One of the most popular questions we’re asked is: What about the kids’ education? What do you do about that? I’ve already answered this question a number of times, but those answers are now a bit old, so I thought I’d take a moment to put out an ‘update’ of sorts – with our most current thinking on the subject. (You can read my old answers here and here.)
Basically, we allow our journey and Mother Nature to be the boys’ teachers – for the most part. From our journey itself, the boys have learned more than we could ever have imagined. There are many times when we plan it out; when we know an educational opportunity is coming up and we intentionally take advantage of it. Examples of that would be visiting the Panama Canal and learning how locks work, or visiting the many national parks we pass through – we know they will be great educational opportunities before we even arrive on their doorstep.
But there are other ways the boys are learning from our journey as well – when we stumble upon an old, amazingly efficient sugar cane press run by horse power (quite literally) and the boys learn all about simple machines or when we visit the Kuna tribe in the San Blas Islands and the boys learn about supply and demand and how prices fluctuate accordingly. This is the stuff we could never plan out – it’s the blundering into that ‘teachable moment’ and knowing enough to take advantage of it.
But Mother Nature is a pretty awesome teacher as well. The boys now understand the differences in weather patterns around the globe and truly understand that, while clouds generally slowly build up farther north giving us plenty of time to take shelter, in southern Central America that isn’t the case – the skies go from bright blue to nasty gray in a matter of minutes. They understand that, in general, it is significantly hotter near the equator than farther north. They know what we talk about when we mention the colliding of tectonic plates and the resulting earthquakes and uplifting of the earth – they’ve cycled over it.
All this is to say that the boys are learning way more out here in the world than they would – than they ever could – in a classroom. They are learning how the world works. They are meeting people from all walks of life. They are dealing with the reality of this great big world of ours.
Even so, we realize there are things our journey won’t teach all that well – and we make it a point to supplement their education in those areas. The primary area we work on is math. For younger kids, all the math they need can easily come from a journey such as ours, but for kids in middle school, it just doesn’t. We are carrying math books – Geometry for Daryl (he’s already finished Algebra 1) and PreAlgebra (he already finished a typical Grade 6 program) for Davy – and we work through those in hotel rooms or on boats or wherever we happen to be. Both of our boys are advanced in mathematics, so we are not sticking to the “normal” math level for their age – we are allowing them to be the guide in what level mathematics we’ll teach them. Fortunately, John is a high school math teacher, so we have no trouble finding the expertise to teach the intricate ins and outs of algebra and geometry!
The other thing we feel we need to supplement is their research and writing skills. We take advantage of our journey to work on that. For example, before we visited the Panama Canal, the boys did extensive research about the canal and wrote essays (you can read them here). They are currently working on reports about animals of the area (I’ll get them posted once they are done). The next thing I will start to work on in the area of writing is the standard 5-paragraph essay. They also write in their journals on a fairly regular basis.
John and I understand that language arts is about way more than only writing – there are other means of communication that are equally as important, so we are working on that as well. Public speaking is an area where Davy is excelling – we give plenty of talks in schools and Davy enjoys telling his stories. Daryl, however, will never shine in that area and we’ve accepted that. And video is a very powerful means of communication that the boys are exploring as well. Right now, they are working on documenting their travels through Panama and we’ll get that posted once it’s done.
Reading comes naturally for Davy and Daryl – they are both avid readers. Our greatest challenge in this area is in finding English books in a Spanish speaking area. When we do happen to stumble upon a source of English books, we stock up – and have carried up to 25 books before!
But honestly, all that “school stuff” pales in comparison to the other stuff the kids are learning – the stuff life is made of. They are learning how to plan and to carry out that plan. They are learning to persevere when quitting would be the easier path. They are learning to work together – as a team – and know there are times when only teamwork can get you through. They can read maps and navigate through foreign areas. They understand that problem solving is a part of life and are equal members of our problem solving team. They are learning about their own personal capabilities and about their weaknesses.
It must sound odd that two long-time schoolteachers who both have master’s degrees in education are saying that “school stuff” isn’t the most important education. But we’ve seen it – we’ve seen the boys grow and mature and rely on skills no school could ever provide. And that’s what I’m talking about here.