It’s been nearly six months since I retired from medicine and started slow traveling internationally with my family. I expected there would be a lot of questions.
I was half right. I have been asked a lot of questions, just not on the topic I expected. Does everyone what to know what it’s like to never be on call? Or whether or not I miss patient care? [I do, a little.]
No, they want to know how we’re educating our children when we travel for months at a time. It’s a fair question, but I wasn’t sure how best to answer it since my wife has taken the reins on that one. It’s not that I don’t contribute, it’s just that I contribute about a tenth of a tenth of one percent, or thereabouts.
Fortunately for you and for me, my wife agreed to write up a summary of how we’ve been educating our kids. Some call it homeschooling, but we’re really not home enough for that term to be accurate. I came across the concept of “worldschooling,” and I think it fits best. The terms will be used interchangably, as we are home at times, as well.
After her first guest post was so well-received, I am thrilled to bring her back to the website. Show us how it’s done, Rayce!
Worldschooling: How Our Children are Educated as We Travel
Before I go into details on how we are educating our children, I just want to touch on a few of the reasons we are homeschooling, or worldschooling.
There are several reasons, but 90 percent of the reason we are worldschooling is to give ourselves the freedom to travel. Before Leif was retired, he went down to working 0.6 FTE and we were afforded the opportunity to travel for 3 weeks at a time.
Our children were enrolled in a public school gifted program that supported our travel aspirations and the teachers were beyond accommodating. We took some school work with us and did not worry about the work they would miss, in exchange for all the cultural experiences that they would gain.
But that was elementary school. Our oldest was in 4th grade and our youngest, who was accelerated a year and placed into the gifted program only one academic year behind his brother, was in 3rd grade.
The area that we were living in at the time started middle school in 5th grade and we knew that our days of pulling the kids out of school for 9 weeks of the year (yes! 9 approved weeks of truancy!) were over!
Worldschooling has allowed me to move our youngest back into his appropriate grade level for age while continuing to educate him at his pace. Actually, I am educating them both where they are and not looking at grade levels at all, but I didn’t want our second child to one day be the youngest in his graduating class.
When we agreed to accelerate him a grade, he simply missed Kindergarten and we saw very little difference between him at age 5 and his peers at age 6/7. By the time we pulled him out of school in 3rd grade, there was a definite maturity difference between his 9 years and his friends 10/11! Now when we return them to school, he will be among his age-appropriate peers again.
One other significant reason for me to homeschool them is simply wanting them around more often, and wanting more of their quality hours. I felt like the school was getting the best of my children, sending them home after 7 ½ hours tired and cranky, leaving me with the homework, music lessons, dinner and bedtime routine.
I was always looking forward to the weekends and the summers just to get some quality fun-time in with my own kids!
The final reason, despite not being a big factor, is wanting to have tried it all. We started with one year in a parochial school, transferred into public schools and are now trying out homeschooling / worldschooling. The end goal is likely for them to go back into the public school system for high school, hopefully well rounded with some life experiences!
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So how are they educated?
With incredible amounts of flexibility! Worldschooling for our family is a work in progress. We all agreed, including the children, to give it at least two years before deciding whether or not to continue.
I spent many hours researching different methods online and became overwhelmed with the number of different styles and programs. I couldn’t find one academic program that had everything that I wanted in it and without a lot of “busy work.”
In the end, I decided to break it down into subjects and make sure that my children were doing *something* in each area: math, science, English, social studies, music, and foreign language.
We started homeschooling in June of 2019. I should note that I have always required my children to do summer work to maintain what they had learned during the school year and to give some structure to their summers. We’ve incentivized them to do work during the summer by earning screen time, small rewards or family outings when they complete weekly assignments.
Schooling year-round means that I don’t worry too much about missing time from school when we are busy. When we spent a week in Washington D.C. last fall, the kids never cracked a book. I let the nation’s capital, the Smithsonian, and the Holocaust museum do all the teaching.
It also means that our boys only do 4 days of schooling each week. The math is simple; there are 180 days in a typical school year, but we do 4 days a week all year long, and that’s 208 days. Minus a week here or there for other experiences and we are still doing more days of education per year than they were getting in the public school.
An incentive to work a little more…
In addition, our boys can choose to do an extra day of school work each week and they often do! Why, you ask? Simple — Kindle games. We have raised our kids with very limited screen time. We haven’t had cable TV service in years, although when we did, they weren’t allowed to watch it.
The only gaming system that we own is a Nintendo Wii that hadn’t been set up in almost 10 years. My husband set it up (ugh) this Christmas season and the boys played on it twice before leaving the country. So playing video games is a very coveted activity.
For each day of schoolwork they complete, they earn one hour of game time on their kindles with the option of earning one extra hour per week. It’s incredible what they will do to play video games for one hour!
This system benefits me the most. The boys know what they have to do to earn screen time so they are never asking me if they can play on their kindles randomly. They know that they can lose their kindle time for bad behavior, so that’s a rarity. They know that they can do an extra day of work for an extra hour.
Our system gives them a little amount of screen time without going overboard and is the perfect incentive to completing school work. The system is genius and I can’t take credit for it — it was my husband’s idea! But back to the work…
An evolving curriculum
Initially, the boys separated this work into three shifts- computer, workbooks and writing, and music. On the computer, they were doing Khan Academy math, typing club, and Duolingo Spanish. They had workbooks for language arts, vocabulary, spelling, science and social studies.
For writing, we were giving them weekly assignments, including essays, biographies, compare and contrast, poetry, opinion, etc. Music was 20 minutes of piano and 15 minutes of their secondary instrument: guitar for our oldest and ukulele for our youngest.
Since I still read to my children daily, I started reading books that correlated with our curriculum, mostly humanities novels and the series The Story of the World (which is fascinating by the way!)
Does it sound like a lot of work? It’s amazing how quickly they can get it all done.
On a day where they don’t take long Lego play breaks or choose to audiobook several hours between shifts, they are done by noon. Easily.
It takes even less time when we are traveling since we do not have music lessons or instruments on the road. All that and we aren’t even waking them up in the morning to get started on their day!
We incorporate a lot of reading time into our days and the boys have had their own Kindles for years. We are lucky in that both of them love to read and audiobook! On occasion, I will assign them books, like The Dairy of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, if its relevant to our travels, as it did on our current trip — we visited the Anne Frank house on a layover in Amsterdam.
There is also a Minnesota reading program called the Maud Hart Lovelace challenge that our kids were participating in when they were in the gifted program that I have continued to do. The book recommendations are amazing and encourage children to read different styles of literature.
So that’s how it started in June. Here we are in February, 6 months later, and it already looks very different.
Worldschooling in 2020
When we traveled to Mexico for 9 weeks in the fall, we each had a backpack and a carry-on suitcase. By the time we left Mexico, I couldn’t believe how much extra stuff we had, and I was tired of dragging so much luggage around. My wonderful in-laws bought us travel backpacks for Christmas and we decided to only bring one backpack per person on our current trip to Spain.
We were faced with a dilemma…. Bringing our children’s workbooks would require that I take my 29L Kelty bag in addition to my brand new 40L REI travel pack and carry around two packs.
Was I ready to switch methods so soon? I had just purchased a fresh round of workbooks from Amazon in anticipation of the boys finishing a few of them on the Spain trip. The first week of January we had the boys test out doing all subjects on Khan- choosing one science, one social studies and taking the Grammar program instead of doing language arts/vocab workbooks.
It went really well and we ditched the books! Now after 4 weeks, they are enjoying the new method of study and they aren’t sure they want to go back to workbooks when we get home in March!
We still packed their writing notebooks and The Story of the World volume 3, plus the Catechism workbook that is required for them to be confirmed when we get home. We also have on us a Mission: Barcelona adventure book that my cousin got them for Christmas plus the 14 small gifts she wrapped up as prizes for their completed missions.
Not to mention pokemon playing cards, a deck of cards, Cataan Dice Game and the game Greed! They have a large amount of PLUS PLUS building toys and some other “busy hand toys.” What I’m trying to say is… we still have a lot of miscellaneous stuff!
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
There are numerous wonderful things about worldschooling. Although no one in my family is surprised that I ended up wanting to homeschool my children for a few years, I honestly am surprised! If you had asked me if I would homeschool in the years before I had children, or even in the first few years of being a parent, I would have thought No Way! But here I am.
It’s easier than I thought it would be and a lot more enjoyable. I like the quiet, low key pace of our mornings. I don’t miss the days of dragging them out of bed, especially in the winter, and hustling them out the door.
I don’t miss the days of picking them up at 3 in the afternoon and feeling like my day with them was just getting started — needing to do piano lessons, guitar / ukulele, that brutal year that my oldest was on the swim team and we weren’t even getting home until 5 in the evening. And then somehow getting them fed with teeth brushed, stories read, and off to bed at 7 pm.
I feel like my children are a lot less stressed. We have a family meeting on Sunday evenings where we talk about the previous week and what is coming up for the next week. Our children have a clear idea of what is expected from them each week and how to accomplish it. They are participants in their own education, helping to pick out writing topics, assigned reading, and setting other goals.
We are also able to really focus on the areas that need the most work, while not worrying too much about the subjects that they are thriving in. For our children, we let them do math at their own leisurely pace while we focus on improving their writing skills with everything we’ve got!
We allow them to take science classes that might be a little advanced for their age, knowing that they will eventually take the class again and will get all the information a second time. And since we are traveling, we let our experiences teach them too.
Of course, there are some negatives. It’s difficult for me, as a parent, to see my children taking such long absences from music. We started both the boys in piano before they turned four years old and I miss hearing them play. I love hearing them say that they miss playing! Our oldest has been playing piano for 7 years and our youngest 5 years, so taking some time off isn’t detrimental, but it’s tough, regardless.
Also, they miss their friends, of course. Although sometimes I wonder if I think they miss their friends more than they actually do. We are lucky that our boys get along very well and genuinely like each other. If there is ever an argument, it’s usually because the youngest wants to play more and the oldest wants a reading break.
We do take them to parks regularly and they will end up playing with other kids despite the language barrier. In Mexico, they had a standing playdate in a local plaza every day when school was let out. Next year we are exceptionally blessed to be traveling once again with friends that also have two boys of a similar age!
They’re the same two boys that my kiddos are going to Kennedy Space Camp with this summer in Florida. So friendships in world travel are possible, it just takes a bit more of a commitment.
Oh, it’s gotten ugly! There have been a couple of times where the boys have turned in the laziest work imaginable. And yes, I immaturely threatened them with going back to public school!!
Like I mentioned, writing is their downfall. When a workbook leaves a half-page of lines to answer a social studies question and my 9-year old writes down one poorly formed fragment sentence without capitalization or punctuation, there will be words. But these are rare occasions and also, my 9-year old loves to push the boundaries and see what he can get away with.
Back to the Good of Worldschooling.
Worldschooling has allowed us to take our kids out of the classroom and around the world. Show them different cultures, have them try different foods. Last week I paid them a Euro each to eat a fried baby octopus… and they did it! It’s allowed us to have a lot more time together as a family- playing more games, taking walks, going to museums and even watching more movies!
It’s allowed us to escape from the harsh Northern Minnesota and Michigan winters!
My final thoughts are this: traveling as a family is so much fun that even if worldschooling wasn’t as enjoyable, it would still be worth it. I would still figure it out in order to have the experiences that we are having right now. I would buy the expensive curriculums or enroll them in an online school with lots of busy work if that’s what it took.
But it seems to me that there are hundreds of different ways to educate your child and what we are doing right now is working really well for us. In 6 months it might all be different!