Road Schooling

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Road Schooling

Yasmine Davy Watts

We live in an age of increasingly flexible working options, coupled with ever-growing connectedness through the internet. As a result, families are taking charge of their lives in a way that hasn’t been possible before. No longer shackled to rigid 9 to 5 hours at a desk in an office, more and more families are taking up long-term travel as a lifestyle choice. Many more would like to, but one thought stops them: what about the children’s education? 

Picture the world as your child’s classroom. There are no walls, there is no timetable, no school bell and no homework. Imagine instead the vast richness of culture, history, geography, engineering and nature that abounds all around us in the country and in the city. Right here in your own home town, just up the road behind that squeaky kissing-gate, there might be a wooded path with wonders of insect and plant life and a unique geology specific to the area. There may be a local museum, lovingly tended by volunteers keen to share their fond knowledge of their own history. Maybe you live in a city near a towering skyscraper who’s mathematical perfection gleams in the sunlight. Then imagine these things multiplied and diversified across the nations and regions of the world. It takes your breath away, doesn’t it? 

These things are the foundation of road schooling. 

Road schooling in practice 

In many countries homeschooling is now an accepted alternative to formal school-based education and, in a practical sense, road schooling is a way to take home schooling on the road. Road schooling can look very different for every family and and doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. The great thing about road schooling is that it can be completely flexible around any one family’s need and practicalities. Some families travel full time, roaming the world or their own country following work or whim. Others work out ways to travel a few months here and there, with long periods settled down in one place for work and school in between. Some families live in a house and send their children to traditional school but are drawn to immerse themselves in the world around them through family excursions and weekends away. Some families take a highly organised and disciplined approach to road schooling. They purchase formal curriculums from distance education organisations and schedule their travels and visits to coincide with those curriculums. They buy books for further reading based on the curriculum and the places they have been and the things they have seen. Others, like our family, think of road schooling as life-learning on the road. We look for learning opportunities in everything we do or see and we follow and expand on the interests and natural curiosity of the child. Whatever your approach, road schooling will fit the needs of your children and the lifestyle of your family. 

A day in the life of a road schooling family 

Just over a year ago we made the life-changing decision to sell our house in the South-East of England, and pretty much everything in it to move to Australia and travel full time in a caravan. 

We had always planned to home educate and as our son reached school age in England and his peers went off to school it suddenly made sense for us to take home education on the road. 

We don’t think of learning as something that starts at 9am on a school day and finishes when the bell rings. It doesn’t start when we turn five and finish when we leave school or university. We both have an insatiable curiosity about the world around us and see ourselves as learning all the time. We do our best to foster the same curiosity and love of learning in our kids, and the best thing we can do for them is show them how to learn the things they need to know. 

On a day-to-day level we read together all the time, and our lifestyle means we have the time to indulge their desires most of the time. The kids bring us books to read from the moment they wake up and climb into bed with us in the morning, and again at bedtime. We read any signs that they want us to read, and we play letter recognition games with the signs. We sit at the table in the caravan and draw and write together when they want to. We count down the number of hours, days, weeks or months to an exciting event, using fingers, clock or calendar. We count all kinds of random things. When we’re building with Lego we incorporate multiplication and fractions as a natural part of the activity “Find me a block 2 bumps wide, 4 long and 1 level high”, “Find me one half the size of this”, “We’re going to need one three times as big as that”. 

When we go out, we talk about the things we see and the places we go and answer all their questions. We don’t always know the answers, but we always try to find out. Sometimes that involves reading
books, asking the guides or volunteers, or searching the internet. We do this together wherever possible and they are learning to make their own enquiries, whether it be speaking to a guide at a museum, or talking to a fisherman on the edge of the river. 

Most recently we spent three weeks living in our caravan in the Snowy
Mountains. We went to visit a display of historic mining equipment at a ghost town, we followed the historic trail and learned about life in the gold mining days and we went to look at a vast concrete hydro-electric dam and talked about where the water comes from, how it is used to generate electricity and some of the engineering involved in it’s construction. We visited a network of limestone caves and learned how they were formed and about the geology of the area. 

We are encountering nature up close and personal almost every day. We have seen wild brumbies right outside the caravan and talked about how they came to be there, why they are not native, and their effect on the environment. In just these few short weeks in the mountains they have seen so much wildlife and we answer the kids’ endless enthusiastic questions about them all; why they live where they live, why they behave as they do, why they look as they do and how they rear their babies. When we are in remote areas we have to fill our water tanks from nearby rivers and lakes and we talk about bacteria and other pathogens that might be living in the water and what we can do to prevent them from making us sick. When we are bitten by mosquitos we talk about the lifecycle of mosquitoes and why they need to bite us and drink our blood. We talk about the diseases they carry and how they get into our blood and why they can make us sick. We talked about the water cycle, and they could see it in action right there in the mountains every day. 

We went to a thermal pool in the mountains and learned about the geology of the area and why the water was warm. Afterwards it was very cold in the mountain air and a Koori man saw that Blake was cold and taught him to squeeze a rock tight in his fist as he walked to help him warm up. He showed him how to crush eucalyptus leaves to open his airways and make it easier to breathe on the long hike up the hill. He explained to Blake that
this is traditional Koori medicine and that it’s very powerful and Blake still looks for those leaves when he’s climbing a hill. He still finds a smooth stone to squeeze when he’s feeling cold. 

A slower pace of life 

Make no mistake, road schooling isn’t a scheduled rush from one museum to the next. We take it slow, we get to know the places we visit and try to find the hidden gems that are off the tourist trail. We get to know the local people and the way they live. In the morning we have a chat as a family about what the day will hold and what everyone would like to do, and some days we decide to have a rest day. On these days the kids play in the water of a mountain stream, scratch happily in the dirt, spend hours in imaginary play, climb trees or explore the campsite. 

We say ‘yes’ to unexpected opportunities that arise to disrupt our plans and we have days with nothing on the schedule where we spend quiet time in reflection, simply watching the world go by. The kids have time to be bored, and to find creative solutions to their boredom and they have abundant time for free play. 

They make new friends everywhere they go. If there are kids around their age in the area, they’ll find them. They make friends quickly and have learnt the art of compromise and negotiation with many different kids of many different ages and backgrounds. Of course, there aren’t always kids their own ages around and that’s ok, too. They make friends with adults, older kids and younger kids and even try to entertain babies. 

The science of road schooling. 

The kids are learning vast amounts of science, geography, history, maths, language, art and human culture through the ages. They soak it up like sponges and are always full of questions. 

This way of learning won’t always be in line with curriculum objectives, and won’t always be appropriate to their ages. We don’t track whether their learning is in line with the national curriculum, but it’s always at their own pace and always follows their interests and natural curiousity. We definitely don’t do any standardised tests. 

But that doesn’t mean road schooling is simply the domain of starry-eyed dreamers who drift through life wherever the wind blows them. There is a solid foundation of scientific thinking behind the main features of road schooling. 

Jean Piaget, one of the pioneering educational psychologists of the last century, believed that children should have a rich, supportive environment to encourage the child’s natural propensity to grow and learn. He emphasised the crucial role of children’s self-initiated, active engagement in learning activities where children are encouraged to discover for themselves through spontaneous interactions with the environment. He encouraged a focus on the child’s thought processes rather than simply the outcomes and the acceptance of individual differences in progress. All of these are key aspects of road schooling. John Hattie, in his ranking of influences and effect sizes related to student achievement found these methods to have the second highest effect of all teaching interventions. 

Peter Gray emphasises the importance of freedom in learning and urges faith in the ability of children to learn through an anthropologically consistent environment: that is, a supportive democratic environment with the guidance of caring knowledgeable adults allowing space and time for exploration and discovery through suitable equipment and resources.David Elkind simply stresses the importance of free play in childhood development. 

Regardless of whether you are an unschooler, a homeschooler or follow a traditional schooling model, road schooling can be adapted to your lifestyle. Road schooling doesn’t have to be a lifestyle, you can explore the world with your family and discover it’s delights together. Dipping your toe into the road schooling way of life might just open your eyes to other ways of living. Maybe you’ll examine the way you live your life and discover new possibilities and new ways of earning a living, educating your children and living a fulfilling lifestyle that lets you do the things you really love.

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1 Comment

  1. Cate Siegfried says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey and insight. Facinating read.
    We are about to roadschool and your article makes it even more exciting to get going and explore.

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