Resources for Traveling Homeschoolers

education homeschool travel quoteDuring the 2011-2012 US school year I homeschooled my then 11-year-old niece from the road. We based ourselves in Thailand and we explored Southeast Asia for nearly seven months before returning to our home-base in Florida. From this experience, I shared our story of what and how we homeschooled for a year-and-a-half, and by popular demand from readers I created this resource page as a starting point for deciding how you can begin planning your own homeschooling and travel adventure.

And while a year on the road with a kid does not make me an expert, there is a shortage of people discussing the travel-homeschooling combination and in response to dozens of emails I formed this page with the advice I learned over the past few years being a part of the non-traditional education movement. There are many education philosophies, and I’ll touch on the various options, provide outside resources, links, etc that helped me decide how to navigate that year+ of travel and school, and I’d love for this page to become a good resource hub for information that homeschoolers and world-schoolers can use to prepare for travels. If you have a question not addressed here, or some resources I overlooked, leave them in the comments!

Your Main Options for Educating Kids on the Road

Great amounts of grey-areas exist between these two types of homeschooling and there is no exact science to either one.

Homeschooling: Generally involves subject-based learning in at least most of the core knowledge areas: science, math, history, geography, languages. The type and quantity of curriculum varies depending on the family. Homeschoolers based in one place may join co-operatives and take special interest subjects throughout the year in addition to their schoolwork. Some homeschool parents closely mirror the public school with grades, tests, and yearly benchmarks, others may eschew testing and grades but still school within a curriculum framework. Online classes (like what we did) are very much an online homeschool program with curriculum, assignments, and tests, but all is done through the internet and virtual classrooms.

Unschooling: Child-led learning; the children direct their education by expressing interest to their parents. Often the children are given access to deep subject-based knowledge when they’re interested in a subject, and new skills or knowledge areas are introduced at a pace dictated by the child’s interests. Often unschoolers are not involved in standardized testing, or any tests in general.

World-schooling: There seems to be a good deal of variety here and I believe many long-term traveling families who proscribe to a mostly unschool philosophy use this term to refer to the act of allowing real-world situations encountered on the road to guide children and act as a teacher. These children study history and culture at the sites of famous ruins, use math in currency conversions, and springboard their learning from the myriad of experiences that stem from frequent travel.

International schools: If you’re moving overseas to one place for many months you could even go the route of enrolling in an international school—English is often the default language for these schools and most use an accredited curriculum that transfers credits to westernized school systems.

And these are rough guidelines because a world-schooling parent may also throw in a math book to cover those basics on the road. You could formally cover literature and science but rely on history lessons on the road. Be open-minded when you’re researching different methods to find what works best for your child and your travel situation.

What did we do?

For my niece, I covered four core subjects à la more traditional homeschooling, but during our nearly seven months overseas we also took many history lessons from the temples, culture, and ruins of Southeast Asia (outlined here). Our schooling decisions were chosen with many factors unique to the fact that she was my niece, not my child, and thus we combined the wishes of my mother (who is her guardian), also with a mind toward an easy transition back into public school. One day, given my own children, my philosophy would closely align to how I taught Ana, but likely include more flexibility—I greatly jibe with this woman’s road-schooling approach.

Why Consider Long-term Travel and Education

This is a topic I care about and read up on often as new research and theories come out. Below you’ll find long-reads on the state of education, videos, documentaries, and anything else I’ve found interesting in this realm. It’s important to note that I am a prime example of how well the public school system can work; though we were poor I managed to attend a magnet high school, graduate with honors, and win a full merit-based scholarship to the University of Central Florida. This all though, now, as an adult fascinates me because I am intrigued by the possibilities of alternative education and I like to read about it. The hardest part of choosing how to school on the road is determining your own education philosophy. You know mine now, so here are some other things to consider:

I love this talk by Sir Ken Robinson enough to embed it here to watch. He discusses shifting educational paradigms away from an age-based prescription of what children should learn. It goes on to discuss how formal schooling

I’ll update this with more soon, leave your favorite education reads in the comments!

Great Books About Transitioning & Curriculum Planning

On Documenting Education

unschooling-quoteFor US residents, every single state has different education requirements; some states are very homeschool friendly, while others are quite strict and require stringent documentation. Research your state’s laws if you plan to pull them out of public school.

Florida is relatively lenient in homeschooling requirements, and by using our state’s online learning program (for us that is FLVS, others can find options here) we were covered very well in proving equivalent education between what she learned through homeschooling and what she would have learned in traditional school.

Our second year though, we deviated from FLVS and state-law required that we keep a scrap-book (digital or otherwise) to record her learning benchmarks throughout the year. Our book had to illustrate that Ana made progress and advanced her knowledge in whatever topic areas we studied. We did this through writing samples, a list of the books she read, and photos of “field trips” with a mini description of what she learned. It wasn’t extensive, but our book had to have three samples for core knowledge areas: one sample for the beginning of the year, one in the middle, and one at the end.

This mostly matters if you plan to re-enroll after you return from traveling, you need to research state requirements so your child can easily advance to the proper year if this is important to you and them. And if you go the unschooling route, you still need to process paperwork to pull them from the system and file an intent to privately educate your child. This varies from state to state but was simple and took one day to complete in Florida.

Join local homeschool groups, you can find them with a quick online search, and use other parents to figure out your state requirements. You can also call your local school board, which is a route I took for the paperwork, then I used the homeschool groups for recommendations on who could review our book and sign off on Ana passing the school year.

High School

A big concern for many leaving while their child is in high school is a fear they will not get a diploma or enough credit to qualify for University admission. There are heaps of distance learning programs and options to learn on the road and still jump through formal testing requirements.

Further Research/Communities

This resource list should be used for sussing out where you stand and what approach you want to take. This is often the more stressful part of the process, choosing where you stand on the subject and which approach you want to take. This list generally goes from more structured to less structured educating styles, with links at the end to the major unschool online communities.

Of note too is that we aimed for secular curriculum when we could. Many of the great print course-books are conservative, so it’s difficult to find secular texts. The online courses are less religious, which then allows you to add in your religion where you see fit. There are secular homeschooling communities and forums that can help.

Building Travel Themed Lessons

A unique part of any trip, long-term or otherwise, is the ability to pull in amazing lessons and interesting local activities to aid learning and understanding. There are a myriad of ways that you can engage children of any age in the process of travel and help them look for the fascinating nuances in each place. I outlined a few of our ideas here. In general, you want to use pre-trip research to give them enough knowledge that your children can then build on that knowledge with further investigations. I love this piece on homeschooling in Morocco, they outline a clear itinerary that homeschool parents could use in the country to delve deeply. And their integrative ideas at the end of the post could easily be applied to any city or local level travel.

This post I wrote also delves into some of the things we did to investigate our time in Southeast Asia, with activity ideas and quests that my niece undertook during our months on the road. We looked at the local culture and tried to find activities that would engage us with the people, place, and culture. That meant respectful scavenger hunts at the Buddhist temples — we tried to find and document Buddha in all the different hand and sitting positions. Then we would return home to see what they meant. Things like this allowed my niece to interact with the local culture on a different level.

Tackling a Foreign Language as a Homeschooler

Learning a second language as you travel or live abroad is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling. In most U.S. schools, the earliest a student can start learning a foreign language is about 7th grade, or 12-years-old — and in some cases they have to wait until high school. U.S. students are woefully behind the curve in learning second languages. Much of the rest of the world speaks several languages by adolescence. In Europe, this is largely thanks to close borders and a culture of traveling. In developing countries, children often learn a local tribal language, a national language, and English. That’s three or more by adulthood. When taking over my niece’s education we opted to immediately start Spanish. It helps that I speak Spanish, so I could assist with lessons and immersion on bus rides. We also took Thai lessons when we lived in Thailand, and she gained exposure to a tonal language and learned how basic communication with locals. It must be said that the lessons and subsequent attempts at bargaining in Thai were among her favorite parts of living there. So, foreign language can be a big part of traveling as a homeschooler.

Picking a foreign language:

  • If you speak a second language it may the most sense to start there.
  • Are you moving abroad? Of course you’ll want to start there, that way they can more easily learn about your new culture and gain fluency faster.
  • Spanish or Mandarin are the two most widely spoken languages besides English.
  • Does your child have a preference? They may just be fascinated by French or Italian, why capitalize on that interest first.
  • What is a common second language in your hometown. The U.S. is a land of immigrants, so picking a language they can use back home is useful.

My niece and I went with a combination of several of these. Spanish is widely spoken in Florida, our home state, she’s always wanted to learn it, and I speak with moderate fluency.

How to teach your homeschooler a foreign language:

Curriculum by Subject

Alrighty, let’s assume you are going the curriculum route and not unschooling. First, does your state offer free online curriculum (research on K12)? If you have free online resources, you can sample what works for you and potentially lessen the other curriculum you need to buy, or get help in a subject you’re not confident in teaching. Our second year schooling I mixed free online classes from our state with some textbook learning for math and science. Internet is very prevalent, so if you plan to travel slowly you can likely handle the accountability of online classes.

Below you’ll find links to recommended curriculum and/or online resources and games within that subject. The options are endless here, but many of these listed are online or have digital books to lighten your load on the road. This is a sampling of the ones that have crossed my path and most of these have some fees attached.

Each resource has a letter beside it to indicate the general education level. E=elementary, M=middle, H=High, C=College, A=All levels.

General or Multi-Disciplinary Resources

  • Free resources to learn and read nearly anything
  • MobyMax (E, M): This is a complete personalized learning system and comes highly recommended. It’s free and their standards tend to be higher than U.S. standards. If you’re student is testing on-level, they are actually ahead. A great way to check keep track of how your student is doing against peers/school standards.
  • Khan Academy (A): Anytime there is a math subject I don’t quite understand, my niece and I headed here for a better explanation. Fantastic tool to help troubleshoot learning areas.
  • The Great Courses (H, C)
  • Always Ice Cream and Clever Dragons (E, M): Games-based learning that has a heap of gamified learning. Very well done and my niece and nephews both enjoyed it immensely.
  • BrainPop (A): This is used by many schools for games and learning reinforcement. It’s not cheap, but it does have a lot to offer.
  • Fun Brain: Free games in various disciplines for grades K-8.
  • IXL (A): Great practice games for all levels and most subjects.

Math

Science

English/Literature/Spelling

  • WordBuild (E, M): Highly recommended; your student may not love it, but it works. And it’s only 15 minutes a day. It helps with reading comprehension and they will have a strong knowledge base of words and their roots that will serve them well throughout higher grade levels.
  • Excellence in Writing (A)
  • Explode the Code phonics (E)
  • Brave Writer (A)
  • Books by country (A)
  • Spelling City (E, M)
  • Grammaropolis (E, M): Fantastic way to teach and reinforce grammar. My niece and nephews learned a lot and enjoyed this site and the games and learning tools.

History/Geography

Foreign Languages

Did I miss a resource, blog, or community you love? Leave comments here, link to any of your own relevant posts, and let’s create a thorough launching points for traveling parents!  :)

7 Responses to Resources for Traveling Homeschoolers

  1. soultravelers3 January 3, 2014 at 4:08 am #

    Interesting Shannon! I think we have the most experience worldschooling through travel, since we have been on an open ended world tour for the last 8 plus years to 46 countries on 5 continents to raise our child as a fluent-as-a-native trilingual global citizen. Our reason for our world travel is just to educate her and have more time together and it has been an amazing blessing and I think best education in the world. How many kids get to travel their entire primary years, have deep friendships in 3 languages, endless time exploring the world with both parents and feel at home everywhere?

    Like you, we think travel is key to education, so we started when she was 2 weeks old ( started her Mandarin and Spanish education when she was in the womb…despite being monolingual parents) but didn’t start our world tour until she was 5 and reading well. Starting at 12, she began her own entrepreneurial business teaching her 3 languages to adults and kids on 3 continents and writing a series of books about each country she has visited…so homeschooling middle school and high school ( she is already taking high school and college classes) looks like it will be even more fun around the world!

    You can’t really know another culture without knowing the language, so I think that is one of the greatest benefits of long term travel with a child. What a wonder it was to go to China with a blond child who could talk to everyone and read everything…helped us all connect so deeply! MIT Linguist Pinker’s quote, ”One free lunch in the world
    is to learn another language in early childhood.” is sooo true and now she is already reaping the benefits and will for life. Soon we are back to France and Tahiti as she adds French and she can already test out of the Mandarin and Spanish AP classes for both high school and college credits!

    Our daughter is a gifted musician/singer/songwriter, so we’ve also managed to do our world tour with a piano and violin and recently added a didgeridoo and guitar! At 12, she recently finished an advanced senior year in high school music theory course through Johns Hopkins Univ.’s CTY program with an A ( a magnificent organization that she has done many courses through in math, science, literature, writing and more…so add to your homeschool resources). She also just got paid for her first singing gig…singing in Mandarin at a huge Chinese wedding in Asia…the only Caucasian there ..again.

    We are primarily homeschoolers, but have also purposely dipped into local schools in 3 languages and 3 countries for short periods, which has really added so much to her educational experience, community/cultural connection and lifelong friendships around the world. As you know from meeting her in Jordan, she is a very social child, so we made up a system with many “homes” around the world that we return to often which helps her keep up long term friendships.

    She recently was the youngest presenter at the Global Education Conference and said that soon many would have primary years like hers and I think that is true. Our 21st century kids NEED the benefits through travel, culture and language immersion in our shrinking world! So good on you for sharing the experience with your niece and leaving resources for others too!!

    This kind of homeschooling leads to full scholarships to places like Harvard and Standford and they will be tomorrows leaders with a better understanding about just how connected we all are!

    • soultravelers3 January 3, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Oops, sorry about the typo…twas late here. So happy to see your passion for this topic ( as clearly it is one of mine too).

    • Shannon O'Donnell January 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      You three have been on an amazing journey these past years! I loved meeting your daughter in Jordan — she is such a bright and happy child. It’s wonderful you have been able to so specifically tailor her life experiences toward future success. Coupling the travel with such early language and music learning is incredible, and I know she is super creative and passionate with those skills she mastered at such an early age.

      I will definitely add the CTY program to my resources, and I’ll look at programs my niece might like on there! Hellos and hugs to Mozart, and hope you guys are doing wonderfully! :)

    • Ashley June 2, 2015 at 3:42 am #

      I totally agree with this. Our daughter is only 6 months old but we are already on our journey. We are a 3 language household, so our daughter is already learning English, French and Icelandic and we have bought a house in Sweden which will become our home base so she is learning a fourth naturally.
      I don’t think there is a better gift you can give to your child than travelling and spending time with them. When we thought about having children the one thing we didn’t want to do is look back and regretted all the long hours we spent working when she was little.
      Myself and my husband both hated the shackles of school though both played the “game” well and got straight A and I have a Phd and he has a Masters. However, we both want to teach our daughter the joy of learning and creative thought things which traditional schools does not.
      When we have told friends and relatives our plans people have been very negative towards “unschooling” so I am glad to have found like minded people online who don’t think we are throwing our daughter future away.

      • Shannon O'Donnell June 3, 2015 at 12:06 am #

        I think the life you are building for your daughter sounds wonderful Ashley! You will give her a gift so much greater than just structured knowledge. And it’s hard for other people to accept that children are natural learners and can be guided into brilliance without the formal schooling system. Like you, I thrived and excelled in school, but I also saw firsthand how my niece was able to absorb so much from the world around her. Best of luck!

  2. GoingAnyway October 30, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Shannon this is so great. I use a number of these, but many are new to me and I look forward to checking them out when I find some decent wifi. thanks very much!

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 30, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Hi hi! Glad some look useful, a few are fun and worth the signup fee for maths and whatnot if you have internet to make it useful to have time on them. Ana and her brother really dig the game aspects. Hello to the kiddos from us both! :)

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