Education and World Schooling
“I believe this passionately that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or, rather, we get educated out if it.”
- Sir Ken Robinson
“Our schools should be… environments for safe experimentation, viewing failure as an opportunity for learning rather than a mark of shame.”
- Salman Khan
“There is no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.” - M.r. Miyagi
Finally, we got to the front of the queue. It had been another long relocation day. It was mid-afternoon and we had stopped by a supermarket to stock up on supplies. The kids were restless and bored, just like all kids in a supermarket. Clair and I were tired, we just wanted to pack up and pay for the shopping, then get on to our new home for the next few weeks. The checkout lady said goodbye to the customer in front of us, turned her attention to our family and duly started processing our shopping. Bleep. Bleep.
Bleep. The items moved expertly across the infra-red beam totting up the price as it scuttled down the silver slide waiting for collection at the end. The checkout lady glanced at Clair and me, then at the kids, then back at us. She pursed her lips, raised an eyebrow, put a slightly condescending tone in her voice and then unleashed the bombshell we had started to get used to…. “School holiday today?” Oh no, not now.
“Ha, no, we are visiting the area.” “School holiday where you come from then?”
Bugger she’s not going to let this lie.
“Er, no, well, we don’t really live anywhere right now. We are travelling.” “Oh. Well, what about the kid’s school and their education?” “We homeschool as we travel.” “Is that allowed?” “Yes. In fact, it is encouraged in many parts of the world and by many forward thinking educators.” “But why do you homeschool?” … She had that clear look of shock, sorrow, disbelief, outrage and judgement plastered across her face. She pressed on, searching her own thoughts for answers. “Were your children bullied?” “No, (sigh) we decided to take them out of school and travel the world for as far, wide and as long as we possibly could. We wanted to do as much together as a young family as possible, and now was the right time for us.” This did little to appease her. In fact, she moved to the next level of accusatory interrogation.
“Is that not going to damage their education?”
Jeeeeeez! “No, we don’t think so. All of us have already learnt so much as we have travelled. It’s been an amazing journey and we feel a much deeper connection to each other and the people we meet.” “But what about the children? How do they socialise? They will never be able to fit back in.” OH GOD! She asked the socialising question! Here we were, in a new location and on trial by the checkout lady at the local supermarket. AGAIN! Luckily, we had become a little numb to the interrogation from complete strangers and actually revelled in some of these confrontations as people unwittingly went through pretty much the exact same form of questioning.
The absolute favourite question — or, for want of a better word, accusation — was that of socialising. It was widely assumed, not to mention highly criticised, that we were damaging our kids’ social skills by not exposing them to enough opportunities to be with children their own age. Don’t just take my word for it. Mention that you’re thinking of “homeschooling” your children in your next five conversations -- be they with friends, family, co-workers or new acquaintances -- and I guarantee you that all five will bring up the objection that homeschooling would be a detriment to your kids’ ‘socialising skills.’ Every travelling family we have ever met has cited the same phenomenon. Instant judgement by complete strangers regarding your parental skills and the fact that you are clearly damaging your children by not allowing them to ‘socialise’. Ok. Fine. Let’s debunk this myth once and for all. It’s ridiculous.
Ahem, sorry! I apologise in advance for the rant, but we’ve faced this kind of interrogation for years and I really do want to get my point across in a way that comes to me naturally. I am sure there are many well-tailored responses out there from other homeschoolers about the socialising aspect of their children — and I encourage you to read as much as possible on the subject — but for now, this a more raw response! Apologies aside, let’s get back to the myth of homeschooled children being unable to socialise or ‘fit in’.
During our travels, we have come in contact with many homeschooled kids and have found them to be the most engaging, confident, easy going, pleasant young people we have ever met. They have this air of confidence that you just don’t usually find in children. They are instantly at ease with their surroundings and are able to mingle with anyone in a sensible, engaging and fun way. They find it second nature to engage with any human being of any race, colour, culture, nationality, religion, sex, age, height, weight, whatever. Anyone! Who wouldn’t want that from their kids?
Imagine a world where this tolerance, acceptance and ability to connect was evident in us all. Wherever we have been, we have been inundated with praise from people who have met our children and we naturally feel a huge sense of pride when people tell us, “Your kids really are a credit to you!” It makes all the stress and sleepless nights we had when making the decision to travel melt away.
I do, however, want to make a pertinent point about our parenting: Don’t, for one second, think that I am trying to paint a picture of ‘Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths’. Hells no. We, of course, have our moments, struggles, stresses, worries and challenges just like every parent does. We worry hugely about spelling, math, unacceptable behaviour, lack of confidence, connectivity, being driven to the brink of sanity and everything else that goes in-between with raising a family.
What is rather perplexing to us is that we now have to defend all of that -- whereas before, when we were conventionally schooling our children, we didn’t. We were part of the Status Quo then and deemed ‘ok’ by society at large. Yet, many children in this group are far from perfect in any way, shape or form, but avoid judgement, confrontation or justification for their actions.
Sadly, I think it will always be a case of people judging us by our initial decision, rather than by the results. Which is a huge shame because the results have been nothing short of spectacular and something we truly wish everybody could experience.
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
- Mark Twain
Since it is the biggest stigma around the subject of homeschooling that we and many other homeschoolers encounter, let’s delve a little deeper into this issue of socialisation.
By looking at the definition of the word ‘socialise' (or ‘socialize’, which is a whole other argument), you get the following definitions.
Verb. 1. Mix socially with others.
2. Make someone behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. What definition, then, are people commonly referring to? Personally, I believe most are generalising and opting for definition one, so let’s look at it first. Mix socially with others. Most people believe that by not going to school our kids are missing out because they are not mixing socially with their peers. Seriously? During our travels we meet new people every day -- on the beach, in a playground, at an ice rink, in the street, on trains, buses and planes, in a restaurant and in hundreds of other places. And guess what, we talked to them. We ‘socialised’. Our kids played with their kids. Kids of any age!
It’s not like we were sitting inside all day starving them of outside interaction. Of course not. What total nonsense!
Even traditionally homeschooled children who stay at home in one place still have a huge friend base. They meet people at sports, dance, karate, swimming or whatever clubs and interests drive them out into the big scary world of being social. One could actually argue quite strongly on the flip side of the debate and point to the fact that school is actually anything but ‘social’. How can you call it being ‘social’ when you are thrust into a classroom with 30 other people and told to sit down, shut up, open your books, do as I do and speak only when spoken to?
Recreation times could barely be called social either. The bulk of this time is generally spent avoiding the people you don’t want to see, rather than engaging with as many people as possible in conversation. Barely two weeks into your school life you are niched, packaged, stamped and processed into a subset clique from which you will NEVER be able to escape. Furthermore, you aren’t even allowed to approach other groups perceived to be above or below your station! How is that being social? It’s the polar opposite! That can only be described as ANTI-social. Ok, so with rant number one over, let’s look at the second definition.
2. Make someone behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. Stand up together, sit down together, wear the same clothes together, look the same together, sit at the same desk every day together, don’t question authority ever, move when the bell rings, don’t run, don’t jump, don’t play tag, work hard, work harder, rinse and repeat. Sound familiar? This is what is acceptable in society and this is what will be accepted in your 9-to-5 work existence when you leave school. This is what we are ultimately teaching children. Is this the ‘socialisation’ we have cruelly taken away from our children for a few years? If so, then great! The underlying issue is this: we collectively forget that we have a choice. We all have the power to change something if it’s not working or suiting our child’s needs. What ultimately stands in our way of creating our own happiness is the conventional thinking of the masses. The so-called wisdom of our peers and elders. It is utterly crippling and makes us fear stepping out of line and being perceived as doing something weird or irresponsible. This fear keeps us in line with the rest of society.
So no, you cannot convince me that homeschooling damages your child’s ability to socialise. I encourage you to do your own research on the topic and read as many articles as you can. One article from The Independent in the UK presents the statistics from a study examining homeschoolers’ socialisation skills:
‘Recent data collected by the Department of Education reveals homeschooling has grown by 61.8% over the last 10 years to the point where two million kids — 4% of the total youth population — now learn from the comfort of their own home.
Contrary to the belief that homeschooling produces anti-social outcasts, the truth is that some of the most high-achieving, well-adjusted students are poring over math problems at their kitchen table, not a desk in a classroom. According to leading pedagogical research, at-home instruction may just be the most relevant, responsible, and effective way to educate children in the 21st century.’1
Focus on Functionality
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child's natural bent.” - Plato.
Here is another salient point on this debate: Isn’t it extraordinary that the people who denounce homeschooling are the people who have never actually homeschooled? What, then, gives them the actionable knowledge to make such sweeping assumptions about your child and your parenting abilities, choices, options or decisions? When you have the masses on your side, it’s easy to criticise those who stand just slightly away from the crowd. This has always been the same throughout human existence, be it racially, sexually, artistically, politically and so on. As of today, the vast majority of children are conventionally educated and their parents feel that they have done exactly what they needed to do to ensure that their kids get the best education possible. They have likely made their own sacrifices and life choices to suit that particular child’s need. That is excellent, that is what parenting is all about; but I bet some parents reading this book are still criticised for choosing a particular area or school over another. The judgment extends far beyond the decision to homeschool and into every educational decision parents make. So ignore the judgment and focus on what works for your family. Please note that we have actually lived on both sides of this coin and can talk with a clear and balanced perspective about the various educational methods and options available to families. We have schooled our children across Montessori, public, and private schooling institutions. It was our choice to make a change, to action a plan and to take matters into our own hands for a while. Homeschooling, world schooling, online schooling — call it what you will — it is still schooling.
The bottom line is that individuals are learning.
I am of the absolute conviction that there is a place for all of the above methods of tuition, yet there is no perfect one. Every person is different, every school is different, every teacher is different and every situation is different.
In the end, it’s not so much about the method of choice but the end goal. It’s not that we are staunchly against the education system. No, not at all. Nor are we staunchly for the homeschooling or world schooling movement. We totally believe that there is room for both and fully understand that each family’s needs are and always will be completely different to those of others.
What does need to change is the stigma that surrounds an alternative approach to education. We each need the freedom from social pressures to adjust to our unique situations providing us the ability to make the correct decisions for our families and the individual needs of our children.
Give It a Trial Run
Still, as radical as it sounds, I personally believe that every family should homeschool or world school for at least one or two years as their circumstances permit. In her definitive guide to world schooling, author Ashley Dymock de Tello summarises exactly why it’s worth giving world schooling at least a trial run:
Why choose world schooling over the other options available to you? In part, because you don’t really have to choose it over something else. Instead, world schooling is a tool available to enhance whatever educational approach you choose to take….
World schooling [works because it] demands greater participation from the child. Whether you combine world schooling with homeschooling, unschooling, or some type of formal or alternative schooling, a child who travels cannot avoid the opportunities to learn.
Learning becomes a survival skill when you are far outside your comfort zone. And, for most of us, travel has a way of pushing us well beyond our comfort zones. The same is true for children. Providing a child with new cultures, countries, peoples and environments from which to learn is one of the best ways to jumpstart their natural instinct to learn. Even if you cannot see it happening, they are absorbing so much more than airplane rides or camping trips.
Because of this, world schooling works on an entirely different level because it not only demands and inspires greater participation from the child, but it also forces the parent to allow for more student-paced, self-directed learning.2
In addition, as a father, homeschooling allowed me a much closer view of my children’s educational development. I knew what they were learning and could be an active agent in their learning process. And all of this was possible whilst still allowing for each child’s self-directed learning.
This process not only gives you such a different view of your children but also gives you a much greater appreciation for the teachers that you will come into contact with if you ever decide to return to the conventional school system.
For example, we have now learned exactly how each of our children learn: what inspires them, what bores them, how they respond to certain things, what mental blocks they have and how best to adjust our course when tutoring them.
Finding this out was a hell of a journey, especially with our twins. One would expect them to be quite similar in many respects, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Their learning styles and work ethic are, in fact, polar opposites. This led to huge frustration for us and, of course, for them too. However, now that we have been through that learning process ourselves, we can empathise and fully understand the teacher’s insights when sitting through parent evenings, reviews and appraisals. Instead of us sitting there thinking, No way is our little girl like that! She must have been misunderstood or misguided by a troublesome peer, now we generally stop the teacher mid-sentence and say, “WE KNOW, IT DRIVES US NUTS TOO!” This breaks down the wall and we can then have a level-headed and oftentimes amusing conversation about what to do, the best course of action and how we as parents can help at home to make life a little easier for the teacher. (To add a little more spice to these parent evenings, we are currently having these conversations in French -- or, for want of a better term, Franglais!)
"Just when you think you know something, you have to look at in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try." - John Keating aka O Captain My Captain
The biggest misconception about homeschooling is that people generally think of a situation where conventional school is moved to the home. People envision desks in the lounge and fixed times with a timetable for Math, English, Science, lunch break, play break, etc. They also fear they are not qualified or 'clever enough' to teach their own children and are doing them an injustice. Homeschooling just doesn't work that way. You can teach your own kids. You are already doing it all the time without knowing.
You teach manners, play games, make crafts, build lego, cook, play football, walk, skate, run, take pictures, play instruments, help with homework, read books. etc. Whatever it is you do together, it is all teaching.
Anything you don't know how to teach can be learnt from the internet in a matter of minutes.
You can also reward your child for their efforts too. Recently, our son was in a swimming pool when he suddenly decided that he wanted to see how many lengths he could swim before he got tired. I watched, amazed, as he smashed out ten lengths. I then paced out the pool and told him he had just swam 100 metres! He was chuffed with his efforts and I was astounded that he had just decided to do this himself, no pressures, no swim club, no trainer and no dangled carrot, just his own internal desire. In most cases, kids get a badge or certificate for this kind of effort, but there was no ‘official’ person there to verify it and I felt pretty bad that he wouldn’t get an opportunity to share his achievement.
Then it dawned on me that I had seen it: I had counted the laps, I had encouraged him, and if I wanted to reward him with a certificate then damn it I would. We didn’t need some bored P.E. teacher waltzing up and down the side of the pool in a pair of ill fitting Speedo’s with a clicker in one hand, stop watch in the other and a whistle around their neck. It took 15 seconds to find a swimming certificate online, print it off, write in his name and his achievement, date and sign it. He proudly posed with his certificate so that a picture could be sent to his grandparents and he now has it displayed above his bed. That act alone has inspired him to swim further and he has randomly chosen 16 lengths to shoot for next time!
Don't fear that you are not qualified to teach your child. Do we honestly think your child's primary school teacher is capable of reciting the periodic table? No, they don't have to. So why, then, do us parents put the fear of God into ourselves and hide behind the ‘I am not smart enough to teach my children’ excuse?
We have all grown up in a society that has made us believe that the teacher is all knowing, all powerful and always correct. But, as many teachers will tell you, that's just not the case.
Some might argue that many teachers in the education system now are those who have fallen into teaching jobs. It is rare to find those who have a true vocation for it. And even if they do have that calling and are wonderful teachers, there will still be a certain percentage of the class that they just won't and can't connect with. It's unfair to expect otherwise. There is no magic wand to wave over 30 people and have them all understand the method and the subject in which they are being taught.
What’s more, even a history teacher who has just left University with a teaching and History degree focusing on Victorian England must go through the same learning process you would in order to teach most any subject. For example, upon walking into their new job, the history teacher in question may be told that the syllabus for next year is the American Civil War. They will now have to hit the internet and books to learn about the subject to be able to teach it. That is the same playing field as the homeschooling parent.
If you need a real life example, a few years ago I wrote a blog about education and homeschooling that contains a little anecdote that further cements the point I am trying to convey about our role as parents in our children’s education.
We have been travelling non stop now for 7 months since originally writing this tab in the blog, which seems to have whizzed by! Of course, the heaviest baggage that we carry around with us from port to port is the worry of our kid’s education. No matter what we tell ourselves, or how much we have seen the kids engaged in their surroundings having fun and learning at the same time, the nagging doubt over this subject and of social pressure/compliance or whatever you want to label it, is a constant drag on our parental subconscious. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the reasons that compelled us to take this trip in the first place, but sometimes the reasons are offered up on a platter! For example. Whilst sitting in on a rainy day in Switzerland helping Sophia with some English problems, we came across this little gem in the English activity book that we had kept from her school to travel with. (The task was to choose a fitting word with which to fill in the blank and spell it correctly.) Spelling 1.
1. That is such an _____________ elephant. It must have weigh tons of kilogram. Laughable at best. Disgraceful, of course. But pause and think about this. Think about how she would have HAD to fill in this blank with something, anything, because leaving it blank would have resulted in the dreaded red cross, crippling her confidence and self motivation. It's ‘anti-teaching’.
Reflecting on this post again today just reconfirms to me the unwavering knowledge that I can give my children a better education than that. Don't doubt yourself. My wife and I have learnt far more from homeschooling and travelling than we ever did at school! We trust that our children will too.
The Freedom of Flexibility
“I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” - Albert Einstein
It's also worth noting that it doesn't have to be forever. You have the choice to do whatever suits you best. If you feel homeschooling isn't working, then look back into the schooling route again, perhaps even a Montessori school or other educational groups in your area. In our case, and even though they can't speak the language, our kids are enjoying being in a school environment again, for now. After two and a half years of constant travel we felt the pull to sit still for a while and the kids had shown an interest in going to school again. This was quite a strange position to be in when you have four kids who actually want to go to school. My wife and I asked ourselves ‘If we could give our kids the perfect life gift, what would it be?’
Our overwhelming answer was for them to have the ability to speak another language, and that is something that sadly we cannot teach them ourselves. So we asked the kids, “What country have you really enjoyed and what language would you like to learn?” Luckily for us, they all said France and French! With a clear goal ahead of us, we got to looking into the possibility of long term house sits, home swaps or rental options. In the end, we managed to arrange a good property rental deal with a fellow Lovehomeswap member that suited both our needs. As for the schooling, the kids have fit in really well, even though they walked in with zero knowledge of French. Being back in a system again is quite strange, the youngest three are in a primary school which is leaning towards a Montessori style of teaching and is proving to be an awesome experience. Our eldest daughter is in the equivalent to UK Senior school and has blossomed into a young adult. Her language skills have shone as she has pushed herself to communicate and make friends with her peers. It is a very strange experience for my wife and me who were suddenly left alone all day in what seemed to be complete silence. We also struggle of course with stepping back into a system again. Our approach towards schooling and one we have to keep drilling into the kids is to not worry about any evaluations, tests or difficulties with certain subjects. We tell them we don’t care if test scores are low and if they aren’t connecting with a certain subject. We can always study that at our own pace at home or in a different environment another day.
What is the most important thing for them is that they get to learn the language and speak it naturally, and thankfully that will be achieved through total immersion and play. The language and the experience are the goal, nothing else. Anything more that they might achieve is great, we would have found another natural talent or interest in each of them. We are using the educational system to suit our own needs.
Now that we’ve completed our first school year in France, we will monitor how it has gone and adjust course again if and when need be.
Some will criticise the randomness and 'unsettling' nature of this approach. Of course, we will have to contend with many doubters. But, as always, we usually underestimate too quickly how adaptable we all are, especially children. Besides, isn't variety the spice of life?
It is obviously a hard decision to make when it comes to your child’s education. Naturally, we all want the absolute best for them. The only advice I can offer is that you do not get caught up in nonsense arguments about how one choice or the other will hurt you child’s ability to socialise. Or worse, listen to advice from people who have never actually home schooled or educated their children alternatively in any way before. Try and find out as much as you can about alternative ways to educate and keep an open mind to trying them out. When you give your children the flexibility to learn how and where they learn best, you remove so much of the rubbish that weighs down the conventional education system and gift them the freedom to learn. “The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.”
- Seth Godin
More Than a Theory
Now, I am sure you are wondering ‘Hey, yeah, that’s all cool, but how did you homeschool while traveling? What was your day-to-day schedule like? How did you structure learning and engage your kids?” Ah, well, all very good questions. I have to be very careful here not to paint a picture of serenity wherein all the children sat at their desks, back’s straight, big smiles, perfect manners, inquisitive questions and total attention. That never ever happened! But, I think it’s safe to say that doesn’t happen in a school environment either! The way we structured it was different in every location and slowly progressed over time.
When we first left for the trip, we were still wary of the fact that we were doing something very strange. It had been a big decision and we knew we had better take it extremely seriously. We had huge anxieties over the education of the children and we were all too cognisant of the social pressures we were putting on ourselves and the kids. In retrospect, we probably went at it a little too hard in the early days. We tried doing some math, reading, spelling and some kind of art or science project every day and to have some set times. This was naturally met with a huge push back from the kids, which was then met with huge disdain from the parents, which would end up in a huge mess of emotions! We soon learnt that each child would have a different time of day when you could sense they would be more responsive. It could be a simple question, or a moment of boredom that could open them up to sitting with you and reading or doing a math puzzle or crossword. This would then lead into a spelling test or breaking out a math book that we travelled with to test or learn new skills. Here is a working example for you: My oldest daughter (then 8) walked into the room one day and saw me writing the blog. She started to ask questions about how I was building the website and how I had taught myself to build websites in the first place. This was a classic golden opportunity to engage in her curiosity and turn it into a lesson about website design and uploading content. In fact, this particular example went even deeper and prompted her to launch her own website and business, which was a pancake delivery service around our neighbours’ houses. Out of that project we covered basic math, website creation, content creation, marketing, customer engagement, cooking, sourcing ingredients and door-to-door sales techniques. She also printed out flyers and employed the family members into the business! You can check it out at www.princepancakedelivery.weebly.com Was it a successful business? Hell no! Only two orders! But that was just another lesson about rejection and target markets. However, the smile that the two orders put on the kids’ faces was worth all the effort!
Another day we bought a huge drum of distilled water as it was much cheaper to buy in bulk and better for the environment than buying individual bottles. Drinking tap water in Koh Samui is a big no no! We got the water home, only to realise that it was impossible for me to hold it long enough (I am no Arnie!) to put into smaller bottles that we could store in the fridge. This problem then turned into a science project for the kids to learn about siphons and the movement of water. We hit the internet and started the research, looking into the explanations of how and why it worked. Once we had sourced the materials and put the plan into action, they were thrilled to see it work and had no idea they had been learning math and science along the way. When we visited cities, it was much easier to conduct lessons as the city itself was the classroom. When we were in Rome, we had booked a slot to visit the Colosseum. Before we went out that day, we watched a few YouTube clips of the movie Gladiator and other free film content, including a history programme. After that, they were hooked and couldn’t wait to go see this fascinating stadium where the gladiators had fought both each other and wild animals to the death. Once we had the buy-in from the kids, we could then layer on other facts as the day unfolded. We talked about the year the Colosseum was built (construction started in 70 AD!), the architecture, and the huge strain and effort it took for the thousands of slaves who were forced to work on it and died whilst building it. We also discussed the emperors of the time and the history of the games and the shows that took place there.
Instead of a one hour history lesson looking at books and not engaging with the topic at all, the kids found themselves completely immersed in a learning experience without really knowing it that lasted a full day. They were just having fun.
It’s important to note that this didn’t happen all of the time. Life was not a dreamy walk around a city pointing at interesting facts and getting nods and smiles. There were dozens of times (maybe more) where we would get huge resistance from the kids. They didn’t want to go out that day, or they just couldn’t walk into another church, cathedral, castle or temple. They were too tired to walk another two kilometres to get back to the car or train station and were just fed up and tired and wanted to eat ice cream and go home.
Life is not a bed of roses. However, we were together and we were pushing the boundaries of living the life that we wanted to lead, and that was ultimately what mattered. The fact that deep learning could happen while we were pursuing that life is what made world schooling such a valuable tool for our family travels. It was adaptable to every circumstance and helped us realise that learning can happen anywhere and in many unconventional ways.
World schooling will look and feel different for every family — and it will likely change over time within each family, as well. That’s the beauty of it. You can mold and shape it to fit your child’s needs and your family’s travel circumstances. That adaptability and personalization of education is something your children would never receive from the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional