Roadschooling

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.

Daryl works on math on the boat

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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17 Responses to Roadschooling

  1. Bleu August 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m a new reader of your blog. What an amazing adventure! I homeschool my children and I will be sharing this blog with them–there are many lessons to be learned here.

    Best wishes to your family!

  2. nancy August 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Welcome Bleu! We’re glad you are with us! Enjoy your travels!

    Nancy

  3. Jonathan August 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    We enjoyed your philosophical discussion and insights into the educational portion of your journey.

    Sounds like it should answer any criticisms of your family’s choices — through the use of facts rather than just a “feels good to us” response.

    On top of that, you are sharing your experience with multitudes of additional students and teachers.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Greg August 7, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    We are homeschoolers, as well. I’m enjoying reading your blog. Your boys are getting an education that no classroom in the world could give them. I’m proud of you guys. Blessings to you and your family.

  5. nancy August 8, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    Thanks! It truly is incredible how much our boys have learned since we embarked on this journey – and to think about how much more they will learn!

  6. Grandmaw August 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Your children are receiving the best education through experience. Keep up the great work and keep posting the blogs here and on Facebook. I love following your journey.

  7. Dean August 10, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    You guys are truly inspirational! I love reading the blog. I reckon you’ve got two pretty cool (and clever) kids there.
    Keep learning and blogging and stay safe,
    Dean
    Cornwall, UK

  8. nancy August 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    Thank you all so much! We truly believe that our boys ar getting the best education around! They learn so much each and every day – about themselves and about others. It’s been fun to watch them grow!

  9. LiLing Pang - Trekaroo August 10, 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    I love this blog post. So many families have a dream of long-term travel but so few ever go. There are so many reason why not to go, but I think a lot of it is driven by fear. Fear of having to figure out stuff like their child’s education. I really appreciate what you said about the priceless education that comes from really learning how the world works. We all learn best when the theories we are learning become relevant to them. That’s why doing an MBA after having worked for a few year is a much richer experience. I am sure that your boys are 100 times more engaged in the concept of supply and demand when they see the fluctuations of prices across borders, than a child sitting in a classroom in a rich suburb.

    Thanks for sharing in so much detail about all the learning opportunities out there for families traveling together.

  10. Charlie September 23, 2009 at 5:08 am #

    Am I the only one who sees problems with road schooling? It raises issues that nobody seems to be paying any attention to.

    1/Socialisation, studies in the USA show that home schooled kids tend to have less developed wider social skills. Yes their family bonds are generally stronger, but their ability to interact with those outside the family unit is significantly weaker to the extent it causes them problems which need never have existed. I know road schooling is not home schooling exactly, but it can be described as more extreme version of it. I haven’t even mentioned the reduced ability to deal with life when it gets hard, and make a little effort is required to get through the tough times.

    2/What about the reduction in opportunities for the child in later life? I know this is going to be unpopular to say that qualifications matter, but they do. I’m not talking about this from a monetary point of view, though yes it does have an effect. I’m talking about this from the point of view of future opportunities. It seems that most of the people on here are teachers, an opportunity you may deny your children by them not receiving the necessary education to achieve this. That’s not to mention those children who want to be doctors, nurses, veterinarians or similar jobs. What is the cost to the child if they can never be who they want to be, and experience the joys of helping others through the short sightedness of their parents?

    3/People grow best when they have a firm foundation from which to grow. Road schooling removes a vital part of that stability. Children don’t need friends who they see irregularly, they need friends, who they see daily, and no Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are not an adequate alternative to real face to face time with people. What kind of stability does an itinerant lifestyle give for the development of your child? As teachers, you should be intelligent enough to know your own limitations. If you teach History, is your English ability good enough, how about Mathematics, IT, or Chemistry? You may say what use is inorganic chemistry in later life, it may have no use for yourself but what about your child?
    I thought the whole point of being a parent is to encourage your child to be the best and happiest they can be, not to limit them by our own preconceptions whether they are square and straight-laced or radical and far left field.

    As an aside I the people who I know who have taken a year out, to travel the world, as young adults are the most rounded and well balanced people I know. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for those who took time out before they reached the necessary maturity to understand what they were doing.

    I know I have made generalisations here, and the school system is not perfect, but it is the best that we have got, and it is up to us as parents to fill in the gaps as best we can.

    Sorry about the ramble, but i feel very strongly about giving children the best that life has to offer, as I am sure we all do.

  11. Kristen January 8, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    What an incredible way to learn!
    In response to Charlie; I was home schooled all the way through high school, I know home schoolers who to this day are awkward socially and I know home schoolers who have never had an issue with talking to strangers, meeting new people and carrying on relationships throughout life. I know people who went to school all their lives who were and remain socially awkward and others who interact with society quite well.
    If anything this is preparing Daryl and Davy for interacting on social levels in far deeper and more meaningful ways than sitting in a classroom with fifty other students their exact age. They are meeting people of all ages, learning to interact and communicate with people of different races and walks of life and with different interests and passions.
    I don’t think giving children what other children have is the best that life has to offer.
    I think the best you can give them is the love of learning.

  12. nancy January 22, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    OK Charlie, let me try to respond to your concerns. You have a few valid points, but I think a lot of what you say is based on simply not knowing or understanding what we are doing.

    1/Socialisation, studies in the USA show that home schooled kids tend to have less developed wider social skills. Yes their family bonds are generally stronger, but their ability to interact with those outside the family unit is significantly weaker to the extent it causes them problems which need never have existed. I know road schooling is not home schooling exactly, but it can be described as more extreme version of it. I haven’t even mentioned the reduced ability to deal with life when it gets hard, and make a little effort is required to get through the tough times.

    —–First of all, I’d like to see those studies. Under what conditions were they carried out and exactly what conclusions did they came up with? I’ve NEVER heard any such bizarre claims based on scientific fact as that “homeschooled kids tend to have less developed social skills”. Yes – I’ve heard people say they THINK that would happen, but I’ve never heard any kind of official documentation that it is true.

    I can’t speak for other families, but I can speak for my boys. My sons have had the opportunity to get to know MANY more people than they would have had we stayed home. They have played with kids from extremely wealthy families and from dirt poor. They’ve played with kids who speak all kinds of languages and religions and of every color under the rainbow. In short – my boys have gained a much richer social experience in their childhood as a result of travel than they would have gotten had we stayed in Boise.

    I especially love this quote of yours: “I haven’t even mentioned the reduced ability to deal with life when it gets hard, and make a little effort is required to get through the tough times.” My sons have learned to face adversity head on and tackle it without a thought of quitting. They’ve cycled through snow storms, against headwinds from hell, and up impossibly steep Andean mountains. Don’t even think about “reduced ability to deal with life when it gets hard!”

    2/What about the reduction in opportunities for the child in later life? I know this is going to be unpopular to say that qualifications matter, but they do. I’m not talking about this from a monetary point of view, though yes it does have an effect. I’m talking about this from the point of view of future opportunities. It seems that most of the people on here are teachers, an opportunity you may deny your children by them not receiving the necessary education to achieve this. That’s not to mention those children who want to be doctors, nurses, veterinarians or similar jobs. What is the cost to the child if they can never be who they want to be, and experience the joys of helping others through the short sightedness of their parents?

    —–I admit I’m not quite sure what you are talking about here. Are you saying that we are not educating our children, which then will penalize them later in life? If so, that is downright crazy! Our biggest challenge right now is keeping up with the boys! Our sons just turned 12 and are in “6th” grade. One of them is now doing Algebra II (he’s already completed Algebra I and Geometry) and the other PreAl – one advanced by one year and the other by about 5 years. They can both write a damn good essay and do the research completely on their own. I will say that – out of my 21 years in the classroom – I’ve only had a handful of kids who were capable of doing school work at the level of my sons.

    That being said, my husband is a high school math and science teacher and I teach elementary and middle, so we’ve got most bases covered. Our biggest concern right now is what in the heck do we do with the boys when we finish this trip and go back home. Hubby and I will have to work and our boys are too advanced to go to regular school. Put then in college at age 13? We don’t know right now .- we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that my sons have the background and skills to do anything they want to. If they want to be a ditch digger, they are perfectly capable of doing it. If they want to be doctors or lawyers or scientists or adventurers, they have the skills they need. We are not, in any way imaginable, limiting their future potential.

    3/People grow best when they have a firm foundation from which to grow. Road schooling removes a vital part of that stability. Children don’t need friends who they see irregularly, they need friends, who they see daily, and no Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are not an adequate alternative to real face to face time with people. What kind of stability does an itinerant lifestyle give for the development of your child? As teachers, you should be intelligent enough to know your own limitations. If you teach History, is your English ability good enough, how about Mathematics, IT, or Chemistry? You may say what use is inorganic chemistry in later life, it may have no use for yourself but what about your child?

    —–Huh?? In all honesty, our lives have more stability now, on the road, than they ever did when we were home. I wrote an article about that not long ago: http://familyonbikes.org/blog/?p=1213

    The only disadvantage I see of our itinerant lifestyle is the lack of long-term friendships. If we were at home, the boys would have their friends and would pass through all the stages of friendship – including fighing and then getting back together, etc… Here on the road, they never quite get to that stage. Yes, they play with lots of kids, but they never get over the honeymoon phase.

    We have made the decision to accept that disadvantage. We feel that the benefits the boys are getting from our journey FAR outweigh that issue. If the boys were in school in Boise, they would not be exploring Mayan ruins, scuba diving on coral reefs, swimming with sea turtles, being a part of local celebrations around the world, biking with bison, lounging in Andean hot springs, wandering under the canopy of a rainforest, visiting the Panama Canal, gazing up at sloths, crawling with marine iguanas, camping in the Arctic tundra, learning about invasive species, or watching active volcanoes spew rock and ash in the air. In short, although they would gain one aspect of childhood, they would lose many, many other opportunities. We feel the tradeoff is worth it.

    I thought the whole point of being a parent is to encourage your child to be the best and happiest they can be, not to limit them by our own preconceptions whether they are square and straight-laced or radical and far left field.

    —–I feel exactly the same – and that is why I want to expose my children to the world. That is why I want them to travel to other lands and meet people of other races and religions and languages. That is why I want my kids to have a global perspective on life – to encourage them to be the best they can be and to KNOW what that best is.

    As an aside the people who I know who have taken a time out, to see the world, as young adults are the among most rounded and well balanced people I know. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for those who took time out before they reached the necessary maturity to understand what they were doing.

    —–Can you point me to any of those people? I would like to talk with them and see how they feel their adventures as children affected them.

    I know I have made generalisations here, and the school system is not perfect, but it is the best that we have got, and it is up to us as parents to fill in the gaps as best we can.

    —–Agreed!

    Sorry about the ramble, but i feel very strongly about giving children the best that life has to offer, as I am sure we all do.

    —–That is exactly what we feel we are doing. I am sorry that you feel otherwise, but I respect your opinion.

  13. Anissa Faddis January 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Nancy-You are providing your boys with such an amazing opportunity. My family and I love following your adventures, and we have been following along since we went to your yard sale before you left. I would love to have your family speak to local homeschoolers when you return to Boise.

    For Charlie if you return here: There are no studies showing that homeschoolers have less developed social skills. If anything the opposite is true, and studies prove it. Also, don’t worry about lost opportunities. Most colleges and universities love homeschoolers!

  14. Kevin Fitzgerald January 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    While the Dukes family and I only spent 3 months on the road, the benefit of that journey to their children can’t be overlooked, especially when you read what one of them wrote years later as an adult. Go to this link (Vogels, you’ve seen this before) and read what Carolyn Dukes wrote when looking back at her cross-USA journey which she did at age 8.

    http://www.adventurecycling.org/gspg/display_portrait.cfm?start=1&theme=1

    And I learned a lot too. Safe miles, and keep studying! -=Kevin=-

  15. soultravelers3 January 23, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Great post on Road schooling, Nancy!

    Our main reason for taking our journey was/is to give our child the best possible education and have more time together as a family. The opportunities have FAR surpassed our high expectations!!

    I encourage other parents to do this in some way, particularly homeschoolers who have more freedom to travel. I’ve also written on this topic & soon will do a whole series & an e-book.

    We’re not teachers and only spend about an hour or 2 a day on formal homeschooling, but we have had our child tested and she is MANY years ahead of her age peers. (ie tested at 10th grade level of reading at 7 and similar with math).

    I’m not sure what studies Charlie was reading, because all that I have read showed that homeschool kids are academically & socially ahead of age peers.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/13/home-schooling-socialization-not-problem/

    http://www.homeschoolresourcecenter.net/article_homeschooled_kids__but_what_about_socialization.htm
    or
    http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000017.asp

    My adult niece is a great example of a homeschooled child, she started college at 15 and graduated very early from the top University in her field of Chemical Engineering (Rice), got a job before she graduated making over 6 figure income & bought her first home all as a teen! She is happy, active in her church & getting her masters degree in Chemical Engineering at night (paid for by her work). She speaks 3 languages and has always done lots of traveling because she was never confined by school schedules and had grandparents on another continent.

    We’ve dealt with long term friendships by spending our winters in the same small village for the last 4 years where our daughter goes to the local school, takes, flamenco and ceramics and immerses DEEPLY in her 2nd language, literature & culture.

    There is no better way to learn a language & being fluent in other languages & truly understanding other countries will be vital skills for the future in a global economy just based on demographics. (English will not always be the dominant language).Work is going to look VERY different in the 21st century for our kids & schools are not preparing them properly.

    I agree with Nancy that being in nature, learning from life, taking advantages of all the museums & learning opportunities on the road, connecting with all kinds of people at every age is so important.

    I also think virtual opportunities are so important today & 60% of schools will be virtual by the end of the decade. I DON”T think kids should be plugged in all the time (we don’t own ipods, wii, nintendo, cell phones etc) but parent supervised virtual opportunities & world wide collaborations have been spectacular for us too.

    Our child maintains her long term relationship with friends (& relatives) at home via regular, long, free webcam calls etc. She also takes her piano & violin lessons via webcams with teachers on a different continent (they send sheet music & technique building exercises etc via google wave etc).

    She takes courses with kids around the world online with CTY classes from John Hopkins University etc. She learns programming with MIT’s scratch. She’s collaborated with kids from around the world using webcams (even at 5) & online.

    I’m passionate on this topic & could go on & on but already too long. Kudos to you & your family, Nancy and the great value of roadschooling!!

    I recommend you just skip high school with your boys when you return & go straight to college!

    http://www.amazon.com/College-Without-High-School-Teenagers/dp/0865716552

  16. Joey January 24, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    I was unschooled, along with my three younger siblings, for my entire childhood. As an adult, I realize more and more with every passing year just how amazing my childhood was – and how big of a positive impact it has had on my life. I’ve also been in the bicycle industry (for fun and work) since 1997, and traveled around the world with the US National Team. I think you guys are awesome! Keep up the great travels, wonderful experiences, and don’t let a few myopic naysayers get you down. I’ll be sending this link to my parents – they’ll be delighted. Best wishes!

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