Why we choose home education, travel with kids and worldschooling (and how we do it)
We have chosen an alternative education path for our children, and although such choices are becoming more and more popular, they are still not very well understood by most people. I’ve just spent a whole week writing a report that details how Dante is learning outside of school, for our first home education review. It is wonderful to have everything we do collated in one place! I thought you might like a summary of it to better understand why we choose to educate our kids this way, and how it works at home and while travelling.
Why we chose home education
For individualised, stress-free learning
The main reason we chose home education is that we believe we can do a better job than the current school system. Individualised learning is always going to be more interesting and beneficial to a child (or adult) than mass learning. Even the Australian Government has recently supported improving schools in this manner, backing the Gonski report which states that the country:
“must urgently modernise its industrial-era model of school education and move towards individualised learning for all students”. (Malcolm Turnbull backs Gonski report call to move from mass learning to tailored education)
Our school system is better than no education, but it’s not ideal. The formalities that come with caring for so many kids at once mean that much of student’s time is not used for actual educating. Bullying is common, and schools are often focussed on competition and meeting specific outcomes, which I believe is detrimental to children. Especially for younger kids — whose personalities are still forming and whose identity is being shaped each day by the people and situations around them — adding these stresses to their lives is not conducive to their learning or happiness.
Students can learn very well outside of a classroom, and they don’t need pressure or tests to progress. Kids can also make plenty of friends without going to school. Most people question ‘socialisation’ the most when confronted with a family who home educates, as if that is the main reason for schools to exist! (Yet I recall being told to stop socialising many times at school!) Rest assured, there are plenty of opportunities to make friends and play for home-schooled kids. Most areas, including our town Mildura, have home education networks, plus children have sports and other activities to learn the vital art of socialising.
Dante and Allegra have many friends and they easily meet and talk to new children, older and younger than themselves, at public places like the playground. One mum we met at the park last year was amazed when she found out my kids were homeschooled. The had been playing beautifully with her own children, and she asked what school Dante attended. I explained our situation and the look of amazement on her face was priceless! She replied with something like “but, they have social skills!” and I just laughed, as unfortunately that reaction is common. I’m glad we’re changing the stereotype, and I hope these kinds of assumptions disappear soon as they’re very outdated.
We were also happy to find they can play with other children even when they don’t even speak a common language. Our kids had a great time with Shira, a little boy who lived at one of our home-stays in Thailand, and they often found kids to run around with when we were exploring or out for dinner. And Dante had such a wonderful day with a boy from China when we were in Cambodia (who could speak English) that they are still penpals now!
To learn more than the standard education curriculum
Schools must focus on traditional academic areas, and most do to the exclusion of treating education in a much broader sense. We value an education that encompasses adventures and explorations, creativity and imagination, moral and emotional intelligence, very practical knowledge such as managing finances, parenting, creating income and household skills, and learning about how we learn and how our brains work so we can optimise our lives. I realise some of these areas are assumed to be taught by parents outside of school, but in many cases they are not.
What is more important, truly, to a person’s life: knowing how to be financially stable, or learning algebra? Knowing how to parent their children well, or knowing the dates that wars began and ended? Developing habits to stay fit and healthy for life, or developing the proper handwriting technique that conforms to their State’s parameters?
I’m not saying that my children won’t learn maths, history or writing. I am saying, with definite resolve, that learning a particular form of handwriting that our state government deems ‘proper’ is not something I will spend time doing with them. Dante can write legibly and each time he practices, he improves. No adult is tested on their adherence to cursive perfection, so why should our kids be?
Dante is also learning maths and history, and will learn advanced forms of them if he’s interested and it’s relevant to him. Our kids can learn war dates and mathematical theory at any time, as children or adults. If they need to for a job or personal project in the future, I have no doubt of their capability to do so. By then they will also know how they learn best, how to research and how to develop the skills they need. They’ll also know how to look after themselves and have the confidence and passion to steer their lives any direction they choose.
To have the freedom to travel
Home education is the best choice to facilitate extended travel experiences as a family. We believe that there probably isn’t a greater way to learn than by experiential learning all around the world. Travel is widely acknowledged as the great equaliser, mind-opener, and prejudice-breaker. It’s pretty hard to travel and then return home unchanged.
Travel also provides unparalleled opportunities for learning, and so ‘worldschooling’ has become a phenomenon as many families choose to give their kids the world for a classroom. We can go to the source to learn about history, culture and art. We can see the wonders of the world, take a cooking class in any country we like, and learn a language by practicing it with native speakers. And the actual travelling process also gives us many lessons about life, people and different places too.
Read more about how we prepared our children for worldschooling.
We value other cultures and want our kids to see just how differently people can live to us, but how similar we all really are inside. We value being out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves in new situations. And we value being together, having adventures together, learning and growing together. It is great for Dante and Allegra to see Anthony and I learning right alongside them, so they know learning is a life-long voyage and that adults don’t have all the answers.
To spend more time together
It’s also wonderful just to be with our kids a lot, strengthening our family unit and designing our life in a way that enables us to be close. Children’s confidence and self-esteem grow best when they have available and attentive parents/caregivers. Living in this way, we get to be with our kids much more than if they went to school, and we have purposely created a life that allows us all follow our dreams and really spend time together. Spending the majority of our kid’s childhoods with them, on adventures that take us wherever we wish to go, seems to us like the best way we can show them how much we love and value them.
To decide on our lifestyle and adventures as a family
We returned from South East Asia in January this year instead of continuing on to Mexico and Central America as we’d planned, as the kids were getting homesick. We’d been away for four months and they were ready to see extended family and friends again, so we listened and came home. And now we’ve been back for a few months they’re happy to be leaving again — but not for America. They let us know they wish to stay closer to home for awhile, so we changed plans to a trip around Australia instead!
They’re happy to travel if it’s a bit more familiar than last time, and we’re all pleased that we’ve found a solution that works for everyone. Our plans are not just mine and Anthony’s: they’re a family decision. We will not cart our kids anywhere if they don’t want to go. And we will stay put in a home base whenever any one of us needs it.
Taking responsibility for our children’s learning was a big decision, and we didn’t take it lightly. But we figured that school would always be there if this didn’t work out, for the kids or for us. If they were not learning, or if any of us became unhappy with the arrangement, we could try school instead. (Part-time school is always an option also: did you know that was possible? Most people don’t realise it, but we know several families who have enrolled their kids part-time to access specific subjects at school. If the school is receptive to it, it’s usually a very successful option.)
We believed we could at least give it a good try, and that it wouldn’t disadvantage them, so the decision was made. And so far it’s working very well! They’re developing at their own speeds, with no competitiveness or pressure to get to a specific stage at a certain time. They do not have to worry about bullying, falling behind or being too advanced for their age group. Their confidence is increasing all the time, and they’re free to explore their passions as much as they wish.
With the freedom to choose what they want to do each day, they’re learning and practicing things that they’re interested in, and thus enjoying their education and retaining the knowledge optimally. And they have the close attention of the people who love them most, and an opportunity that many people never get: to really explore the world!
Read on to see the different ways they learn, and how life can be lived without school.
How home education works
The legal stuff
Home schooling is legal in most countries, including Australia. We must register with the Department of Education for our state or territory each year, and adhere to their requirements. These usually include indications of subjects that must be covered and periodical reviews of a child’s progress.
However, we don’t have to educate our kids in a particular way. We don’t have to purchase a specific curriculum, or any curriculum if we don’t want to. We must be able to show that our children are learning across the areas deemed necessary by the government, but how we cover that is up to each individual family. (I want to add here: home educators receive no government benefits or assistance with our resources. It is all paid for out of our own pockets. The only assistance we get comes from home education networks that we can join, for a fee, who organise discounts for members).
How we do it
We have always followed the kid’s interests and let them take the lead in their learning. It’s a fairly relaxed approach but much still happens each day! The best way to describe what we do is child-led, eclectic learning I think. It is often called ‘unschooling’ as we don’t use a curriculum or have a schedule. We access resources as we need them for the kids, and we provide many opportunities for learning through experiences. This way of learning is very beneficial, and as we passed our first home education review with flying colours recently, it is great to see it being recognised by the authorities.
I see our role as parents to be available and engaged facilitators, who are in tune with what our children enjoy and what’s useful for them. We provide access to appropriate resources that will help them, and we provide for experiences and opportunities that they may take on and learn from. We don’t test them, or stay up for hours at night designing lesson plans. We also don’t create a mini-school at home!
We do research resources and activities, and we usually involve the kids in any decisions or changes. We mostly ensure we have time to spend with them each day, and a range of interesting things to do around us. Then we all work together to decide what to do, depending on where we are and what needs to be done that day. It’s pretty simple actually!
When they’re very little like Allegra still is (3), it’s all about playing together. Having time to play pretend games, build things and do crafts, get outside and explore and reading together and the main things we do. Both of my kids loved to paint when young, and using playdough and duplo, dressing up and creating forts and imaginary worlds are favourite activities. We’ve attended music classes together and love to go to kid’s theatre and shows that come to town. Board and card games are also fun sometimes, and Dante quite liked activity books from a young age too.
Now that Dante’s older, his tastes have changed but we still allow him full choice in what he learns each day, and playing together is still important. We have a gentle structure in place, so he knows that in the morning he must choose from doing some maths online, continuing with Spanish lessons, writing to his penpal, or trying a science experiment.
Sometimes we have a new online kid’s learning magazine to read together or a project like making a card for someone special too. He gets straight into this work during and after breakfast, and then the rest of the day is for being outdoors, free-play, household chores, running errands together, or catch-ups with friends or our home ed group.
The morning work never lasts for more than an hour, and it works well doing it first thing, while we’re all fresh. And it’s plenty of focussed learning time at Dante’s age (7). He still learns all day in so many ways: playing Minecraft, drawing superheroes, going on an excursion with our home ed group, riding his bike, negotiating a game at the playground, helping me cook, building lego, going hiking or swimming, reading and listening to audiobooks and much more.
What’s also great about having the time to choose his activities most of the day, is that he doesn’t have to switch modes if he’s really absorbed in what he’s doing. He can spend three hours playing lego if he’s enjoying it! I love seeing their passions able to be explored until their own energy or enthusiasm fades.
Above: on one of our home education group excursions at our local fire station.
How this way of educating covers the specified learning areas
As an example of how following an interest can cover many different learning areas: Dante has been right into Star Wars this year. It’s been wonderful to enjoy it with him, and it has easily become a topic we can centre many activities around, including:
- watching all of the movies together (visual arts)
- reading many books about the saga (English literacy, reading and grammar)
- playing games together related to Star Wars, and often speaking like Yoda (languages, martial arts, imagination)
- playing Star Wars apps (information tech, reading)
- playing the Star Wars version of Pictopia, a great trivia game (reading, counting, memory recall: Dante remembers much more than we do about the storyline!)
- hand-drawing characters and light sabres, and designing new ships and weapons (hand-eye coordination, art, imagination)
- lots of great conversations about space, followed up with YouTube clips about solar systems and exoplanets (sciences)
- building Star Wars ships out of Lego (design and technology, sciences)
- completing Star Wars colouring and activity books (writing, drawing, maths, reading)
It hasn’t been several months of total focus on Star Wars, but it has been a general theme lately. All of these activities have been willingly undertaken, and Dante is still asking to do more of nearly all of these things! Getting to a specific outcome from each activity hasn’t been the goal: naturally learning across different areas just happens within enjoying a topic from many angles.
Another example: as we prepared for a road-trip around Australia, I researched some activities and materials related to our country. I found a puzzle that divides the states and territories and shows their different flags, I also printed some maps so they could follow our route and decorate them as they wish, and we found some indigenous Australian resources to reference, too.
Of course, experiential learning about Australian history and culture formed a big part of our trip. I loved that we had the room to bring along some activities this time! But even if we didn’t, it would’ve been ok: they still learn and retain much from the experiences, and we create scrapbooks with photos of their favourite things too.
Resources & activities we use to meet our State’s learning areas
The eight learning areas we must cover for acceptable home education in our home state of Victoria are:
- Humanities and Social Sciences
- The Arts
- Health and Physical Education
- Information and Communication Technology, and Design and Technology
We meet them in many ways, and as you saw previously many activities cover several areas at once. It is common — and I think more useful and natural — to learn many topics at the same time. Learning just one small topic at once makes it more difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of life, and often renders it boring. But still, we offer many resources and see what suits the kids and how they best learn.
Both children have had access to computers and tablets from a young age, and we research programs, apps and games that are suitable and beneficial for them. It’s a wonderful time to be home educating, as there are so many quality resources available online! This is how Dante meets the criteria:
Reading – library books, our own books, audiobooks. Dante can read well but we still read aloud to him daily too.
Writing and spelling – activity books, cards and letters to friends and family, word games and puzzles.
Online resources: Starfall, Montossori crosswords app, and basically all apps now as they require some level of reading. For e-books while we travel we use Epic and the Library’s electronic borrowing systems.
Froebel teaching aids, activity books, counting books. Cooking and lego are great for maths. Playing cards and board games like Rummiking and Monopoly have also been excellent. Converting Ringgit to Australian dollars in Malaysia was a wonderful exercise in a real-world application of maths.
Online resources: Starfall when younger, Mathletics currently. Apps including Montessorium: Intro to Math, Park Math by Duck Duck Goose and Marble Math Jnr.
Chemistry experiments, snap circuit kit, lego, and other building projects, junior microscope and slides. Borrowing a lightbox from our toy library (multiple times!). Volunteering to help sea turtles and observing elephants in the wild have been excellent experiences in natural science.
Online resources: Youtube clips, apps when he was younger including Syd the Science Kid and Toca Boca games: Toca Robot Lab, Toca Lab: Elements, and Toca Nature. Now he loves Minecraft and Toca Blocks. We recently trialled Supercharged Science but it was too advanced for him at this stage.
4 Humanities and Social Sciences
World map and animals poster project, participating in Australian historical events and celebrations. Homestays with families overseas, discussing different customs, laws and monetary systems as we travelled to other countries. Visiting significant places such as Mungo National Park, Angkor Wat, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, and the Cambodian Royal Palace.
Dante used to have a small business collecting bins for our neighbours, so he is also familiar with how businesses work and the economic system.
5 The Arts
Painting, drawing, instruments, dancing. Attending kid’s performances and the International Children’s Film Festival. Music Together classes and poetry teatime at home. Attending museums and galleries, and cultural dances and performances as we travel.
Online resources: apps Mussila, Toca Dance and Lego Friends Music Maker.
Learning basic words in other countries we’ve visited: our kids can still say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Malay, Thai and Khmer. Playing with English by talking like Yoda for a day, or talking in Pig Latin. Learning Spanish before our next overseas trip!
7 Health and Physical Education
Swimming, cycling, hiking, scooting. Martial arts class and some yoga classes. Playgrounds with friends and obstacle courses at home. Ball games and frisbee.
Discussions and books about healthy eating. Growing vegetables and fruit in our garden. Excursions to a milking goat farm, free-range egg farm and to watch a honey extraction.
Travelling sustainably, discussing endangered species and planetary health.
Online resources: Cosmic Kids yoga, Global Guardian Project kid’s e-magazines.
8 Information and Communication Technology, and Design and Technology
Lego building: following instructions and free-designing. Emailing his friend in China, helping Ant tune TV’s and fix computers. Creating Stop-Motion videos with lego characters. Sketching new designs and maps.
Online resources: Stop Motion studio app, Minecraft.
As you can see, it’s easy to find ways to meet these learning areas! Most of these resources and activities address more than one topic, and most have been used just because they are of interest and relevance to him.
The other, just-as-important learning areas that are being addressed!
As I mentioned earlier, we value real-world learning and non-academic areas of knowledge just as much as these more traditional topics. Our kids have time and energy to help with the running of the household: shopping, cooking, and cleaning. We don’t force it but encourage them to help out with jobs of their choosing each day, and include them in travel planning too. We are involving Dante in more financial discussions now he’s older, and he will help with the budgeting for our trip around Australian soon.
Importantly, regarding their energy levels: they’re learning to be in tune with their bodies and rest whenever they need to. Perhaps no-one needs to learn this, just not un-learn it by overriding their bodily impulses to stick to a schedule? Whatever the case, they get to practice listening and responding to their body’s messages, which I still have trouble doing sometimes. We live a slower-paced life than many, and I constantly tweak it to ensure it stays that way. It’s so easy to over-commit and do too much each week.
And the kinds of learning that occur from travelling together are so rich and varied, it’s hard to even describe it all. We are all learning about modes of transport, world geography and history, modern and ancient cultures. We must adhere to external rules, and learn how to live within very different circumstances.
We learn new words and experience how to relate to people from other cultures, and we discover the impact that culture and history has on a group of people, including ourselves. We learn much about ourselves in the process: what we’re capable of, what we’re willing to agree and compromise on, what we really enjoy and what we can live without.
Finally, our travels and lifestyle are focussed on sustainability, which provides more layers of learning. Dante and Allegra are experiencing travel that is eco-friendly wherever possible, so they are learning about renewable energy and the problems with fossil fuels. We support ethical and socially-responsible operators at home and while travelling, so we often chat with them about why some companies are only focussed on profits while others work to help communities.
We model reducing, reusing and recycling in our daily life, and we help with projects that they can be involved in too. (All of these activities can be practiced regardless of a family’s school situation of course; I include it here to demonstrate further things our children learn about in daily life.)
I hope that gives you a good understanding of how life can be lived without school! Kids learn in so many ways, just as adults do, all the time. It is not a more difficult life because we home educate; it is a connected and happy life that we continue to choose all the time. It is not always perfect; we’re human and we have bad days sometimes. But they’ve never been bad enough to make us rethink this journey.
Choosing to spend quality time with our kids when they need it the most is a blessing, for all of us. And fostering a love of learning, not hatred of education, is a wonderful benefit of child-led learning.
We believe that we’re providing our kids the opportunity to learn really important life lessons by choosing this path. They’re learning how to live happily and authentically, with a reverence for nature and a deep understanding of how to look after themselves. They’re learning to be at home in the world, and many ways to avoid harming it and helping it heal. They’re learning know how to communicate with and respect people of all cultures and nationalities. And they’re learning that life doesn’t have to be lived by anyone else’s standards or expectations!
We all have the power to live differently, and the power to change our lives at any time. Alternative educational paths are always a possibility, just as much for you as for us, if you desire it. However you live it, make sure the life you live is the one you really wanted.
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