Primary motivating factors behind my choice to retire early from medicine were my desires to both spend more time with my family and to travel extensively.
Freeing ourselves from the rigid school calendar was the key to unlocking both family time and family travel (but sadly, not family time travel). That meant learning to homeschool, or worldschool, as we called it when were frequently far from home.
My wife, who has more experience educating youngsters than I do, has done the vast majority of the work in both researching our options and implementing them. I’m the designated proofreader and occasional substitute teacher.
I asked my lovely wife to provide an overview of how our first three years of homeschooling have gone and an update on what we plan to do from here on out. If you’d like to hear more from her, you can see her previous post on our initial worldschooling adventures and another requested post where she discusses the balance between spending and happiness from her perspective.
Take it away, love!
Three years ago, we began our adventures as a homeschooling and world-traveling family. Our plan was to take it one year at a time and adjust as needed. We asked the kids to give us two years to figure it out before deciding to go back to school, but honestly, it took about 3 weeks and we were all hooked!
My original article is here, but as you will see… a lot has changed since then!
Year 1, Semester 1: Nine weeks in Mexico
Homeschooling: Various Workbooks, Khan Academy, Duolingo, assigned writing, Family Partnership classes, and Spanish classes at Escuela Falcon
At the beginning, I was creating my own curriculum, pulling from the vast number of resources online and getting advice from my peers. We were heavy in workbooks, using Khan Academy for math, Duolingo for Spanish, and our writing was based on the geography and culture of our location. Spending a day at the Don Quixote Museum? Better have the boys write a paper on it!
It was working just fine… I guess. Dragging around a suitcase full of reading materials and workbooks had some downsides and sometimes the workbooks felt more like busy work than anything else. Every writing assignment I came up with was met with fierce resistance from my writing-adverse children, and I had concerns that the workbook material wasn’t being presenting in a way that would “stick.” But the boys were happy and we were definitely having a good time!
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Year 1, Semester 2: Nine weeks in Spain!
Homeschooling: Khan, Duolingo, assigned writing, Family Partnership classes
For the holidays, my wonderful in-laws bought each of us travel backpacks! Leif and I were gifted 40L REI packs and the boys received 29L Osprey backpacks- which meant that lugging around 8 workbooks was no longer an option!
For the next trip, I switched to online learning exclusively, pulling most of the subjects from Khan Academy. Although the sciences were a bit advanced for my young children, I knew that they would see the material again in the future, and I wasn’t worried about it. They still wrote papers based on local experiences and we were still having a great time…
Pause for March 2020
We were in Spain when the first inklings of the pandemic were spreading. We had rented an apartment in Madrid and our Airbnb host was telling us about canceled events. We debated trying to get back to the U.S. early, but we were due to fly out in less than a week. At that time, there were dozens of cases in Spain… if we had only known what was coming!
But let’s backtrack for a minute…
When we relocated back to Michigan in 2019, I was able to sign my kids up for a homeschooling co-op program called Family Partnership. This unique, government-funded program provides extracurricular classes for homeschooled students and allows the students to get together twice a week for classes and socializing in a repurposed public school building.
We were thrilled to have this option locally. Being new to the area, it was important to us to have our children meet other kids… I hadn’t yet realized the other benefits of Family Partnership.
Benefits like music lessons at no cost to me! My boys have taken three years of high-quality lessons with three different teachers and I haven’t paid a dime; music lessons alone cost me 50 dollars per week when we lived in Minnesota! My boys have continued with piano, guitar, and ukulele while picking up the banjo and accordion…. Yes, we own each of these. Our home is covered in music books, with instruments around every corner!
My eldest also tried out fencing. Both boys have taken tennis. There was a foreign language sampler, several art classes, an engineering class, cyber security, etc. I could go on, but the class list is amazing.
Each of these classes has an optional in-person component and a mandatory online component, meaning that while we travel my children submit their online work and we don’t worry about missing the in-person classes! It’s a win-win. Have passport, will travel!
Another benefit of the Family Partnership? The option to try a pilot homeschooling curriculum program called BookShark. When enrolled in this program, you receive a large box of homeschooling materials at the beginning of the school year and the largest teacher’s manual you’ve ever seen. The literature-based curriculum covers history, language arts, and science, and there are several options for math.
BookShark has been available as a homeschool curriculum for years. The difference with this pilot program is that the material had been moved to an online platform and our local district was providing teachers for each subject- meaning that I would no longer need to create the content or grade my children’s assignments… it was tough to pass up.
But pass it up, we did. I took one look at that huge box of materials and knew that there was no way we could bring along all that was required to homeschool the boys on our travels, even if we took an additional backpack or three on our trip! We had a 7-month-long Southeast Asia adventure coming up and I’m pretty sure there were materials in the BookShark science box that would have gotten me some additional airport screening…
Okay- Back to the Pandemic…
We came home from Spain in early March and everything got shut down! We felt lucky that we were already homeschooling and feeling comfortable with our methods at a time when all of our friends were being forced to keep their children home with no time to prep!
I had already spent months researching how I was going to educate my children… thinking that the pandemic couldn’t possibly go on much longer, we continued with our current method and declined the offer to try Bookshark. Until our Asia trip in the coming fall was canceled — that was a turning point.
The writing was on the wall, and I was ready for a more structured approach to educating my boys! Sign us up for BookShark, please!
The 2020-2021 school year was our first year using BookShark. Since I’m not in any way affiliated with the program and I’m definitely not being compensated for writing about it, I can give you my honest opinion.
I love it! Not every aspect of it, but 95%. The curriculum is very well structured. The reading material is a combination of fiction and non-fiction, and it usually ties in directly to the writing assignments, forcing my children to read outside of their preferred genre of graphic novels. The books are high-quality, especially the non-fiction reference books. The teacher’s manual looks daunting but is really easy to use once you learn how to navigate it.
My favorite part of the program though has nothing to do with academics. BookShark is structured in a way that allows us to be very hands-on OR very hands-off… we choose to be hands-off at the age that our kids are, currently 11 and 13.
Since they are both in middle school, they need to learn to time-manage on their own, and Bookshark allows this by having everything they need to get done during the week listed on one page for them. I may have to encourage our younger son to get going on his work instead of reading in bed half the day, but I certainly don’t need to hold his hand!
I also enjoy not being the teacher anymore! Now, if there’s a really hard writing assignment (which is every writing assignment for my children), I get to be their support team instead of their adversary. I’m no longer creating the assignments so when one of my kids is upset that they need to do something I get to say “Wow, that DOES look like a tough project. How are we going to get through this??”
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Year Two, Semester one: RV trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina
Homeschooling: Bookshark, Family Partnership classes when schools are open
Our first semester of Bookshark took a little adjusting on our part. It turns out that my boys were not used to working very hard… and that’s when I realized that I wasn’t doing as great of a job homeschooling on my own as I thought I was. Ouch!
I don’t want to say that I did a terrible job… and I don’t think my husband would dare say it either. 😉 The truth is, I wasn’t expecting very much from my boys and they were giving me only what I asked of them. At the end of the week, I was too tired to fight them on their quality of writing or demand that they re-do an assignment. I wasn’t standing over their shoulders enough to know if they were giving their workbooks full attention or not.
Have I mentioned that I’m a dietitian by training? Besides the two years that I subbed in my children’s elementary school, I have zero experience teaching!
It was a good time to try out a more intense program- there was no vaccine, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. We bought a camper and found out that we weren’t RV people… we are still trying to figure out what to do with that behemoth.
Year 2, Semester 2: Universal Orlando, Savannah, Asheville
Our first experience traveling with the BookShark materials was a month-long trip Florida and Georgia. It’s a lot of material… but luckily, with some planning, we are still able to travel light.
The planning was pretty straight forward; Bookshark is a 4 day/week program, so doing extra days can get you weeks ahead! Most of the paperback books can be found digitally, some even for free.
The heavy reference books were my biggest challenge, so I bought my own copies on eBay and cut out the pages that we needed for the trip. Science away from home was a no-go. I had my boys do all the science projects ahead of time or immediately when we got back. Luckily the science projects are fun and my boys never complain about getting them done!
With international travel on hold, we gave ourselves what felt like a really weak consolation prize, but our boys thought it was the best. We became annual passholders at Universal Orlando, and we’d use these passes nearly 40 times over the next 15 months. We also took a side trip up to Savannah en route to Asheville where we took in a DLP Prosperity Meeting.
When it came time to decide what we were going to do for school in 2021-2022, no one batted an eye! It was Bookshark all the way!
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Year 3, Semester 1: Royal Caribbean Cruise, Universal, NYC, Guanajuato
Homeschooling: BookShark, Family Partnership Classes, Duolingo
Our third year of homeschooling started out looking a lot like the second year, but once our whole family was vaccinated, we made a triumphant return to worldschooling.
For school, we continued with the next level of BookShark. Our boys are two years apart in age, but were one grade apart when they left elementary school, and we’ve kept them doing the same core curriculum while homeschooling.
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Year 3, Semester 2: Greece, Malta, Sicily, Rome, Colombia, Universal, Toronto, Boston, Houston, Galveston, 2 week South American Cruise, the Cape, Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine
We truly put the “world” in worldschooling this last semester, taking three trips that were each at least a month long, doing a bit of schoolwork on the road and a lot of work when home.
Finally, we took a big trip by land, air, and sea that took us through Canada, down to Texas, then to Central and South America, through the Caribbean, and up to New York City. From there, we went to Boston and Cape Cod, spent a week exploring Maine, and drove back home through Canada once again!
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What About Year Four?
I really struggled with committing to a fourth year! Aren’t we ready to settle down? We are building a house, after all… Don’t the boys want to make more friends? Haven’t we homeschooled them enough!? Don’t we need a break!?
Time for a family vote: I lost by 3:1!
In all fairness, my vote to put the boys back into school was only half-hearted and not based on academics at all. We’ve used standardized testing to evaluate their progress in school and have been very happy to see that their test scores reflect the hard work that they’ve been doing.
I had concerns that the BookShark science curriculum wasn’t being presented in a way that would “stick,” but that was put to rest when I saw their NWEA Science scores. So we are signed up for another year of Bookshark and I look forward to picking up my huge box of supplies in August!
If you happen to be a Michigan resident, this program has become available to you for free. The only difference is that you get to keep all your materials, whereas I have to turn mine into the school when I’m done… perhaps I should consider moving downstate! If you want more information on that, see the BookShark website.
Where Will We Go and What Will We Do in Our Final Year?
We are definitely planning to take fewer trips than the six trips we took last year!
We have a 5-week trip planned this fall that includes a couple of weeks in Europe followed by a 16-day cruise back to The States. We bought Indy Passes that will allow us to downhill ski at independent hills and mountains all over the country this winter. We plan to explore states that we’ve never been to together and hopefully visit family out west that we normally only get to see once a year.
In a perfect world, I would spend our last year studying World War II history in Poland and Germany, followed by the trip to Southeast Asia that has been canceled by the pandemic TWICE, stop over in New Zealand and Australia, and not miss out on Machu Picchu! I would force my whole family to study Spanish with more intensity and maybe even visit Guanajuato for Dia de los Muertos one last time…
Of course, not all of these trips are possible in such a short time, nor would I want to try to pack so many into our last year of homeschooling. These three years of traveling with our boys have been amazing and are probably what they will remember the most from their childhood.
I’m grateful to the Family Partnership program and Bookshark for helping me educate my boys while we roamed around. I fully believe that my eldest will enterour brick-and-mortar high school in 2023 well prepared, if not quite a bit ahead of the game. He will not only be robustly educated, but he’ll have real-world experiences and insights that cannot be taught in a classroom… maybe even just a little bit more confidence in who he is and what he values — the skills needed to survive high school!
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Have you been homeschooling during the pandemic and/or before? Tell us how it’s been going for you, and please share your top tips!