Photo: Courtesy of The Nomadic Family
Instead of school bells, the Klaf family’s schedule was based on the ocean’s tides.
That was when they were staying in the Philippines, and were snorkeling or diving daily. When they were in Ecuador, living in the jungle, they had no electricity or running water, so when the sun went down, they took it as their cue to sleep.
Over a period of three-and-a-half years, the Klaf parents and their two tweens traveled and lived in 17 countries. Their longest stay was eight months, but usually they visited each place for three-and-a-half months before moving onto their next destination.
School was an informal mishmash of learning from their environment to snagging a lesson or three from their parents before heading out to see their world that day.
“What could you do if you had no limits?” they asked themselves before they made the decision to do all they could to finance an epic journey with their children around the world.
It’s all part of a growing movement called roadschooling, also known as worldschooling. What it means is that families are homeschooling or unschooling (an informal style of education led by curiosity rather than workbooks) their children while on the road or traveling the world by other means.
While there aren’t definitive statistics available about this trend, a Roadschooling Facebook page has 11,000 members, and a similar Worldschooling Facebook page has 1,400 followers. There’s a Roadschooling magazine, and there are plenty of blogs detailing the lives of families on the road.
Why would parents decide to roadschool their kids? The reasons vary, but the majority of them simply want to travel, and they don’t see why homeschooling can’t take place on the road.
Before roadschooling, Gabi Klaf’s husband had been working all the time, and life was hectic. “We realized that this wasn’t the life we wanted,” Klaf says. So they saved $50,000 over five years and took off, blogging about their adventures at TheNomadicFamily.com.
Sometimes, they schooled in a more formal manner; other times they learned from their activities. When they were in the Philippines, they went snorkeling or diving every day. “Diving with the sea turtles is life changing—it fills you with a deep tranquility,” says Klaf. But in India, the kids attended an international school that Klaf describes as a “hippie, eclectic homeschooling school,” where they learned about Norse mythology. In Turkey, they never stayed in one spot very long, moving to their next location every four days. Klaf tried to teach her children in the mornings, aiming for 20 hours of school every week.
Emma Pamley-Liddell took a different approach when she roadschooled her three children, who are between the ages of 7 to 14. She used a mix of unschooling, structured homeschooling, online classes, worldschooling, adult-led classes—and basically anything they could find. The emphasis was always on the environment, humanity and sustainability. So far, they've spent time in Australia and France, and now they’re on their second year on the road.
“We’ve been intentionally homeless since 2001, but I think we’ll buy a house later this year,” Pamley-Liddell says. “We intend to still travel, but to have a fixed period of 3 to 4 months in the house to give the kids a chance to make local friends, join clubs, have pets and ride bikes.”
But worldschooling can continue with no end in sight. Lainie Liberti originally intended to take one year off to travel with her son, Miro, to allow them to step away from the pressure of school. But the single mother ended up worldschooling him for nine years.
“We set out without homeschooling workbooks or even math lessons,” Liberti says. “Instead, we let it all go with an internal sense of trust that one year of travel would provide effectively more stimulation than a fifth grade public school classroom could ever provide. As a result, we traveled and explored each day with a renewed sense of freedom and lightness, tapping into our natural curiosity which led our daily itinerary.” While he had been bored in a traditional school, Miro says he flourished when he began his traveling schooling.
Miro believes overplanning can be detrimental to worldschooling. While research isn’t a bad thing, the over-zealous planner tends to remove the opportunity for spontaneity from the experience, and doesn’t allow natural curiosity to unfold. “In addition to being overly busy, often times the over-planner neglects to build in down days in their schedule, which every person needs to ground and restore,” says Miro.
But there has to be some degree of planning in order to learn from the journey, says Susan Landry, a Minnesota-based blogger and mom, who did a homeschool/roadschool combo for a decade. Before traveling, she always researches the locations, museums, parks and other interesting parts of the trips ahead of time with their children. “This creates interest, focuses attention when you are at the location because things are familiar, and helps the information to stick,” Landry says.
In fact, there’s an entire service created for roadschooling parents that does just this, called Children’s Concierge. Based in Washington, DC, it creates itineraries, tours, scavenger hunts and more for traveling families to help turn every journey into an educational experience.
For example, at the African Art Museum in Washington DC, there’s a display of African headrests. Most people walk right past them without taking notice. “But if you ask kids to bring along a photo of their own pillow—or bring the actual pillow—a wonderful new interest is ignited,” says Sandra Dee Hoffman, president of Children's Concierge. “Kids simply can’t imagine how these carved, wooden-objects could possibly be pillows.”
Still, some educational experts are doubtful that long-term roadschooling could effectively replace a traditional school education. That’s because while museums, gardens, planetariums, libraries, nature centres, battlefields and art galleries usually offer great activity handouts or projects for kids that teach important concepts, they nonetheless don't offer the breadth of opportunities that classrooms do, says Janet Ruth Heller, president of the Michigan College English Association, and co-founder of the Professional Instructors Organization union at Western Michigan University. “A school classroom gives children good opportunities to develop social skills, such as doing group projects with other children, or cooperating on a sports team,” Heller says. “School teachers have unique talents and specialize in getting students interested in science, music, reading, social studies, literature, history, art or sports.” Schools will also take the children to field trips. So while roadschooling may be a good temporary break from the classroom, the majority of students get more benefit from being in a traditional school setting, she says.
For her part, Klaf admits that roadschooling isn’t for everyone, and she’s grateful for the comforts of home now that she’s been back for a few years. “Roadschooling means you lose control of your privacy, you lose your comfort, you lose your routines,” she says. “But if you’re considering it, my greatest advice is to just do it. You only live once.”