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Travelling and Home Educating

"I'm thinking of travelling around Australia with my kids for 6 months or so which would involve homeschooling them. Is there is any advice you could give us on teaching our children, and where can we find resources."

by Beverley Paine, November 2003

You know, there's really no need to do anything at all, except soak up the experience... There really is no need to 'keep up' with what your children would have been doing in school: the educational value of your trip will outstrip anything a typical school curriculum can offer your children.

How you tackle education and travelling depends upon what you think about education in general, and what you think about schools. It's no secret that a great deal of the school day is taken up by behaviour management strategies; marshalling the children, entreating them to pay attention, repeating the task at hand, busy work, repetitive drills and handling the disruptive behaviour of a few. The actual time each child spends learning new skills, or consolidating old ones, each day is minimal. If this is what you seek to do while travelling then I don't think you'll have much problem. An hour a day spent with carefully selected materials, such as self-explanatory text or student workbooks, will suffice. The one-to-one relationship of parent to child speeds the educational process incredibly, as it offers instant feedback and immediate exploration of questions and issues.

However, the opportunity to travel with children provides a complete curriculum in itself without any extra 'school work' thrown in. You simply need to answer the children's questions, keep an interesting and enthusiastic conversation going about where you are, what you see, why you think life is like the way it is there, what causes this... Don't forget to ask a lot of questions too: be wide eyed explorers of the unfolding landscape. If you approach your travels in this manner your children will learn much more than they ever would at school.

Most of us feel insecure unless we have that pile of school books to reassure us that the children are learning. They aren't really necessary. If you're worried about the basic curriculum requirements ask yourself, "What do I want my child to learn at this age or stage?" Your answers will be guided by what you see other youngsters doing or saying and by what you yourself were doing at the same age. I learned my times tables between ages 6 and 9, hence my children did different activities to learn their tables at those ages. You should be able to come up with answers suitable for your family's unique situation and to suit the individual learning needs of your children. Forget about what the state requires - make education personal. I suspect that your requirements and standards are much higher than the expectations of the school's curriculum.

So how do you 'teach' reading, writing and arithmetic while on the road? I recommend relaxing about all that curriculum stuff and do the following:

Read as you go. Take or buy children's books along the way. Keep costs down by visiting op shops or book exchanges along the way. Read aloud to your children at every opportunity. Read books, local newspapers, magazines, tourist brochures and leaflets, interpretative signs, road signs, as well as classic literature, picture and chapter books, Australian stories. Don't forget poetry - read poetry aloud every day, even if you don't like poetry. It's said that the natural rhythm and rhyme found in songs and poetry teaches more about the structure of writing and language than just about anything else. Play word games; there are dozens of old favourites that you can play in the car. Card and board games, like Uno and Scrabble or Scattergories, will keep the children amused and learning long into the nights. So read aloud and talk, talk, talk... conversation is by far the vehicle we learn the most in life.

I've always found it easy to get children to write, if I don't force them to write a lot of pap just to see if they can do it... Keep a scrapbook and ask the children to illustrate it - a pictorial diary with captions. Give them a small book of quality drawing paper for them to record their thoughts, stories, poems, doodles, mazes, drawings or whatever. I prefer blank pages as they are more versatile but lined exercise books are okay too. Encourage them to write all the time. Give them a bag they can carry their diaries and pencils and encourage sketching. Most people don't associate drawing and writing, but it's a natural. Remember the early European explorers? If you get the chance visit a museum and check out their travel diaries full of sketches and comments about what they've seen, hand drawn maps, explanations. And don't make this activity exclusive to the children - the adults in the party need a travel journal each too! If you instigate this routine on a daily basis you, and their teachers, will be incredibly impressed with their writing skills when you finally arrive home...

Nothing should be forced, but established as a sensible and pleasurable routine. This is an easy way to encourage 'unseen' or 'natural' learning. These travelogues can be intensely private or shared and read aloud frequently - although leave to your children to decide and don't pressure them to share. They will when they are ready.

A few well chosen 'fill in the blank' language books - spelling or homework type books - may amuse the children and build some skills, if they aren't pressured to perform. Children are usually happy to do a page or two a day, supplemented by more meaningful learning activities. And there's no shortage of those when travelling through new vistas, meeting new people, getting to know what each new area has to offer. Don't forget puzzle books, crosswords, mazes - there are dozens of these kinds of materials available for children this age easily found in newsagencies or supermarkets. You'd be surprised at how many of these kinds of things children do in the classroom.

The children's journals can be private (respect this absolutely) or shared, and read aloud frequently - although leave this choice up to your children and don't pressure them to share.

There are a zillion things you can do to encourage learning along the way. Children love to take photos. Buy a second-hand, cheap or disposable camera if you don't feel comfortable letting them use yours. Most towns have one hour processing and the children can have individual photo albums. Encourage them to write captions for the photos, or scribe for them. Personalise the album and it will be treasured for many years.

Before you leave on your adventure visit your library and look for books on good old fashioned games. Make a list of the most suitable ones. Photocopy the rules if you need to. Ask your librarian for magazines or books with ideas for what to do with children when travelling in the car.

When we travel I always buy a scrap book and paste in information brochures and leaflets we pick up along the way after I've read them aloud. The children illustrate these pages with their own drawings or write a few paragraphs about their experiences. These are my favourite homeschooling records as they tell us so much about Australia and about our past. My Dad collected postcards from each place he visited on his around Australia trip - these were slipped into a photo album and made a beautiful record that whetted the appetite of fellow travellers.

You and the children could also take advantage of audio and video technology to record your journey - a few mini-movies, a few taped radio-style shows or documentaries. Listen to the radio as much as possible, or take audio books. And sing. Take sing-a-long tapes by your favourite artists. These don't have to be children's songs; any song where the words are clear will do.

Travelling lends itself to learning maths through real life opportunities - spending pocket money, "how many 'roos can you see", equal portions of food, share lollies evenly, etc. Just live and talk about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Find some mental arithmetic games to play in the car; ask how far is it to the next town, how far have you've been, when will you need to stop for petrol, how much is the car using per kilometre, how far is the car going per litre; the children can help with budgeting; give them an allowance to use for spending; make them responsible for some aspect of the travelling budget; sing multiplication songs (ask at the library for tapes or check out the ABC shop or Dymocks or similar, they should have something)..

Give the children their own map so that they can draw the route and mark in the places they stop. Definitely have one of those map books - it will get past forward and back again all day in the car while travelling.

You're probably getting the idea now... The important thing to remember is relax. No matter what age your children are, so long as you approach this adventure with an adventurous spirit of discovery you'll all do fine. Ask questions and encourage imaginative as well as knowledgeable answers. Stop frequently and get out and 'feel' each place - look at the architecture, ask about the history of the place, ancient as well as recent, discover the creatures that live there... Feel the climate. Keep a weather record of your journey - take readings and record in a weather book (Australian Geographic have good ones, with lots of interesting info for around $40 - or you could make your own and simply take a reference book). You can make simple weather recording devices - while you're still at home look for ideas and instructions on the internet.

Where ever you stop take the time to talk to the locals, as you shop or play each day. Time to play is critical. Play with your children. Visit the local playgrounds and give your children time to play with other children. Always use your imagination to turn 'boring' moments into fun... "What if this land was covered in sea... how do you think that would happen... what creatures would live here..." "If I were a bunyip and I lived here thousands of years ago what kind of house would I build?" Playing with your children is the greatest educational tool you possess. By using your imagination you are encouraging them to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. You are also, without knowing it, covering all areas of the curriculum.

Visit museums. Make them 'come alive' for your children by talking about what you see with imagination. I always ask questions like "What if you were living here, one hundred years ago, and Dad was a whaler and came home with an injured seal pup?" We use our imaginations to help us understand the purpose and place of the artefacts we see.

Without a lot of trouble we've taken care of science and environment and society studies... I'm sure you can think of plenty of ways to cover the health and personal development aspect of the curriculum.

For legalities - write a letter to the school principal and to each class teacher, informing them of your plans. Lots of families take time off and travel. Your school may offer work to go on with - take it with a smile as it may come in useful on cold wet days. You shouldn't need approval to officially homeschool during your long holiday.

I would love to have had the opportunity to do what your family is about to do... We did have the chance but turned it down and built our own home instead... no regrets, especially as all our children are great at design and construction now! But there is so much out there to be explored and discovered. Giving your children wide horizons and the world as a playground... nothing beats that.

I hope I've inspired you to think of educating your children as adventure without limits, without walls, without the need to define it narrowly as a set of curriculum objectives to be achieved in a set time.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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