This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
Is there anyway to talk about homeschooling your kids, without inadvertently dismissing teachers as insufficient? I definitely don’t want to do that. Let’s be clear: the teachers of the world do something very amazing and important. They dedicate their lives to improving those of other people’s children. This isn’t about what teachers aren’t doing, but the options when being in a classroom just isn’t an option.
The question of homeschooling often comes up around travel, because if you want to take more than 3 months off a year, you’ll have to find some way to educate your children.
The first worry parents have is about quality. It’s not fair, but a teacher has a major disadvantage. While they teach 30 students in the classroom, at home it’s all one-on-one. Even if you have the best teacher in the world, they just can’t compete. These micro-classrooms automatically outpace even private education, as far as student-teacher ratio. Who wouldn’t want that for their kid?
But are you qualified? Let’s look at a teacher’s education. They will typically study education in college and earn a four year degree (and later get a masters, but that’s not required at first). If you look at their required coursework, many of these classes are about child development and child psychology. Do you need a psychology class for your own kids? Probably not. You don’t need them to be their parents, and you’re not trying to teach kids you don’t know, right? Ok skip those. Other classes are about developing curriculum. For a school district, it’s important to have teachers who know how to write a lesson plan. But you’re just teaching your kids, surely you can just buy those materials (schools have budgets, but on your scale it’s affordable). So you can skip those. You’ll have some teaching assistant time to learn how to handle a classroom– for you, doesn’t apply. So what are we left with? About 2 years of liberal arts classes. In other words, the requirements of a college degree in general, not specific to the education major.
Teachers are trained to teach in classrooms. They have the education and experience to wrangle a classroom full of young folk while simultaneously educating their little minds. It’s a hard job and not just anyone can do it. But you’re not trying to teach a roomful of kids. Just yours. Your job is about 1/30th easier than theirs. Besides, your kids will be doing all the heavy lifting (we’ll get to that next).
But what if I don’t remember the math? or science? or what a gerund is?
That’s not your job. Your job is to teach your kids how to self-teach. When they reach the college level, they will be expected to have this skill and it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give a young person. You’ll teach them how to find answers, either using their glossary or the index or in a dictionary or an encyclopedia or on the internet or asking questions through a website or watching educational videos.
Your time as a parent teacher will likely be spent talking through issues and making sure that you’re kids are making progress. You might ask them questions to help them clarify their own thinking. Or you might suggest a resource where they could look it up. “Hey Mom, what’s a trachea?” Your answer, “Let’s go look it up!”
Next question, will my kids fall behind?
This mostly comes down to jumping through the right hoops when you return home. It won’t be about how much your kids have learned (they’ll have cut out all the distractions, have a supportive environment and one-on-one support– why would they learn less?) However, you’ll want to make sure that you’re covering your bases if you plan to return back to school after the trip. I was homeschooled for my ninth grade year, and when I returned I was able to receive credit for all of my coursework (including gym class, which I used my time riding horses to count as credit). I went on to take honors and advanced placement classes through the rest of high school and it was a non-issue when applying to college (I was accepted to my preferred and back-up colleges). Some states have testing requirements, or specific course work, so be sure to research that before you leave.
If you’re planning on traveling longer than a year, you might feel comfortable with teaching your kids at first, but a little worried about high school.
I suspect this fear is from the idea that you’re child will be relying on your to explain materials– how will they take a Spanish class, if I don’t speak Spanish? The good news is that there are resources online that can connect your child with native speakers and the kind of video and audio resources needed to learn those tougher subjects.
What about the “social” issue?
Long term relationships are important and constantly traveling will mean that you’ll have to spend more time and effort to keep in contact with folks back home. It’s certainly possible to arrange your travels so you find your way back to the same place every year or make it a point to spend summers with family (or some variation). As far as being isolated while on the road, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. You’ll be learning how to make friends quickly, just as they will. After a while, it won’t seem strange to strike up a conversation with a stranger and your kids will adapt too.
Ultimately, should you travel with your kids and homeschool them?
I think it’s a very important decision that you should make as a family. I would never presume to give a pat answer for everyone. But to me, there are several benefits that might make it a smart choice for you:
1. An opportunity for your child to pursue subjects they are interested in more depth. In a traditional school, it’s not possible to create a custom curriculum for every student. Would it be better? Yes. An engaged, interested student will learn so much more than one that’s bored. For instance, you can purchase a well-rounded base curriculum, but then allot more time for their favorite subjects– like reading science fiction books (and writing reports about them) or categorizing the bugs they see on your travels or learning more about each city you visit.
2. A chance for your kids to be around adults and children of different ages. Some people argue that the age-level grouping of children slows their development. It’s necessary in schools because they are forced to become more efficient and to streamline education. But kids learn from the people they’re around. At home, exposure to to older kids or adults is a positive message in expectations. Their world-view isn’t limited to their current age level.
3. Character! Confidence! Courage! The only way to gain these positive traits is to have the opportunity to test yourself. Buying something with foreign money. Making friends with people who don’t speak your language. Being stumped on a academic problem, but with hard work, figuring it out for yourself. Being afraid of a new food, but trying it anyways (oh, and it’s pretty good). Everyday is an object lesson.
4. Time to think. In this over-scheduled world, kids don’t have time anymore to just absorb the world. This constant stimuli bounces them from one activity to the next, but they don’t have time to reflect. I’d argue that these little one-day adults need to start practicing thinking for themselves and figuring out how they feel about the world, well before they actually reach adulthood.
Parents who are considering homeschooling have a lot going for them. Even if you feel the school system would do a better job, your kid’s teacher is out numbered 30-1. The materials available to parents are as good or better than you’d find in the school system (especially with budget cuts and outdated textbooks). You’re able to provide your kids with a state of the art learning experience: a laptop, access to audio/video materials, world class online resources and the time and flexibility to learn how to use these materials independently (something you’d never see in a public school). Also, it’s more accepted than ever as people are dropping out of public education— not because of religious reasons or because they’re “crunchy” but because they feel they it’s possible to get a better education inside of the home.
So if you want to travel, take the family.
Coming soon… part II: Where are all these wonderful resources?
But first, homeschooling parents, I need your help. I need as many variations on “what works” for your family (and the links to those resources) so we can provide a well-rounded resource list. I’ve been homeschooled, but don’t have kids yet, so I need your help! Shoot me an email or leave a comment (I will be sure to credit your links).