It’s been awhile since we updated you on our homeschool. Maybe you wonder how we have time for any book work with all the adventures with penguins and hippos and road trips around South Africa. Well, you’d be surprised how much time we have on our hands when we have no 9-5 jobs, our family and friends are mainly on a different wake/sleep cycle and with no house of our own, we don’t do a lot of “stay at home and putter” kinds of activities. It leaves lots of time for
video games YouTube homeschool. However, anyone who homeschools will know how much time you DON’T need to spend on homeschool. When working with just one kid, a few hours goes a really long way. No more math today, Zoe. Mommy’s tired. 30 minutes is a long time for long division.
Short background for those of you late to the Let’s Just Travel party: We left for Panama in October of 2014, unsure of what we’d be doing for education. We weren’t sure if we’d find some private or local school that would fit the bill or we’d need to homeschool. In the end, we enrolled the girls in public school in the small town of Pedasi for cultural and language learning and started homeschooling them in the afternoon. We used maybe 10% of the suitcase full of school books that we dragged with us from the USA.
Mexico was a little different. Local school wasn’t much of an option so we just did a bunch of classes and more homeschool. We reduced the books even further and pretty much stuck with a math book and a periodic selection of various books that we read to each other.
Spain was more of the same, only with fewer classes. The girls did more cooking, Zoe took some singing lessons and with the lightning fast internet Haley did a lot of gaming. I found Pilates. Dan found fish and chips. It was bueno.
Now that we are in South Africa our homeschool has changed yet again. We’ve known about “unschooling” now for some time. Many of the families that belong to a popular Facebook page called “Worldschoolers” are always singing the praises of unschooling. At the Learning Reimagined conference we attended here in South Africa back in February, Haley met some older teens who were obviously benefiting from the unschooling route. So she asked us to release her from traditional (if you can call it that!) homeschool and allow her to take complete charge of her own education. No start times, no stop times, no lists for what she will do that day, no threats to turn off the wifi if her homework isn’t done, nothing. She calls the shots and when she wants to do something resembling education, she does it. When she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t. We agreed to this scenario because Haley is the kind of kid that will make this work. Zoe knew better than to ask. She’s just not ready for that kind of independence yet, although she is doing so much better at independent work than when we started.
It’s been about 6 weeks since Haley started unschooling and we haven’t exactly seen much going on. Well, let’s be honest, we haven’t seen her a lot. She has her own room in this house and between the dogs that she doesn’t like and a couch that does not meet her cleanliness standards, she stays in her room most of the days that we don’t have outings. But we also know that is partly due to a certain… ahem… someone… who has captured her attention and occupies hours of her day on Skype. Let’s just say that during waking hours in Texas, we don’t see Haley. Vocab word of the week is “smitten”. One side benefit of travel is it can slow down the inevitable march toward adulthood and keep the kids young for a little longer. Well, Haley somehow managed to meet someone online so who’s the fool now? But he seems like a nice guy and Haley walks around grinning like a Cheshire cat so we can’t complain.
But while Haley’s busy on Skype, we are doing a few things that could loosely qualify as education with Zoe.
Zoe has been working her way through the latest math book. We used ExcelMath which I’m not particularly fond of but it meets our size and weight requirements and is not overkill with 30 problems of practice each day like Saxon was. We have learned that Zoe also does better with pencil and paper, not exclusively online. So for now we’ll muddle through that book. When Dan goes to the USA in May he’ll be bringing back a new curriculum for her to use. Zoe has become very good at metric. We laugh when she straddles both metric and imperial systems: “It was more than a centimeter but not as long as a foot”. “How many kilometers until we get there? And what’s our miles per hour?” Let me know when you work out how long it’ll take to get there, Zoe. I’m not doing it.
Her currency conversion skills are also impressive. When she’s at the store begging me to buy her something she knows exactly what it is in dollars, almost instantly. So math is happening in real-time for her. We had to chuckle the other day when Zoe asked her friends in Arizona what they are working on in math. She’s concerned enough about her own education that she just had to get the scoop. She was happy to find out that they are doing the same concepts she’s currently doing. She was much relieved. I was amused. Okay, I was also relieved.
Synonyms, pronouns, homonyms… not happening. We pretty much just read. We like to read one book together, out loud, and we work our way through it slowly. Right now it’s Holes and next it will be Zoe’s turn to pick a book. We have rediscovered the joy of English language bookstores and in the 2 months we’ve been in South Africa, Zoe has burned through the first 5 books of the Percy Jackson series. I did not realize that a physical book is critical in getting Zoe to read. Lesson learned, we will now invest in physical books whenever we can. Weight limit be damned!
A great friend from our days in Panama (who moved to Portugal) is the girls’ writing coach and if she ever stops having fun on a visa-required trip to the USA, we might just get her back for some continued coaching. (Right, Miss Colleen??)
One thing that we have found in almost every country is music lessons. Haley took piano in Cancun but that’s a little harder to take on the road. Zoe received a ukulele as a gift a year ago and has been playing consistently since then. She took singing and ukulele lessons in Cancun, singing lessons in Spain and now we have found ukulele lessons both in Johannesburg and here in Gordon’s Bay in South Africa. Each teacher brings something different to the table and this latest one has introduced more music theory. Zoe is learning to read music, understand scales and measures and note values, and she’s dabbling on the piano, thanks to our current Airbnb’s old upright. From the aforementioned conference in Johannesburg I have discovered that Zoe’s investment in music is greater when she’s working towards a performance in front of her peers. So I will attempt to find situations where she can perform. We tell Zoe that she could make a mint if she just stood at an intersection for a few hours and played for the waiting traffic. Child endangerment laws do not apply here! We have a musical talent to nurture, Officer!
We’ve dabbled a bit with online classes. They can be a bit of a mixed bag. Many of them “meet” at a certain time of day in a virtual classroom. That does not work so well for us between travel days, time zones and potential internet issues at that moment. Others that are stand-alone are so hands off that we seem to lose interest and not get back to it. So we prefer the classes that are somewhat live, with new lessons posted weekly, but not requiring any particular day or time we have to be available. And once you find something that works and you’ve figured out all the idiosyncrasies with getting the lesson, submitting homework and taking quizzes, you kind of want to stick with it. We’ve found that magical combination in Next Level Homeschool so we try to take any class they offer that
I want are remotely interesting. Here are just a few:
The girls took a Harry Potter themed genetics class last fall. They are in the sweet spot of ages where they can typically take the same class but there are two different levels depending on complexity of the homework. Haley usually works independently at level 2 and Zoe and I work together on level 1. I’m learning as much as they are. Turns out genetics is complicated, but we also “bump” into it a lot as we go about our daily lives. Learning stuff that you bump into later is always rewarding. Going to the Cradle of Humankind in Johannesburg meant much more to the girls because we visited right after their genetics course. We could see their learning come to life, before our eyes.
Marine Biology and Zoology
The girls have been taking Marine Biology since January and are learning so much. It’s helpful that we seem to keep basing ourselves next to the ocean so they can see these concepts in action. At first I was thankful that Haley was taking the same class so she could help Zoe if she needed it. Now Zoe works pretty much on her own or I help her when she gets stuck. I find a lot of my “instruction” of Zoe is things like how to take good notes, how to present information in a logical way, how to organize your thoughts for a presentation. These are skills that will transcend topics and I’m pleased to see how well she picks them up. On the other hand, I never knew so much about invertebrates as I do now!
Here is one of Zoe’s homework assignments for marine zoology.
Haley prefers to do all her work on her beloved bed, so here’s an example of what she’s been able to do without leaving the comfort of her own blanket.
Next Level Homeschool is offering a Vikings class starting in June. Perfect timing! We will be in Europe! So the girls are all signed up and we are excited to learn more about this often-forgotten piece of European history. Homeschool moms get to push their kids to take things that interest them too, sometimes. It’s one of the perks!
We don’t really have to teach geography. We live it. But maps are a hard concept to explain in the back of a car so we bought a blow up globe to understand relationships between countries and continents. Going to the tips of places helps cement the concept. Science is not so easy to teach on the go so we just try and make opportunities to see it when we can. We have a science class coming up where we will watch demonstrations for a few hours. We learn about cheetahs and penguins and ostriches and hippos during our outings and just pick it up as we go. We like to find well-done documentary series and work our way through them. We like Big History, Mankind (the Story of All of Us) and right now we are working our way through BBC’s Planet Earth 2.
I’ve noticed Zoe’s vocabulary has expanded a lot lately, probably because of all the time she spends with adults and people older than her. She’s the only one that communicates with the Granny who lives in the side apartment of our house. Granny only speaks French but this does not seem to get in the way of Zoe’s chatting. Zoe is also the only one who met the other renter who has an apartment under the house. If there’s another living being anywhere near the house, Zoe will find it and engage with it, some way, some how. Doesn’t matter what it is… dogs, renters, cats, grandparents… she’s an equal opportunity socializer.
Given that Haley is 15 and would be wrapping up her freshman year in high school if she were in the USA,
we are she is starting to think about what comes next. We don’t know if college is on her horizon or not. It will be if she wants it to be, but we also coach her on not simply going to college because it’s “what you do after high school”. We want her to go but not get into debt in the process nor are we willing to foot the bill for what amounts to nothing more than a framed sheepskin. But knowing Haley and her quest for knowledge, and wanting to be around people who have a similar interest, we believe she will end up in a higher educational institution of some sort, at least for awhile. However, she’s getting very used to learning organically so her tolerance for classroom lectures might be lower than your average college student. She has also been around many young people who are doing different things with their lives, providing an example that Haley might decide to emulate. Or maybe she’ll be so sick of living out of one suitcase that she’ll set up home somewhere, gather lots of material objects again and not leave her town! Doubtful, but it could happen!
Most people think that the only way to get into college is through 4 years of high school, taking the usual credits and jumping through the ultra stressful hoops that the US educational system foists upon our young people. Obviously, we have chosen to opt out of that institutionalization. But because the world expects you to have “papers” like a dog whose value is tied to it’s pedigree, Haley plans to take the GED sometime after she turns 16 next year. Once she passes the GED, anything goes. She has not started studying for the GED yet but no one is worried. Haley takes after her dad. She’ll study for a few months, sail through the test and move on to her next fleeting interest. She can absorb and recall vast amounts of information when she’s motivated. Picking up her laundry and remembering to bring dishes back down from her room are not good examples of her mental prowess, however. #teenagepriorities
Sounds Better on Paper
So maybe by now you are reading this and saying one of a few things… 1) “WOW, they have it going on like Donkey Kong!”, or more likely; 2) “Are you sure this is such a good idea?”. Or maybe 3) “Can you just stick to writing about cheetahs?”
Let me address thoughts 1 and 2:
1) “Wow, they have it all going on”… We really don’t have it all going on. We muddle through. We figure it out. We argue about homework and practicing and staying up too late and how many sitcoms to watch in one evening. But travel has made us all very good at FSO (Figuring Shit Out) so we apply that to our education too. We’ll figure it out when we need to figure it out. We have definitely relaxed a LOT since we left for Panama, when we were trying to do hours of homeschool every day before Spanish school and after public school. We do homeschool when we have time, we go out on adventures when we can and we pretty much just model the behavior of not letting barriers get in your way. Early on in our adventure the girls saw how I managed to make coffee in Panama even during a power outage. In Spain the girls knew that Google Maps was just a starting point, and that we’d have to FSO when we got closer to the destination. FSO is on full display every time we get to a new country and go to get our SIM cards. I know they, too, will overcome any obstacle put in the way of their goals. But let’s just hope nothing will be as harrowing as not being able to make coffee in the morning! #thehorror
2) “No tests? No diploma? No alarm clocks? Are you sure this is a good idea…?”… we know this is the thought of many people. I just wish you could meet the Worldschoolers we’ve met on our short 2.5 years of traveling so far. Your jaws would hit the ground if you were to talk to any one of the kids we’ve interacted with, most of whom haven’t had much in the way of institutionalized education at all in their lives. Especially the “unschoolers”. They are AMAZING kids, and smart as a whip, most of them. Or at least, they range the same spectrum that any random class of 30 kids would span. Kids are natural learners. They don’t need formal traditions to facilitate their education. In fact, I would say that many kids who are ripe for learning are discouraged from learning, because when they want to learn something that interests them, they are told that it’s not on the syllabus so please get back in line and learn what we tell you to learn. Oh, and don’t learn it too fast because kid #23 can’t learn it that fast and the teacher trying to teach it to 30 kids can’t teach it at 7 different paces. So I would prefer to turn the question around… “Are you sure the traditional schooling system is the right kind of environment for motivating and rallying the learning spirit of children?”.
And for those of you keeping track of question 3: “Can you just stick to writing about cheetahs?”, you’ll be happy to know that ostriches will be our next animal du jour.
So there’s the update on what we are up to. It keeps changing, and relaxing. I’m not sure we can get any more relaxed on our education than we are now, but check back in after another year of this crazy life and we’ll see how we are doing. Maybe by then one of the kids will be writing all these blogs and I’ll be having coffee at pilates. A mom can dream. No matter what we are up to, we are happy that our kids will never relate to being “another brick in the wall”.