Whenever Chris or I mention to friends or family that we are embarking on a year-long walkabout around the world, one of the first questions we are asked is, "What about the children's school?" We keep our answer simple and let them know that we will be homeschooling them on the road.
That answer satisfies most people, but you have to understand that many of our friends and family are Type A professionals with multiple advanced degrees whose Bible is the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". They want to hear more details such as the specific curriculum we plan to follow, our assessment strategy, and the bench marks we will use to make sure that the children are covering the minimal national educational standards. At that point, I shrug my shoulders and confess the truth: We do not have a structured curriculum planned. Cue gasp!
You have to know our background a little to understand my tongue-in-cheek attitude regarding my children's education for the following year. I am a physician. Not only that, I am a pediatrician who was on faculty at a medical school for eight years after residency training, and I was a nationally-recognized leader in curriculum design and medical education. I presented workshops at national conferences where I would teach doctors how to teach. Chris has a PhD in Biology, but his career has focused on teaching instead of research. A few years ago, he left the classroom to become a course design manager for Laureate Education, a private higher education company that builds courses for universities around the world. Yet here we are pulling our children out of a structured school environment to go on a walkabout for a year.
Our children attended a Montessori School for their entire educational life prior to us moving to Costa Rica during the summer of 2013. In Costa Rica, they attended a private bilingual school that focuses on environmental education. Chris and I both have come to an important conclusion after spending thousands of dollars on our children's education: Our kids are going to learn no matter what. Thanks to their Montessori training and the hands-on approach at their Costa Rican school, they are internally motivated to learn. They see the whole world as their classroom.
The best type of learning is student-centered, active, self-directed, and applied. The worst learning strategies for retention rate are lecturing and disembodied reading assignments, which are unfortunately the main teaching strategies at most educational institutions. The best learning strategies are peer to peer teaching, group discussion, and practicing by doing.
With that in mind, this is going to be our general approach to homeschooling the kids during our walkabout:
1. Structured math exercises.
When I go back to the USA in June, I will acquire a structured math curriculum for both of them that I can take on the road. My goal is for each to complete a two-year curricular cycle in math. Kara will complete 7th and 8th grade math, while Tristan will complete 2nd and 3rd grade math during our walkabout. I know it seems ambitious, but they are already above grade level so this strategy is not a big stretch for them. I know I sound like a total Tiger Mom, but I have objective data that tells me my children can handle this. We plan on working on math for 30-60 minutes each weekday.
2. Applied reading assignments anchored by discussions.
The kids will read every day. We will not be reading from textbooks, but rather historical fiction or other more engaging reading materials that will be related to the activities we have planned. For example, we plan to visit the Anne Frank house while we are in Amsterdam. Before arriving, we will read The Diary of Anne Frank together as our bedtime read. While we are in Amsterdam, they will read about the holocaust and World War II. When we visit the Anne Frank house, they will teach each other about what they have learned from their readings in context. The discussions can continue at dinner time or other "down-time" as Chris and I will be aware of the material they are covering since we will be the parents and teachers. I will also have them read books related to the natural history of each place we visit so they learn science. Reading inherently will also improve their grammar and language skills. This portion of their curriculum will encompass science and social studies.
3. Writing in a journal every day.
Kara and Tristan will write in a journal every day. The journal will have three sections: self-reflection, natural history, and creative. For the self-reflective section, they will write about their emotions and perspectives on the country/city we are visiting. In the natural history section, they will review what they learned that day with a particular focus on the flora and fauna. If they learned any new words in a new language, they can write it down in this portion of their journal. We will also encourage them to research any topics they find interesting in more depth using the Internet. The creative portion of the journal will be reserved for writing stories set in the country/city we are visiting starring characters based on the people they meet. I will not require that they write in each section every day, but they will write in at least one section daily. Writing will also by design strengthen their grammar and language skills.
So that is how we are homeschooling our kids during our walkabout. We are essentially winging it and hoping for the best. I know all you Type A professional parents are squirming in your chairs. All I can say is..... 😝
I will let you know how our experiment goes as it unfolds. We may fall on our faces sometimes, but we will simply get back up and try something new. Worst case scenario, the walkabout will at least serve as the subject of their college entrance essay, which will be titled, "I survived my crazy parents....."
What are your thoughts on non-traditional education strategies? Also, if you have any books or resources that you would recommend we use while we educate our kids on the road, please share them in the comments below.
If you are home schooling and would like to include multi-cultural stories as part of your curriculum, be sure to download The Black Rose And Other Scary Stories That Really Happened To Me from Amazon. The four scary short stories in this collection are reminiscent of Mexican folktales such as La Llorona and Dancing With A Ghost.