The day is hot but breezy and the evening sun is setting over the Mediterranean Sea. Here on the tiny island of Milos, Greece, it is 9:30 pm and we are just starting to eat dinner, early arrivals for the normal dinner hour which starts closer to 10 pm. My children are practicing their new Greek words while feasting on new favorite foods like souvlaki and tzatziki.
They speak in animated tones about the newest Greek myth they learned today from an old fisherman mending his nets by his boat. I hear one of my kids laugh as she recalls a memory from exploring the ancient ruins at the Acropolis last week.
As I watch them, I think: This is life-giving childhood. This is learning. This is education!
For my kids this year, they have:
- No school.
- No classrooms.
- No required curriculum.
- No assignments.
- No grades.
Their school supplies consist of:
IMAGINE A MOSAIC
You see, I approach education like I would approach building a mosaic. There are many beautiful pieces that need to be in place to form a child’s well-rounded understanding of the world, and they all have an important place in the final masterpiece. But do they need to be laid down in a specific order, like you would lay bricks one by one methodically, according to a blueprint if you were building a house? I think not.
There are other ways to learn. Elements of learning can also be laid down in bits and pieces, the connections being made naturally over time as they become a beautiful design.
In our family, I’ve come to realize the best form of education I can provide to my children includes three main things, in this order of priority:
- Extensive quality time with Mom and Dad
- Travel and adventure
- Learning buckets
TIME WITH MOM AND DAD
Provided that parents are loving and caring, well principled, and provide a morally wholesome framework for a child, there is no doubt that a child thrives best when having huge amounts of quality time with mom and dad. This time together is where mentoring, nurturing, affirmation, and so much more take place.
Both my husband and I have the ability to work remotely from anywhere in the world for our jobs, so we decided to take work and educating our kids on the road. We travel continuously, from one country to another, and are now in country 15 with our family of six. Ironically, it is the most natural lifestyle we have ever tried, as well as the most exciting and the most relaxing.
TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE
Travel forms the core of my children’s education, and within those travel experiences come all kinds of amazing learnings such as language immersion, stories and poetry, history, art exploration, culture and history, scientific discoveries, and so forth. Only two hours a day, five days a week, the kids sit down at their iPads and explore the tools in their learning buckets.
As a long-time educator who has taught both primary and secondary school and developed curricula, overseen teaching teams, and much more, I’ve now thrown out the traditional school subjects and instead decided to “bucket” my children’s education into three very loose buckets:
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
- Arts & Humanities
Much like one would gather a variety of art supplies to put into a crafting box, I curate learning tools to put into these three buckets. They are there for the kids when they need them, although they have a great deal of autonomy about what tools they use and when. Just as they would use various craft supplies to build an artistic creation.
HOW THIS WORKS
I’ve set that exploration time into a rotation (see here for how it works), which I use as a general guideline, but it is very flexible. If a child wants to explore French for two hours and they are excited about that, I let them!
I figure, if a child is in a state of “flow” and learning is happening, I would be remiss to interfere! They love their learning bucket time each day (usually in the evenings), and the rest of the day is for adventure and exploration in whatever country we are in.
Because we travel full-time, our learning tools are digital iPad-based tools. This keeps us from lugging around workbooks and textbooks. Frankly, my kids hate workbooks of any kind, but they love doing things on the iPad, so for us, it’s a win-win.
They get to use technology for learning, and I get all the benefits of the online tool doing the work of teaching them, real-time tracking their progress, feeding them more work around concepts they are struggling in, and giving me feedback for where they need additional support. Don’t tell the kids, but I don’t really lift a finger in all of that!
They also have music lessons from the teacher in San Diego each week, and I ensure they are learning to play the local music from the country where we are currently traveling. Their physical education is vast and rich, ranging from white water rafting to rock climbing to ice skating to stand up paddleboarding, and so much more. Wherever we are, there is physical fun to be had!
DOES IT WORK?
We are conditioned by experience to believe that education is equal to school. But there are many paths to academic greatness, and traditional schooling is just one of them. My children do not take tests or quizzes all year long until the California state testing once per year. After a year of no projects, no assignments, no grades, they consistently test in the highest 20th percentile for students nationwide in their same academic year. Why? Because they are learning from real life and the whole wide world is their classroom.
DESIGN THE LIFE YOU WANT
In the time of coronavirus, travel is not open to everyone, but adventure most certainly is. Developing a toolkit for learning is too. Adventure is everywhere: from the National Parks to California’s golden beaches, museums and zoos and boats and more, the world is for exploring, all year round. And maybe, just maybe, it’s more interesting, more exciting, more enjoyable, and wait for it… less dangerous (re the virus), than traditional schooling.
I share my story to encourage you, my friend! Think outside the box about education for your kids, not just this year, but every year. When it comes to employment, I work full time, and so does my husband. We are not unique in this. Perhaps you do too! The trick for us was to negotiate REMOTE work, so we usually work evenings and sometimes early mornings, or we trade off who has the kids and who is working.
This is THE most authentic life we could design for ourselves and the happiest we have ever been. Our kids are thriving, learning, succeeding, and so are we. We feel no pressure from any school, any authority, any grandparent, or social construct.
Worldschooled kids (as mine are) learn to be self-directed learners, world-wise, highly cultured, bi-lingual, and multi-talented. Our family is not greatly different than anyone else, we are just gutsy enough to go for our dream of traveling the world and wrapping our lives around that dream.
And guess what? You are also brave! What is your dream life, and how could you build your child’s education into and around that dream? Now is the time. Don’t wait until you are retired. Dream it, design it, build it, and LIVE IT TO THE FULLEST!