“Homeschooling is so much more than filling our children’s heads with facts. It’s about opening a world of endless possibilities and wonder. It’s being curious about life and letting it rub off a little. It’s exploring the unknown *with* your kids ... It’s about life. It was Robert Frost who said, ‘I am not a teacher, but an awakener.’ So let’s stop worrying whether we have what it takes to teach our children all the things. Let’s be awakeners.” Ainsley Arment
HOMESCHOOL – THE FIRST TWO YEARS
We have been untraditional for years and that includes the way we homeschool. When it was time for our oldest daughter, Lydia, to enter kindergarten we were in the process of buying our first house. Since home buying rarely works according to anybody’s timeframe, we weren’t sure where we would be on the first day of school.
We started looking at our options. As a school teacher’s daughter, I never considered homeschool. It was not even a thought in my mind. We put an offer on a house that we loved and were hopeful that everything would fall into place, but we would not be settled by the time school started. Since the closing on the house seemed a fairly sure thing, we considered just start the school year off for her at the school of our not-yet new neighborhood. The thought of having to wake up extra early and pack four small children into the car every morning to drive several miles just to get her to kindergarten was giving me anxiety.
During this transitional timeframe, we stumbled upon Connections Academy, – an online public school that for younger students requires hands on interaction from an available parent. We decided we would enroll her there and then as soon as we were settled in our new house, we would enroll her in the neighborhood school – and that would solve the morning commute problem.
Lydia loved every aspect of online kindergarten. She reminded me everyday when it was time to log in for the virtual class pledge of allegiance, she always wanted to do extra school-work, was involved in her weekly classroom call and she picked up new topics very quickly. She seemed to be in her element and for the most part, it all worked well for our family. The younger kids loved joining in music time and when she had field trips, the whole family was invited. So – after we moved into our home and were settled, we decided to continue with online school since it was working so well.
Then it was time for Oliver to enter kindergarten. I was not excited to have an additional schedule to keep track of as well as additional school work to turn in. They would have each had their own teacher, different login times that I had to facilitate and it would have been double the administrative duties for me. What I loved best about Connections was the interaction I was able to have, as a parent, in Lydia’s learning – but making sure the virtual aspects worked well for not just one but two children felt overwhelming to me.
At this point I had grown comfortable enough to conduct our own homeschool, so we decided to take Lydia out of Connections Academy and began to homeschool both of them.
The learning atmosphere in public school is very age and grade based with an age group cut off date that would have added a whole gap year in between our oldest two children who are only 13 months apart in age. They would be so close – yet so far away from each other in learning, social groups, etc.
One of the great things about homeschooling kids so close in age is that we are able to combine many of the subjects, especially history and science. This became a benefit again when our 3rd, Gavin, showed early interest for learning as he’s so close in age to Oliver that they have worked at a similar schedule in regards to reading and writing.
A SHIFT IN EDUCATION
As the years have gone on, we shifted away from “normal” homeschool and headed unknowingly towards unschooling. What is unschooling? I love the definition on Wikipedia for unschooling as it sums it up perfectly to me. Unschooling is, “an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.”
Without even knowing that we were unschooling, we were. Our way of homeschooling naturally morphed into unschooling by finding what worked best for me and the kids. A less stressed way of learning that allowed us to focus more on what mattered. Our days became more relaxed (as relaxed as they can be with always having a baby in the house for the past twelve years). We had less of a rigid schedule which allowed for more chances for learning and working together.
While living in our house in Utah we spent many days at the library, exploring the nearby mountains, cooking together, and walking to the park. Older kids learned how to take care of the younger kids. We worked together as a family. Our backyard was our biggest schoolroom. The kids spent hours each day solving problems while digging in the dirt, helping in the garden, making obstacle courses, building forts out of whatever they could find, chasing chickens, helping dad with the bee hives, and making up games. They learned structural visualization, architectural dos and don’t, engineering, and they even would run things from the back yard through the microscope to learn biology, geology and horticulture.
A NEW SHIFT TO ROADSCHOOLING
With us selling the house and becoming fulltime travelers, unschooling has turned to roadschooling for our family. The way we engage in what we call roadschooling, bearing strong similarities to unschooling, is a learning style that is highly centric on location-based learning. If we are at the ocean, we naturally focus on learning more about tidepools and sea life. When we climbed over various types of rocks in Valley of Fire State Park it was natural to point out the igneous vs sedimentary rocks and their metamorphic changes. Walking around Collonial Williamsburg, Virginia allowed us to fully engage in the countries best history lesson from the 1700’s that lasted for three full days as we fully immersed ourselves in the colonial era.
Some of our best roadschooling moments have even been learning how to use mile markers on the freeway and using a map to find the best route to our next location. This gets even trickier when you factor in fuel consumption and then cross an international border and have to change your units of measure. “Hey kids, based on how far we need to drive and our fuel milage, where will we need to fill up and can you find a gas station on Google that has diesel for us?”
... we walked out to the cove right there and dug up our own dinner."
We enjoy visitors centers where we can learn the local history. We love walking down the streets of a new city and talking to the local people about their lives. We learn by stopping at a farm and after talking to the farmer about which apples are the best for eating versus baking, head out to the orchard and pick our own fresh apples. Living in Utah, finding a local opportunity to go clamming would be impossible. But by rolling into a random campground on Prince Edward Island, the owners explained to us how to catch clams and we walked out to the cove right there and dug up our own dinner. We’ve done the same with crabs and fish.
Living fulltime in our RV has allowed us so many new opportunities for learning and teaching – child and adult alike. Everywhere we have visited has been an opportunity to learn. This way of life has opened our minds to better allow education to be a life-long pursuit. It is no longer about just me teaching the kids what they are “supposed” to be learning, but I am learning right along with them.
While living in Utah, I felt like I was alone in my homeschool path. There weren’t many other families around who homeschooled. I didn’t have any friends who homeschooled. I tried taking the kids to local homeschool groups to meet other homeschoolers, but we never found other families that we really matched with.
Since being on the road, we have met so many people who homeschool in many different ways. Our kids have made many more friends than they have ever had before – friends that we will continue to be friends with for years. Our kids have learned more about who they are and what they enjoy. There is a spark of learning that is in each of them that I hope never dies.
I feel like I finally don’t need to be ashamed for being a homeschool mom or for not fitting some unspoken (or sometimes spoken) norm. I am more confident in how I am raising my kids. And I think that will help me be a better mom. This is where I belong. I have found my tribe. “Let’s be awakeners” together.
If you want to know more about this way of education, I encourage you to check out Wild and Free by Ainsley Arment. Also, check out Kelsey Henry’s book, Growing Up Roadschooled: Stories, Lyrics, & Lessons Learned From Full-Time RVing & Life After Roadschooling.- Tabitha
… on the next Ditching Suburbia blog post: Some of the stuff we use in our RV.