|We meet lots of people in our travels. As soon
as they realize we RV with kids they ask, "what do you do about school."
Several of the topics listed on the left, describe some of our educational
material and activities. The four most common questions we hear are
. . . .
We homeschool, or as we call it, Road-School.
Within seconds of learning that we travel full-time with the boys most people ask, "what do you do about their education" . Today it seems most people are familiar with homeschooling. Just four years ago when we started traveling many people would make a face as if they didn't know about homeschooling. Today, many know someone that homeschools their kids or have heard that the top four or five finalist of the National Spelling Bee are homeschool kids.
like to use a spare bedroom, set it up with a chalkboard, little desks,
bookshelves and decorations, to mimic the
atmosphere, structure and schedule of the public school system. This was more common years ago, especially in homes where children
could not attend school due to medical, physical, or other reasons. Today many parents lean towards a structure that is called
"unschooling." Unschooling does not mean uneducation. It simply means not modeling the structure, schedule, and curriculum of the
What it does mean is
to follow the children's interest. It means finding interesting subjects
and activities that kids are self motivated to
pursue. It means mixing math, history and science in with cooking, shopping, driving down the street, walking though a city or watch a
Here's an example from two years ago (2001). During a hard rain in San Diego the rain water poured off of our awning like a waterfall. To prevent a muddy mess, I tipped the awning and put a ten gallon trash can under the lowest corner so I could dump the water elsewhere. The kids were amazed how fast the can filled with water. We got out a calculator and began to calculate how many gallons of rain were falling on the awning over time. We had to compute the volume of the can (a conic section), the area of the awning and the time to fill the can. After the rain stopped the boys eagerly took off using the odometers on their bikes and a park map to measure the dimensions. Next they determined how many gallons of water fell across the entire park during the 1 inch down pour.
That is just one example. We have found that we can turn anything into a learning experience. These kind of learning activities are certainly easier with younger children. As our boys become teenagers they are loosing interest in simple activities like this. "What's the point" becomes a common question and they are satisfied simply knowing the it's a bunch of water that fell.
Although Newton discovered
gravity by watching an apple fall, or so the story goes, kids may not learn
how to plot a quadratic equation
by simply watching the rain fall on an awning. We are fortunate in our diversity. Cheryl loves history, biology and reading and my
background is science, math, electronics, engineering, and computer science.
The basic structure
of their education is a mix of subjects such as reading, math, science,
history, geography, along with many hands on
activities such as factory tours, national park visits, museums, involvement in daily chores and repairs, using power tools and welding to
name a few. At the time of writing this our boys are spending much of their time learning to play harmonica, piano, guitar and clarinet.
Reading is probably
the most important habit to develop. There is not enough time to
learn everything through direct experience. Books contain the knowledge
of many generations. Click here for a list of some
of the books we have used.
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This is another very common question. In the traditional sense we don't. But then we are not in a classroom environment where a single teacher is required to monitor the learning of twenty and in some cases thirty students.
Like most homeschool parents we always wonder, if we provide enough detail, or whether we completely leave something out. Some days we observe them and feel real cocky about their genius and other times they act like little kids and we question their future.
Having raised four older kids via the public school system we know that good grades on school tests are not a complete measure a child's future and well being. There are interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, daily skills and habits, systemic thinking, having goals and a purpose in life that will comprise a well rounded individual that contributes positively to our society.
Unfortunately our school system mixed with the commercialization of television, the internet and many other aspects of our culture teach one main purpose. Go to school, get good grades, to get a good job, to get good credit so you can afford a big house, big tv, and other standards of American life to keep our economy growing and the mortgage and credit card payments flowing. But this is somewhat off the subject of testing and deserves a closer look on a future webpage.
RV'ing is interesting in this regard. As time goes on we begin to question more and more of the paradigms of our culture. Some of these are buying bigger and bigger houses, buying stuff, lots of stuff, and as a good friend of mine said, "living to work rather than working to live." Testing falls into this bucket of paradigms.
Most of our schools test kids to measure what they have learned in the past week, month, or quarter. Then regardless of the child's score, or long term retention, move on to the next subject. Testing should be to determine readiness to move on to more complex learning. However on some subjects like learning multiplication tables we take an opposite position. Not all kids develop at the same age and some may never have a mechanically logical mind for such activities. Our youngest son enjoys factoring quadratic equations but is slow with multiplying. As time goes on he is getting quicker. His brother was quick to learn multiplying, but just a little slower with algebra.
Many public schools set a grade to teach the multiplication table then drill the kids until they can complete 100 problems in 5 minutes with 85 percent accuracy. As a kid, if you're developmentally not ready for this it can be a traumatizing experience which can establish many negative feelings toward math and about one's own self-image.
As a nation we react as if a child cannot grow up to be educated without rigorous testing. The Los Angeles School District recently announced [I wrote this in 2003] that a teachers merit pay will be tied to student test scores. What might teachers do to improve test scores? Will such actions improve test scores, promote cheating by the teachers or truly improve the education process.
Here's a story that illustrates how a person can complete a worksheet without learning. We visit many national parks. All of them have a program called Junior Ranger. The kids get a small workbook from the visitor center then spend the day exploring the visitor center, the park and attending ranger walks and talks. Some of the workbooks are well done. But many result in a strange side affect of non learning. The activity becomes one of getting the workbook filled out rather than reading the displays and looking at the exhibits. In one park the boys were asked to record an alpha letter that appeared on each sign along the trail with a matching short phrase or keyword that was on the worksheet. The signs described plants and animals, that Lewis and Clark found on their journey. The boys ran as fast as we would let them from sign to sign. They reviewed each sign for the phrase, not reading but scanning for keywords. Then they would record the letter, which ultimately spelled out Lewis and Clark or something. In the end we asked them some questions about the plants and animals only to discover they could complete the worksheet without reading the signs or learning the intended information.
So we've ask what we what our kids to become? We want them to be book smart but also street smart, mechanically smart, financially smart, enterprising, emotionally smart, creative, self-initiating, self-reliant, contributors to society, systemic thinkers, problem solvers, patient, humble, and trustworthy. We do not want to turn them into professional test takers and ultimately corporate data processors, report writers or mindless paper pushers. We see first hand how they are doing. We do refer to grade-by-grade curriculum to gage the "normal" pace set by state standards. We observe their knowledge of math, writing, reading, history, and science. In additional we learn about politics, social skills, creativity, art, music, respect for others, autonomy, trust, cooperation, pride, self confidence, and more. We also constantly look for new ways to challenge them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Is this what people are asking when they talk about testing? I doubt it.
It sounds like a big list and that our boys will become some super kids. I really doubt it. They are very much normal boys. The real test is about to come. This will be their teenage years. As many parents know, during the teenage years a child can spin off in many negative directions, influenced by peers, drugs, TV, boredom, lack of self-confidence or motivational goals. Are there test for these factors in the school system? Again I doubt it.
Many if not most of
histories great leaders, heroes, thinkers, inventors, and writers, were
either rebels, labeled un-educateable, persevered childhood hardships or
emerged out of other circumstances that were not part of the normal mainstream
culture. Our current school system was designed in the late 1800's
and early 1900's in order to prepare young adults and kids immigrating
from many different countries with different cultures and languages to
work homogeneously in the booming steel and industrial complex of the early
1900's. It's basis comes from the theories and philosophies employed
by the Prussians to indoctrinate obedient soldiers, obedient workers for
mines and factories, well subordinated civil servants, clerks, and citizens
who thought alike on most issues. To read more about the history
of our schools read, The Underground History of American Education by John
Taylor Gatto, Oxford Village Press, a well researched book, with references
to many historical documents, that presents a history we don't read about
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This is something that
we will have to start preparing for. College acceptance is often
determined by a review of academic records. Soon we may begin to
maintain records for the equivalent of the high school years. It
used to be more difficult for home school kids to enter college.
Lately however, home school kids are seen as good students that attend
with a purpose in mind. Whether our boys will want to continue onto
college or not will be totally up to them. We see our responsibility
as homeschool parents to provide the basic skills of reading, writing and
math along with a broad range of exposure to many other subjects.
Most important however, is to develop capable people with a life long passion
for leaning, exploring, and contributing positively to our society.
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When I first started hearing this question I would answer it. After a while I started to doubt if I understood what was really being asked. So now when I am ask this question, I answer first with a question. "What do you mean by socialization." To this day I still do not really understand what people think the schools do that they call socialization.
At first I thought the question just meant how to get along with other kids, and most people are thinking this when they ask. Our boys have no problem making friends quickly. They meet new kids every week. Either we are moving to a new location or they are. Most of the kids they meet are on vacation during the summer. In the winter they meet a few and many of those are visiting and traveling with their retired grandparents. They have e-mail pals all across the country, but like most young boys writing on a regular basis, if at all, is not part of their activities by choice. We also visit with friends and relatives across the country.
Because a teacher is responsible for many kids it is not possible for them to be aware many inter- and intra-personal issues that an individual may have. We have the opportunity to observe many situations and discuss their feelings, thoughts actions, assumptions and desires. Many kids are left to themselves to understand human interaction. A director of a larger city school district once told me that school age children are too young to understand the deeper issues of life and human interaction. Later in our discussion she more or less said that if you can't get life figured out you can hire a psychiatrist when you are an adult. I totally disagreed with her and believe kids understand more than many adults give them credit for. What they don't have is the complex language to readily discuss and debate such issues or as that school director surely knew, pass a test on the subject.
I have a theory about some of the difficulties our society is having. It's based on a substantial reduction of adult interaction with kids over the last fifty years.
You may be wondering if it is rough to not have any regular friends. The short answer is no. They do have regular friends that we see whenever we are in the part of the country where they live. Undoubtedly they will grow up thinking on occasion about what they didn't have in their life. They may think they missed having a regular daily friend, or a single tree fort that they spent three years in, or the corner store where they hung out day after day during junior high. On the other hand they will have just as many other memories to fill a lifetime and the "regular" kids will be wishing they had been able to travel. It's the old grass is greener syndrome I guess.
The Other Half of This Question.
One day when I asked, "what do you mean by socialization", the fellow answered, "leaning to pay attention, follow orders, obey the rules." Ask any junior high school teacher how well the system is doing on developing these skills. Cheryl and I both model following the rules. When we do act against a rule we explain why. We want the boys to develop a sense of community responsibility and participation and also an ability to think and act for themselves based on logic and perceived outcomes.
There is a much scarier, almost conspiracy theory, side to this question. It has to do with preparing children for the workplace. Conditioning them to following orders, not questioning authority, not thinking for themselves. It all sounded pretty strange to me when I first heard all of this but as I talk with more and more people and teachers I begin to wonder. A good book on this subject is "Dumbing Us Down" by John Gatto. He is a four time Teacher of the year in both New York City and the State of New York.
This probably goes without saying, but I'll talk a little about it anyway. Travel provides a variety of learning experiences. Most of what I mention here can be seen throughout our series of webpages listed on our index page.
We have seen many different animals, grizzly bears, rattle snakes, alligators, skunks, prairie dog communities, javlina, musk ox, moose, beaver, water moccasins, black widows, pheasant, puffins, trumpeter swans, fireflies, muscrat, many strange insects, and many more. We have yet to see a cougar, tarantula, or yetti in the wild. The boys say an animal that looked like a big cat with a very long tail crossed their path. So maybe they came too close, 40 feet, to one of the big cats.
We have seen a variety of geography, the Tetons, the Alps, deserts in bloom, red rock cliffs and arches, everglades, salt mines, coal mines, the great plains, massive plateaus, grand spires, snowy peaks, frozen rivers, Arctic tundra, the Grand Canyon, Mt. McKinley, The Top of the Alps (the Eiger), Appalachia, and Death Valley.
We had all grown up on the west coast. Our concept of old buildings and town history dated back to the late 1800's. We started our travels in the west and saw history of the 1800's. We traveled to the midwest and saw structures built in the early 1800. Next to the east coast where dates of 1700 or even 1675 were posted on buildings and homes. To us these buildings seemed real old. Next we traveled to Europe and saw an abby in York that was built in the 1200's and was last remodeled to add a central heating system in the 1700's. We Saw walls and castle ruins built by the Romans and Vikings dating back to the fourth or fifth century.
We've seen the space shuttle take off, visited Los Alamos, over two dozen science museums the best of which are in Boston, London, Munich, and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. We visited various factories. Some made marshmallows or crayons, Tabasco, Louisville Slugers, Gibson guitars, the Corning Glass museum, various car plants like Toyota, Nissan, Harley Davidson, and Corvette, learned how to flyfish in Idaho, used power tools with Grandpa in San Diego, visited a major chemical research and testing lab with a relative, went shrimping in Mississippi, hauled freight down frozen rivers near the Arctic Circle, played harmonica for a audience of 1800 people, and stared in a documentary about RVing.
We've eaten lobster in Maine, pizza in Chicago, alligator and crawfish in Louisiana, pork chops in Iowa, Salmon in Seattle, Ben and Jerry's ice cream in Vermont, Maple syrup in New Hampshire, tacos al pastor in Merida, 28 oz steaks in Texas, hotdogs in up state New York, pizza and pasta in Venice, cheese steak in Philly, cheesecake in Boston, barbaque in Kansas City and Memphis, fried green tomatoes in Tennesee, excellent fried chicken in Kentucky, bratwurst and pretzels in Munich and best of all, five alarm burritos in SantaFe.
We've met people from every state and many countries. We've met a couple that taught us how to flyfish, a family on the Whitehouse tour whose daughter rides horses and wants to be an Olympian, had a fun time with a Japanese film crew, a family whose dad owns a plastic injection molding company, and a bus load of kids and staff that broke down on the Kenai Peninsula just to name a few. We visited friends in Connecticut, South Dakota, Texas, and California. We visited with relatives in Iowa, Washington, Idaho, California, and Montana and Alaska. As time goes on we meet more and more people around the country and even the world.
We've seen rock and roll in Las Vegas, Orchestra in Ashland Oregon, Zydeco in Louisiana, the Sturgis Harley Davidson rally in South Dakota, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Times Square, Picadilly Circus, Rodeo Days in Cheyenne, the Iowa State Fair, pumpkin chunking in Delaware, Memphis in May, The Gore-Liberman campaign in Hannibal.
We've seen the the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, the SanteFe Trail, the Eire Canal, Loch Ness, castles in England, cliff dwellings in Colorado, Slave trade quarters in the Caribbean, the Alamo, Jamestown, Williamsberg, Plymouth Rock, the site of the Boston Tea Party, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, watched the Senate in session, toured the Whitehouse and the Supreme Court.
We've been to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in New York, the Sears Tower in Chicago, climbed the Pyramid of Chichanitza in Yucatan, and castles atop the Pyrenees Mountains in France, the worlds largest indoor waterslide and rollercoaster at the Edmonton Mall, and rode the Eurostar through the Chunnel.
We've explored many National Parks and monuments including Yellowstone, the Everglades, Big Bend, Carlsbad Cavern, Yosemite, The Redwoods, Sequoia, Arches, Canyon De Chelly, Biscayne, Joshua Tree, Fort Clatsop, White Sands, Mesa Verde, Dinosaur, Tuzigoot, Fort Laramie, Devils Tower, Saguaro, Agate Fossil Beds, Scotts Bluff, Tumacacori, Mount Rushmore, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Jewel Cave, Cape Cod, Acadia, Valley Forge, Yorktown, Jamestown, Castillo de San Marcos, Death Valley, Denali.
I know there's are few I haven't listed and many we have yet to see across the country and around the world. Variety has expanded the minds of our children and ourselves. Life doesn't have to be lived by the definitions and societal structures of past generations. We live in a time of technology and abundance never before known. With a little courage we can step out of a normal daily routine and experience a world of endless variety.
Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Along with the variety of traveling comes a certain degree
of change. Dealing with change is often equated with the stress it
causes. Traveling has provided a somewhat different perspectives on change.
Some changes we have experienced are:
Quitting a career
Selling our house and all the furniture in it.
Leaving friends and family.
Not being able to answer the question, "where do you live."
Not being able to vote in a Federal election, since we don't pass any state "residence" rules.
Becoming good friends with people we will never see again.
I'm not sure if our boys see much of this as change since they were fairly young when we started traveling. Many books about stress would tell us that we must be highly stressed. Change doesn't create stress. It's one's perspective and fears that cause stress.
I've always taken to change a little different than a
lot of people. I actually enjoy change. My life has always
seemed stable so change was a new adventure and for me they have been mostly
positive. Stagnation and routine, although comfortable, can be quite
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Copyright Nodland 1999