During 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:
- Waiting for Superman: A documentary on the current state of the US public school system with a strong look at how it’s under-serving minorities and our nation’s poor. It’s a great, engaging documentary worth watching. That link goes to Amazon, or it’s on Netflix too.
- How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses: Great long-read on Wired about how some teachers are finding success in changing up their teaching methods.
- What we should have been taught in our senior year of high school: This is a comic from the Oatmeal, and it’s a fun poke at the practical application of what we have to learn in public school.
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
- The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith
- So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling by Lisa Whelchel
- Homeschool Your Child for Free: More Than 1,400 Smart, Effective, and Practical Resources by Gold and Zielinski
- Books to Build On: A Grade-by-Grade Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers by E.D. Hirsch
On Documenting Education
For 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.
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.
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.
- This is a list of homeschooling families (as of 2015). They would make good research and email contacts to see what they are up to.
- Road-schooling 101: This road-schooling mom has a wonderful, detailed post on how she educated her children during very long-term, perpetual travel and has resources for every age level. She has a strong formal education bent, while diving deep into her philosophy on world-schooling as well. Lots of resources and her personal site is also great.
- What is unschooling? Earl Stevens shares a very well-thought perspective on precisely what it means to homeschool.
- The Pioneer Woman
- Penelope Trunk
- Facebook pages: here, here, here, here
- An Aussie homeschooling family outlines the how-tos for homeschooling Australians.
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:
- There are heaps of free or low-cost resources online. Some are gamified, others are more classroom-structured. It only depends on what will work best with your travel and teaching schedule.
- Consider software like Rosetta Stone, free language resources, online classes, hire a private tutor via Skype, use free sites like DuoLingo, take classes on the road. There’s help out there at every price and intensity level.
- I like this piece on teaching your student passive skills in a language. Even if you can’t fit in a full curriculum as you travel, this is a great way to lay the groundwork for a new language.
- I subscribed to Audible while we were on the road so that she could listen to region-specific audiobooks (or fun ones too) while we were on long bus rides!
- This list of the best education podcasts might spark some new ideas and opportunities.
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.
- IXL (A): Great practice games for all levels and most subjects.
- Comparison of science curriculums (A)
- Kinetic Books online (A)
- Radiolab podcast (A): My niece and I both enjoyed listening to these on the road.
- How Stuff Works podcast (A)
- 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.
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! :)