Saturday, November 12, 2011

The school of the road.

Before we left Daylesford we had a meeting with the principal of our girls' school. We told him of our plan to travel this enormous land of ours. We assured him that as well as all the exploring there would be journal keeping, book reading and blog writing. He loved the idea. Together we agreed that the lessons learned on the road would be important ones and he wished us well and sent us on our way.

I am great at listing the benefits of the school of the road to anyone who asks. I have no trouble justifying how improved their geography is, how wonderful their Australian history, their social studies, their life skills.

But I am not very good at the real schooling part. I thought I'd be better.

I watch other parents in the caravan park patiently sitting with their kids doing maths and spelling and reading and writing. Sometimes I hear the kids in the shower blocks discussing what module they are up to and how many weeks until they are finished. I hear parents rushing their kids out of the pool to finish their maths.

That makes me feel guilty.

And so I buy activity books and make them fill in the pages. And we read together and journal and sometimes I sit my girls down in front of pieces of white paper and give them the first sentences of stories... 'It happened at sunset...' and 'Once when I dived deep down under the waves...' I start them off and they write pages and pages and then read them out to us proudly.

Then I feel like the best Mum in town and vow to make them do schooling more often. But the next day we head out on a boat early and the day after that we pack up and leave the caravan park and drive somewhere new and the day after that the concept of schooling has long been forgotten.

I always assumed that they would watch me and my farmer boy read book after book, writing my blog and my journal and want to do the same. I assumed they would want some sort of structure. Some sort of schooling. But they don't.

My kids would rather play, swim, make stuff or draw.

And then a few months into this trip I watched as my middle kid took ages to write a postcard and my eldest preferred to read a magazine than a book and I worried. I know that they are not keeping up with what their classmates are doing back home but I do not want them to go backwards either.

They do have journals filled with drawings and descriptions of places we've been and things we've seen and done. Miss Indi had a rating system, one through ten, for everything. And Miss Jazzy draws elaborate drawings. But is this enough??

They have visited almost every type of museum and sanctuary and gallery and natural attraction that you can imagine. 

And experiences along the way have lead to in depth conversations and discussions on issues like indigenous rights, refugees, remote living, respect, history, art and culture. Conversations that have a depth of understanding and feeling because of what they have witnessed and experienced.

One such lengthy discussion happened one night after dinner in Eighty Mile beach. There was a man there called Bill who spent his days driving his four wheel motor bikes up and down the beach looking for suspicious activity. He had coast watch signs on all his bikes and *Billawood detention centre sign on his cabin. 

We spoke about the refugee situation for hours. The maturity of opinions and the understanding that was evident in this timely debate filled me with confidence and pride.

I have no doubt that my girls are ahead of their peers in some subjects. They have had experiences and learned lessons that you could never get in a classroom or a book. My fear is that they will go back to school next year and struggle with the academic subjects. My hope is that they will have a maturity that will enable them to realise the work that has to be done to catch up and get on with it.

Time will tell.

See ya!

* a play on the his name and the Villawood detention centre


  1. As a homeschooling Mum for the past 8 years to 2 boys 14 and 17, I would like to say that what your girls get out of 6 months of travel around this wonderful country of ours will be remembered forever and what they have learned will not be able to be measured. If you are interested google natural learning or child-led learning and you will see that this is what you are doing. My 17 year old natural learning child was accepted into Uni at the age of 16, (turned 17 on day 1).
    Contiue to enjoy your trip and your children.
    Cheers Kathryn

  2. I will be interested to see how you feel when you return, we often have this feeling that everyone else is making progress while we are 'away'. I doubt the other kids learn too much, they will just be learning about different topics.

    Am also interested as when we plan our trip, our youngest will be due to start school, we are not sure if she will just start a year late or will we travel school her and she then starts school at age 6? And our big girl will be 8, by then and will need some schooling so do we just do them both together...I have no idea. I just want to get travelling.

  3. There is time for them to catch up on the academic subjects should they need to. This trip will be an experience that they will remember forever so I would not worry too much in your place.

  4. I could bet you money Kate that your kids will not be behind ONE little bit.
    Be sure in your heart that this trip is SOOOOO much bigger in what it is providing your girls than any formal education EVER could.
    Don't be afraid.
    Continue to be proud of what you have created.

  5. So good to catch up with your blog again Kate. Sounds to me like they're learning things that teachers in classrooms can only dream of 'teaching' to their children. Your girls will hold that knowledge inside them forever. It's an amazing gift.

    (and as for Billawood, if it wasn't so unfortunate I'd crack up laughing)

  6. Kate, rest assured they will be FINE!

    My parents took me and my 2 sisters and 1 brother on a 2 month caravan trip around the USA when I was 10 and we turned out A-Ok!!!

    There will be time for catch up later, if needs be. Let them live and have fun adventuring now!

  7. The experiences and exposure that your girls are getting on this journey Kate are so much more than they could ever get in 'school' and I am sure you would be surprised at just how much they have taken in.
    Children have the natural ability to learn in so many different ways and in so many different environments that far outnumber the way they are taught in school. Be confident in the fact that you are enrichening their lives beyond measure :)


  8. They are going to be fine, absolutely! Don't have mother guilt when you are providing an experience in a real living breathing family missions of children can only dream of. Enjoy it Kate. Love your blog and happy belated birthday. I was just reading my kids 'Are we there yet?' by Alison Lester (it is their favourite for bedtime) and thought of your family. Have fun and don't let worries creep in x

  9. HI Kate. Don't stress it! I've been teaching for just over 20 years now. They'll be fine. You are giving them soooo much more than they can be given in a classroom of 25+students. TRUE!! If they were performing ok before you embarked on your trip, they will just pick up where they left off... I have seen it many times. :)

  10. Kate i wouldn't stress about, it sounds like they are learning so much and real life stuff too, applicable learning if that makes sense. More school in my opinion should provide the sorts of life experience types of learning.
    THey are still young too, they have plenty of time to catch up. And all kids are ahead of each other on some things and behind on others. Like adult too.
    SOunds to me like you're doing a brilliant job . xoxo

  11. Another Mum here who home schooled two of her four. They know, those girls of yours, what they need to learn, and they will be learning it. There is so much that is important that schools don't teach. I spent a lot of time worrying that my two might lose out, even though I was totally convinced that we were doing what was right for them. The elder now has a BA and an MBA, the younger started uni at 16, studying Maths and Computing. But if many see that as the measure of our success, what I look to to know we did good is that they are confident, caring, compassionate, carefree young adults.
    Celebrate the school of the road Kate, and don't worry x

  12. I think I'd be worrying about the same things as you Kate, but then I also agree that the things they are learning are invaluable and that they'll be way ahead of the pack in other ways. I remember being amazed a few years ago now at just how little 'actual learning' happens in primary school. I don't think it'll take them too long to catch up and the principal obviously didn't think there was a problem. Face it when it comes (if it comes). You can always get a maths tutor later after you return if need be. In the meantime enjoy all these amazing experiences and life lessons while you have them... that's what I think :) Love your story writing sessions - how fabulous. Kx

  13. As a primary teacher, I can assure you that your girls have learned things that you cannot even begin to list (even if you wanted to). Balance all of their experiences, and all the talking and time you have spent together, whatever writing and reading you fitted in, all of the physical activity (I could go on) with a few hours a day in a crowded classroom with a grade of children all at different places...some very demanding...(I could go on) and your girls will come out way on top. Don't worry about it.

  14. On op of echoing the comments everyone else has made let me add that you are probably doing loads of number work and such without even thinking about it. Do you discuss distance? How far we have to travel in how many hours? Do they help with the shopping or the cooking? What about estimating the numbers of creatures in a rockpool? All of those things are maths and you shouldn't discount the impact of general discussions and activities. Your girls will have learned hard sciences such as geology and astronomy and all sorts of fabulous things that aren't even considered in most classrooms.

    Both the grown-up me and the little kid version are soooooooo envious of this fabulous life event you have all undertaken. Once again, thanks for sharing.

  15. The experiences that you are giving your children will stand them in very good stead when they get back to school. I 'un-schooled' my middles son for two years and he just started highschool in September. While we were not disciplined about academics and he was a little worried that he would be behind, the only thing he has had any difficulty with is gauging how much time his assignments and studying will take which is something almost every student entering highschool is challenged by and he has been shocked by the lack of general knowledge he sees in his peers. Continue to enjoy leading them on this voyage of discovery.

  16. I wouldn't worry, you are teaching them life skills and experiences that will mean so much more than learning times tables in the classroom.

  17. As a high school teacher and mom of 4 kids I think what you are doing with your family is truly the best gift you can give them. A rich and full to the brim bank of memories of people and places and experiences which they will drawn on for the reminder of their lives. The math, the English classes, the periodic table ( sorry, had to throw that in, I am a chem teacher after all) will all be there when they get back. And they sure seem to be bright inquisitive kids so they'll pick it all up when they need to. I am enjoying reading of your adventures and certainly hope to get out to your neck of the woods's just an awful long way from Canada to Australia on a teacher's pay. All the best. Ann

  18. HI Kate I worried when we were on our 3 mth trip. I don't know why, apart from one hiccup with the youngest when we returned it was fine. All the teachers remarked how much the kids had matured.

  19. Oh Kate. Your children ARE getting the best education from you! Better they can get in any classroom in any school. Our educational system can be quite backwards at times (coming from a teacher)... Know that you and your children will be richer for your travels and the lessons will last a lifetime. If it helps, you might like to read anything by John Holt. Jade x

  20. I think your children are getting the best education there is...the school of life!

    I bet they are learning a lot more than their classmates back home are, and they are having fun while doing it!

    Just enjoy your quality time with them Kate.

  21. I don't think you have to worry Kate. It's all good.

  22. your kids have, and will continue to learn so much from you guys. the academic stuff will come. I asked my son's teacher if it was okay if he took some time off so we could go on a holiday and he was all for it. He that during the war they pushed 3 year degrees out in 18 months which just goes to show how much faffing about they do. Sure it's important to know the basics but if a mind is open to learning it will learn :)
    Enjoy your trip - don't ever feel guilty - I can't begin to list the pro's of what you guys are doing for your kids :)
    ps - and yes - I'm still jealous!!

  23. I wouldn't stress too much Kate. They will be excited to get back and start the new school year with their peers and I am certian that they will pick up and catch up on what they may have missed. What you are giving them is an adventure that can not be taught within the four walls of a class room.

  24. I am sure they'll be fine! They have had so many new and varying experiences and a mind full of new thoughts to build on what they already know! You are building a memorable year into their lives.

  25. Even if they are a little behind in some ways when you get back they will be ahead in so many other ways! I was 9 when we travelled around Australia for a school term. I was behind in maths afterwards but that was more to do with also moving from Qld to NSW and the different curriculums. And I caught up without too many worries. Also, I had two former primary school teacher parents and they only did the sorts of ad hoc things with us on our trip that you are describing here.

  26. Hi Kate,
    Another mum here who has homeschooled whilst traveling.We lived abroad for the past 5 or so years and homeschooled the kids- giving them time to travel as we wanted to and make our family life a priority over rigid school terms etc. What a difference the school of life made to our kids! We are now back in Oz the kids have started school- but ....we are renovating an old '81 Coronet van- so perhaps a big trip will be planned!
    Relax, the kids will not be behind when they return, they will have learned so much from your trip away, none of which can be taught from books.

  27. Your kids will always be way ahead of the game....just look at their parents xx

  28. Hi, as everyone else has said, don't worry they are learning so much and can pick up other things later.
    But to echo trash's comment, if you're worried about maths, try to get them more involved in calculating: distance to the next stop, how long will it take if we are going at 100km p/hr, how much will half a kilo of bananas cost, how much change will I get from $20, how many hours to sunset... Start thinking about all the little calculations you are doing routinely every day and get them to do some. They could even keep a tally in their journals of how many birds seen, how many km travelled, and add them up each week. Maths is learnt much better in context anyway.

  29. I envy the gifts you are sharing with your family... enjoy

  30. i hear you loud and clear kate. i felt so guilty when i heard other families discussing their tuition efforts. it usually whipped me into a home schooling frenzy that lasted a day! we were away for three months from grade 6 for abbey and grade 4 for tom. they have been back for a week and have not expressed any concerns about falling behind. their teachers are amazed at their new level of confidence and maturity but more so at their passion for everything to do with the trip. they have been talking non stop about everything they saw and learned. the geology, the wildlife, indigenous culture, art, stories....... i have no doubt whatsoever that the road trip has been the gift of their lives so far
    noteworthy note-the word verification is raver! what the

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Kate XX

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