Before we left, we got asked a lot about how we would "do school." It was hard to answer because we weren’t quite sure what third grade would look like for LJ.
We started homeschooling her last year and looking back we’re glad we did. It allowed us to get a better sense of what works for her (and what definitely doesn't) before leaving home.
It also got our family into a rhythm of learning without school.
But homeschooling at home -- in a house with lots of space, in a city with lots of activities for homeschoolers, and in a neighbourhood filled with kids -- is different than homeschooling while travelling.
We now need to be more portable and make more effort to ensure she has time to hang out with other kids.
We’re certainly not experts as we’ve only been at this for a year and have only one child. Homeschool looks different for every homeschooling family. There are so many different curriculums, approaches, styles, circumstances and of course, kids.
But six weeks into our trip, I think we have a system that’s working okay for us. It may change, as homeschooling often does. But for now, here’s what we do…
Each week LJ has a list of things she needs to do that includes math, English language arts and French. It amounts to about six hours per week. When we have a free morning, a long bus ride or a quiet afternoon, she works through her list.
In addition to structured curriculum, the list includes a weekly writing project, alternating between French and English. Sometimes these are simply free writes and sometimes we go through the process of draft, editing and published work. She’s only eight so these projects are fairly short right now, such as writing an email to her grandmother, writing postcards to her friends or making a short slideshow with captions; but I’m hoping to get her involved in this blog later in the year.
We try to to do 30 minutes of silent reading as a family most days and she often carries around a book, which is great for longer subway rides, line waiting and restaurants.
We’ve chosen to “do school” year-round and take breaks when we need them or when it makes sense. For example, this week we'll be visiting friends so we'll likely put the books away and just hang out.
Unschooling, worldschooling and playtime
But it’s the less formal learning that’s really magical.
LJ has it good these days – her life is one big field trip! She visits museums, events and historic sites. She learns about currency, food, cultures, languages and how to navigate this big diverse world. She helps figure out the platform for our train, she pays for stuff at the market, she chats in French with kids at the park.
History, geography and art will kind of teach themselves this year through our travels; although we do supplement with videos and books about our latest destinations. LJ is a huge fan of historical fiction so she gets a lot through audiobooks and having us read to her.
Working in some science requires a bit more thought now that we’re away from home. Luckily, she has a scientist dad and loves playing in the woods, watching documentaries and short science videos, visiting science museums, building with Lego and listening to science podcasts.
We’re also getting more into games, with Flag Frenzy, Uno and Professor Noggin's Wonders of the World being our current travel-friendly favourites. L and I regularly play cribbage in the evening so we’re hoping to teach LJ this year – a fun way to solidify those math facts!
LJ LOVES soccer and being active so we seek out opportunities for her to play and climb whenever we can. Her love of soccer has helped a lot in terms of making temporary friends.
Screen time can be tricky.
Her tablet carries many great resources but I don’t want her staring at a screen all day as it can make her a little crazy and I'd like her to actually see the world as we travel.
This is an ongoing challenge for us and we’re constantly reassessing and adjusting to find the right balance, if there is one…
In the past, we heavily restricted screen time. We've eased up a bit since starting to homeschool, having realized some of the very educational opportunities that digital technologies can provide. However, we do still keep a tight reign on what content LJ has access to.
French cartoons help her with her second language; Netflix is full of interesting science documentaries; making videos can provide a creative outlet; and she can learn languages, drawing and ukulele via YouTube and apps. Her tablet also holds ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts and educational games.
We experimented a bit with Outschool last year and may try that again. Outschool offers live online classes for kids in pretty much anything imaginable. Classes range from a single 30-minute session to multiple sessions spread over several weeks. Kids get to interact with a live teacher and kids from around the world!
We’ve also used Mystery Science, which provides online science lessons with hands-on experiments. We’ll likely keep on with that when she’s keen and we have some time, as the activities are quite interesting and require minimal prep or supplies.
Is it all working?
I think so…?
There are certainly days when I wonder “What the hell were we thinking?" and moments when I'm certain sending her to school would we waaaay easier.
There are days of major frustration for all three of us and self doubt for L and me. It’s easy to worry about gaps in her education, if we’re doing enough or if she’s on par with her peers.
When she happily and confidently carries her pack through the London subway station or when she spends a day wandering the cathedrals of a medieval Belgian city while begging our friend to entertain her with stories of greek mythology…
I think we made the right decision.
When she gets completely absorbed in a story about the London cholera epidemic or when she spends an entire morning creating a neat stop-motion video…
I feel so so fortunate to be able to do what we do.
I try to remind myself that we all have “gaps” in our education. I try to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter if she’s mastered the precise learning objectives of Ontario's Grade 3 science curriculum by June; she’ll figure it out if she needs and/or wants to.
In the meantime, she’s too busy learning other stuff, that will prove just as useful…or useless.
So, what does school while travelling look like?
So far, it’s never ending, fascinating and real. It's having time for math facts and spelling, time to explore interests and passions, time to play and imagine, time to see and learn to navigate the world, time to rest or just cuddle up with a good book, and even time to help with the laundry.
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