Most people have a rather interesting reaction when you tell them that you are going to abort all that is mainstream and normal in life and head off in a caravan to spend every waking moment with your children and possibly husband or partner (if you are travelling with one). Funnily enough, it is easier than most people imagine. Spending all day with your children when you have the freedom of the great outdoors, not bound by housework or duties and the usual stressors of the daily grind is actually pretty awesome.
Having worked in the mainstream classroom and also having been a parent delivering distance education to my son, I can share with you what I consider to be the advantages of homeschooling on the road.
The absolute for me, was not rushing and no longer experiencing the morning madness and grumpiness of constantly nagging kids to get ready for school. We all experienced a reduction in stress levels, particularly my son who is quite an anxious child in a school environment. My children were generally happier, as they did not have to deal with everything that comes with going to school; emotions, inactivity, the need to be silent. They were free to be children and flourished in an environment where they felt truly safe with us.
Let’s state the obvious and just say that no classroom can match the one-on-one time that you can offer your child in a homeschool (or distance education) environment. If you are using that time well to work on areas that are challenging to your child, teaching a skill they have not grasped or introducing a new concept then you are using your time together well. If your child can do something independently and successfully then they already know it. This kind of work is great for independent work in the car or while you are tending to other duties. These tasks are still important as your child is working on their mastery of such skills and repeated practise is important, however use the concentrated time together for challenging work and new concepts.
You can complete much more work in less time. Less time is wasted giving instructions about a task if your child is capable of reading the task themselves. Less time is wasted bringing children together as a group in the classroom to sit and prepare for the next time. Tasks can flow smoothly with short breaks where necessary. If you try to understand your child and how they learn best, you will find yourself picking a certain time of the day for learning and even selecting certain activity orders to help them to work optimally. Our learning usually started about 8:00am, simply because my children would wake up and get up about 6:30am and they wanted the freedom to have the afternoon of adventures. My son would optimally learn at this time and was the most attentive. Usually I would set English first, as this was his least favourite task and I knew would take us the longest. We would complete a couple of hours of formal learning in the morning and then would partake in various activities in the afternoon, that more often than not still linked in with curriculum! A visit to a museum, national park, significant Australian site, hike, exploring new surroundings, watching a performance, a tour, cooking a recipe or preparing a meal, swimming or simply building social connections. So many curriculum connections, you just need to explore the curriculum outcomes in the national framework to understand what the opportunities are.
The program can be specific and targeted. There is no need to complete work that your child has already mastered. We skipped over a number of mathematics units that my son knew very well. We also spent longer than I intended working on reading time (quarter to and quarter past) as this took him longer to grasp. I really enjoyed having the flexibility to do this. We moved up to the next years outcomes when we had met all of the outcomes for his current year. We didn’t wait until he was technically at that level, we took the curriculum where he was ready to go. This works the same in reverse. If your child has a gap in the learning, this is the perfect opportunity to go back and teach them what they need to know.
The topics can be linked to where you are and what you are experiencing, making it a more enjoyable experience for you child and easier to retain information. They are more likely to be successful because it is real life context and they have experienced what you are asking them to do. In English and writing we focused on writing reports on animals that we had seen along our travels. We researched Fairy Penguins and Pademelons in Tasmania and Whale Sharks in Exmouth before we snorkelled with them. We wrote narrative stories about places we had been; caves, coral reefs, blow holes and waterfalls. It was easy for my son to write about something he had actually experienced. In science we studied living things and how they grow; we explored our environment and learnt about lifecycles of animals and the names of offspring. We completed a unit on Earth’s resources focusing on where we get water from, water conservation and obviously water crisis in some regions. We studied sustainable energies and learnt more about our own solar and how it worked. No doubt right now, you can understand how much of this learning in science was natural. Often occurring by the children asking their billion questions each day and us taking the time to chat, explain and research if required.
There is more opportunity for you to link your child’s interests to the curriculum. Rather than the curriculum dictating what you need to do, why not explore your child’s interest and link it with the curriculum. We took the opportunity to do some brainstorms where I asked my son to write down some things he wanted to know or learn more about. The questions that came for this were awesome. He wanted to know how chocolate was made, glass and bricks. He wanted to know what the largest dinosaur was that ever existed. He wanted to know when the next release of his favourite book series was going to be and how to classify animals. These topics were brilliant and I can’t encourage you enough to have your child write down some ideas in an ideas book. These topics taught my son how to research effectively using google and how to find relevant and trusted information. We linked these tasks in with excursions to chocolate factories, watching videos on how bricks are made, visits to a Roc Candy shop for a demonstration on how hard candy is made. Writing, reading, research, listening and speaking skills. The freedom is there in the curriculum, you just have to see the opportunities.
Having done a great amount of off the grid free camping. One of the biggest benefits for us of choosing homeschool over distance education was the fact that we didn’t really require internet to meet deadlines, email work or make Skype meetings with teachers. If we had it, we used it. If we didn’t, we managed without. I usually planned ahead if we weren’t going to have internet by ensuring we had sufficient books downloaded on our library apps, ensured that our Sunshine Online and Mathletics subscriptions had all downloads completed that I wanted for that period of time.
At the end of the day, I chose to homeschool over distance education because I did not want to be bound by a rigid curriculum that demanded me to write about set topics for persuasive text or any other text for that matter, do specific art activities, science experiments that I could not facilitate or provide evidence of physical education and fitness that was irrelevant to us. I knew we would meet the curriculum outcomes in so many other ways. I would make the same decision again. If homeschool is an option for you (state regulations and circumstantial), you are willing to do what your child need’s you to do to educate them and you can provide a supportive and positive learning environment, then I absolutely encourage you to give it a go!