recipe and took photos of each step. Zoe and I then did a rough French translation of the recipe and added in the photos.
- At my brother’s place, they appreciated the art all around them by critiquing three pictures – including some original paintings by their artistic aunt, Suzette Terry – and by counting all of the pictures on the walls – 308 by their census count, (+/- 5 pictures, 19 times out of 20).
- To help us dig through the different layers of Turkish history, we’ve mapped its empires and events along a very high-tech, historical timeline: a toilet roll in which each square equals 100 years. (This will work well unless we run out of toilet paper… then our timeline will be history).
- On another day Zoe did some research on the landscape of Turkey and some of the local environmental issues we’ve been learning about.
- Recently, the kids are drawing maps of their “dream hotels” and I’ve asked them to create a video commercial for each of them. Not surprisingly, Isaac’s is in Barcelona and has a football (soccer) theme. Zoe will then need to do some basic calculations of the area of the hotel, and to name some ways that it can be eco-friendly.
- In the spirit of their Hallow'een costumes, we're planning on a knock down game of Greek Gods & Goddesses Charades later this week.
Now that we've been in Turkey for just over six weeks, we’re finding that 2-3 hours of “road schooling” per day is about what we can manage and realistically, probably all that they need. Without taking time to get the bus to school, line up at the bell, take off and put on layers of clothes (Oh, Canada!), wait for teachers or on other kids, etc. they can get a lot school work done in a short time.
Other days, the program is much less structured, either because we're travelling, or because there are things to do that are just too cool for “school”. In the past few weeks, they have:
- toured the Ancient cities of Ephesus, Xanthos, Letoon, Knidos, Smyrna and Patara;
- sailed on two boats in the Aegean – including steering our friend’s catamaran --
- visited several museums of archaeology to view their collections of Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and/or Ottoman artifacts;
- learned some basic Turkish phrases;
- taken a guided tour of the Gallipoli Peninsula, site of the infamous WW I battle;
- sea-kayaked on the Aegean Sea;
- visited the abandoned village of Kayakoy, a town whose Christian population was "exchanged" to Greece after the war of Turkish independence.
Some days it feels like we’re in an episode of the Magic School Bus…
Of course, the kids are picking up some informal skills too, like how to improvise as the days unfold, how to buy groceries in a foreign language, and that well, Mom and Dad don’t always know where they are, never mind how to get back to our current "home"…..
On the plus side, I love the challenge of designing lessons on the fly, and the creative challenge imposed by the constraints and unique opportunities of each place that we stay. And we’ve also appreciated that they kids, by and large, have played along, and taken these lessons in stride.
However, we’ve also found that road-schooling requires a fair bit of time and planning (duh!), and that the kids pretty much need constant supervision lest they get distracted by the closest iThing. As well, on the days that we don’t have easy access to the Internet, it is harder to capitalize on those spontaneous learning moments and questions like “Is seawater more salty in bays? Who would be the Greek god for soccer” Finding enough English, children's books in Turkey has also been challenging, but thankfully we can usually download e-books from the public libraries when we have WIFI.
It is also clear that Zoe and Isaac really miss the social side of learning with other kids. It might be the places that we're going, the time of year or the fact that Turkish kids tend to go to "cram schools" after their regular classes, but we've met very few children on our trip so far. Both kids have been real troopers so far, but we’re still hoping that we can check in periodically with their friends at school back in Ottawa. Stay tuned...