How we Home School on the road!
Deciding on how to tackle your child’s schoolwork while travelling long term is an important and understandably, sometimes stressful decision. The question about how to go about educating children on the road is one of the most talked about topics amongst current and future travelling families. The answer is of course, whatever suits your situation, how long you’ll be travelling, which state you’ll be registering in, how confident and motivated you are to plan and implement your own lessons, how well your children will take to being accountable to you, whether you want the freedom to teach whatever; whenever or feel the need to have professional input and direction.
There are so many options and considerations that there is absolutely no one fits all approach. Some families sign up for Distance Education which is essentially where the students are sent their term’s workload, receive regular online support from specialised teachers and post their completed work back again. Some seek schooling exemptions for a certain period of time which is ultimately up to the discretion of individual school principals. Some choose to unschool which is a a type of homeschooling that does not follow any curriculum or try to recreate the classroom experience. Some (like us) choose to home school their children which involves familiarising themselves with the curriculum, planning learning experiences and recording evidence of their children’s learning.
Next to, “Which caravan did you buy and why?,” the question of “How do you educate your kids on the road?” is our biggest inbox filler. This is what has prompted the writing of this blog.
We signed up to home schooling whilst still in Victoria so this blog will be based on our experiences with home schooling under the Victorian model. You can find out more about the application process and requirements here (https://www.vrqa.vic.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx). A quick Google Search should give you the information you will need to apply and home school within each state.
The application process was fairly straightforward and easier than expected, however I do come from a teaching background and can imagine that it may be a little daunting to those without a background in planning and teaching. It involves setting out a learning plan for each child for the coming year. Keep it simple. The plan does not need to be super detailed with every single lesson and learning outcome listed. Think of it as a guide for what you want to achieve and also a way to show the home school panel that you are capable of providing quality education for your child. There are lots of application examples provided on the website. Feel free to use them as a template for your application.
In Victoria, about 10% of home schoolers are audited which involves the department contacting you to discuss how you are catering for your child’s needs and how you are recording their progress.
You can do it!
You may be wondering, can I do this? Can I really be my child’s teacher? My advice is this……YOU know your child best! You know what they can and can’t do. You know what they’re interested in. You know how far to push them. You were their first teacher. You taught them to walk and talk. You can do this too!
Now the easy part is over and your application was (of course) successful! Congratulations! You are officially a teacher! Time to put your teaching hat on and begin to think like a teacher! I promise you can do it! Read on to find out how to do this and what’s worked for us!!
Classroom vs Homeschool
Teachers spend hours and hours planning engaging curriculum focused lessons to cater for the varying needs and abilities of the children in their classroom. They have 20 – 35 students in their classroom and plan for approximately 5.5 hours of learning time each day! Obviously as a travelling family this type of model is not realistic. You don’t have hours and hours to plan, 5.5 hours to teach each day or 20-30 children to educate! We plan for approximately 1 hour of formal learning per day as the quality of this teaching time is magnified by the one-on-one instruction given by us. You are going on a trip of a lifetime and giving your child memories and learning experiences a classroom teacher could only dream of!
Let’s face it, standing on a boat, watching Humpback whales migrating through warm waters, while gasping in awe each time they breach their 30,000kg bodies into the air in an attempt to dislodge their barnacles is going to make more of an impact on a child’s learning than watching videos or reading a book in a classroom. Remember though, that you are ‘now thinking like a teacher’. If you know you are going whale watching, or another equally as exciting activity, use it to your advantage. Plan lessons around it (just like a teacher would).
Before or after the experience you could get your child to make a brochure, read reviews, write their own review (and publish it), go to the library or use the internet to make a project, write a fact file, paint a picture, write a postcard or letter to someone back home about the experience, write a letter to the provider to thank them, write a journal, write a journal from the perspective of the animals etc etc.
If you don’t think your kids will be particularly interested in learning more about the experience, it’s also 100% acceptable to simply enjoy the experience for what it is, learn while they’re there and then do some maths work the next day! We don’t want kids to dread an exciting adventure simply because they’re going to be “made” to write an essay about it later!! You know your kids best. Don’t push them too far!
OK, so your kids aren’t really interested in researching and making a project about whales and their breeding habits, even though you just spent $350 and 2 hrs watching them! What on Earth ARE you going to teach them? The simple answer is ASK THEM! Kids learn best when they’re interested so let’s use this to your advantage. Are your kids obsessed with dinosaurs? Perfect! This term is all about dinosaurs! Are they in love with snorkeling? Awesome! Next term’s topic is ocean life!
Our grade 4 girl loves watching real estate reality shows so this term she has been ‘working’ as a real estate agent, working out commissions, marketing run down houses, presenting her sales pitch on a Powerpoint presentation, drawing floor plans and mastering her photography skills. She’s worked out the mean (average) house price in Australia, the most expensive suburbs and budgeted the cost of living in a house for a year. There were days when she was so engrossed in her learning that we had to tell her to stop her school work so we could go out and explore!
Our little grade one guy LOVES animals and wants to be a vet so his topic this term is of course PETS! So far he has read lots of books about pets, written a ‘puppies for sale’ ad, worked out how many bowls of food each pet needs, researched different dog breeds and their temperaments and visited to the koala hospital.
While we generally don’t stick to a normal school term, each topic runs for approximately 8-10 weeks, give or take a couple of weeks depending on how it’s all going. Here is a list of the themes the kids have chosen to learn about so far: Australia, Cities, Tasmania, Budgeting, Queensland, Dinosaurs, Pets, Real Estate. The choices are endless! Make sure you guide your kids to choose something that you know something about and/or enjoy learning about too as this will help motivate you to more effectively plan and teach. Just imagine coming up with 8 weeks of exciting educational lessons about Minecraft if you don’t even know how to play it! Sometimes we choose 3 topics we think they’ll enjoy and the kids take a vote on which one they like best. Sometimes they all work on the same topic, sometimes they each choose a different one.
Our Top 6 Learning Activities while on the Road
- Journal writing.
We spend a good hour every Monday morning talking about, listing the main events and looking at photos of our past week. Each child is expected to carry out this recall activity with a varying degree of skill. Our grade 4 is expected to write the events in a logical sequence, use lots of descriptive language, include interesting and funny stories, write in paragraphs and include at least one page of small, neat writing. She may or not draw a picture. Our grade one (who “hates” writing) is required to not complain too much, use the dotted lines to write neatly on and write 3 or 4 sentences about a single event that he enjoyed. Our kindy kid tells us a few sentences about an activity he enjoyed, we write the sentence/s and read it back to him and he illustrates it.
We try to allow the children to work independently on this task, only assisting with tricky words or sounds if they ask us to. We ask each child to read out their journal and we find something to praise them about, i.e. “Wow you wrote 2 lines more than last week, I like how you used that word to describe how you were feeling, How did you do that? Your picture looks so real!”
We try to resist editing / correcting their work too intensely. We often just assist them in editing their own work. For example, “Can we read through it together and work out where the full stops might go?” “Are there any words you think might not be spelled quite right? Can you do a quick Google spell check?”, “Is there a better word you could use?”, “Can you remember last week when we talked about the correct spelling for the word ‘was’? Can you fix it up today?” We focus on one or two “edits” only. Their work is not going to be published!
2. Knowledge Walls and Wonder Walls.
This is a staple teaching tool in many classrooms and indeed our caravan! Before you commence a new theme, ask your child/ren what they already know about that theme. Write their responses up on a poster. Then ask them, what would they like to know or find out about their chosen theme? If you have more than one child ask them all to write their questions individually and include mum and dad too. After an allocated time or each person writing a set amount of questions, everyone reads out their questions to be listed on the Wonder Wall poster.These questions then form the base of your future lessons. i.e. How many states are there in Australia? Your future lesson/s can be about each state and the location on the map.
3. Apps and websites.
There is a place for educational apps and websites in every classroom and home schooling is no different. We try not to rely on them too much but they can be very good for consolidating skills learnt. There are 100s out there and if you search “best educational apps” you will have and assortment of choices. Below is a list of our most used and loved apps.
- Reading Eggs and Mathseeds ($75 for one, $95 for both) (Ages 2 -13). A yearly subscription to a self guided, individual ability based program. If you sign up to their free trial you will likely receive later emails with discounted offers but whatever price you pay, it is worth every single cent! We use Reading Eggs at least twice a week as either a stand alone activity or simply as a way to get our reading practice in each day as there is an amazing array of age levelled readers to choose from. You can even do a search based on your term’s theme, i.e. books about pets. While we don’t subscribe to Mathseeds (as I like to plan my own open -ended maths lessons) I would not hesitate to recommend it to others. The only limitation of websites and apps is obviously your internet connection so make the most of it while you’re in excellent reception areas and plan for more ‘old school’ learning methods when you’re not!
- Todo Maths App (Free light version then a one off payment) – Fun daily maths activities. Especially great for younger kids.
- IXL ($79 per year) – Great for all ages. Levelled activities for maths and English. While we don’t use this program much as it’s a little too multiple answer / question based but it’s great to use after teaching a new concept in order to revise what has been learnt.
- Dice Roller App (Free) – Great for maths games, chance and data activities, maths equations.
- https://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/.edu.au/home This website has heaps of interesting content and lesson ideas for every key learning area and age group.
4. Think Boards
Think boards are one of those versatile and amazingly simple tools that I found early on in my teaching days and I have used them successfully in every (primary) year level. They are particularly good for visual learners and for helping kids to see the relationship between the different strategies for solving maths problems. You can laminate an A3 page already ruled up or you can draw up your own think board on a whiteboard (as we do). The idea is that you have one maths problem and show it in different ways, some ideas for section headings are: Word Problem / Story, Symbol (i.e. 3X5= or repeated addition 5+5+5=), Model (i.e. use counters to show 3 lots of 5), Picture (draw a pic to represent problem).
5. Libraries and Op Shops
We try to visit op shops and libraries as much as possible. It is an especially great wet day activity. There’s something special about your child choosing a book, bringing it to you and asking you to read it to them while you snuggle in a comfy beanbag together! Op shops are great for buying 50c-$2 books! Your kids can choose books they want to read or have read to them and you can donate them back, next time you visit an op shop.
6. Mini projects
Kids love completing projects and with this mini project idea, kids of all ages can easily present their project in a travelling family friendly way! Simply use one A3 sheet of paper (or 2 A4 pieces stuck together) and rule up some boxes (older kids can design their own). Repeat the exact same design for the neat copy. Each child chooses a topic, related to your ‘theme’ and researches it. They write facts in each box using their own words. Depending on their age, they may write one sentence in each box or lots of paragraphs. The parents can help to edit the work. Then, the child can write their neat copy and include illustrations and decorations. We complete at least one mini project a term and we are always impressed by the quality of work the kids produce!
Other Handy Resources While Home Schooling on the Road
The following is a list of our most utilised schooling items.
- White boards / markers / duster – too many uses to mention! Make sure when your child/ren completes work on the whiteboard that you take a photo to record their learning.
- Playdough to practice motor skills and make letters / words etc.
- Laminated maths games (ask your child’s teacher or google these). There are too many to list but we play them almost every day and the whole family joins in! They are great for practicing number skills, tactics, turn taking, learning how to lose graciously (still something our grade 1 is struggling with!), revision and mental strategies
- Playing cards, counters, dice – for maths games etc.
- Number / letter tiles / magnets. We collected the Woolworths letter tiles and these have been used so many times for making spelling words, letter games, letter matching, scrabble, hangman etc.
- Maths and English workbooks suitable for your child’s age and ability. There’s always a place for workbook type learning. Even if it’s just to flip through and get ideas from or to use to reinforce a concept, they will be your best friends when you are planning your lessons.
Our Top Home Schooling on the Road Tips:
In case we haven’t bombarded you with enough information already, here is a quick list of our top tips for home schooling on the road!
Visit a classroom. If your child’s teacher (and your child) are happy for you to be there, then this one’s for you! The more time you can spend in the classroom prior to leaving, the more information you will gather about the types of activities, spelling words, apps, teacher modelling techniques and resources that are relevant to your child’s current learning journey. If you can’t be there, be sure to take extra notice of the type of work completed in your child’s workbooks, homework and portfolios etc.
Commit. Commit to providing a quality education for your kids. When you’re on the road there are so many distractions and excuses, it’s very easy to forget about planning, fall into the trap of relying on apps or ipads, or giving the kids ‘the day off’ for no good reason! Of course it’s okay for these things to happen every now and again but if you do it too much you may be compromising your child’s education. Choose a time for daily, directed learning that suits you as a family. For us, it’s straight after breakfast at about 8:30am. We allocate approximately 1 hour to formal learning each weekday and stick to this as a matter of priority. On days we have to pack up and move we ask for a late check out time.
Plan. To ensure home schooling is a success, you will need a plan. The plan will no doubt start out quite detailed with every step of your lesson listed, every learning outcome decided and every minute accounted for! I started out planning each day in a diary but found this to be quite time consuming and not at all practical. What if I came up with a good idea while sitting by the pool? So now, I simply plan out each day on a note app on my smart phone. I keep it as simple as possible. I want the experience to be just as enjoyable for us as it is for the kids! I allocate time (about an hour) on a Sunday to plan for the week ahead.
Make it like school. Try to emulate real school as much as possible. This doesn’t mean making them wear a uniform or packing a lunch box! It does however mean getting them to get themselves dressed for learning, date their work and complete the work neatly in their own workbooks. It also means starting the year off with some ‘class’ rule development sessions, rules and consequences poster, goal setting lessons and an explanation or two about how you expect them to act during formal school time. For us, we demand the same respect that the children would give to their real classmates and teachers (no easy feat). i.e. no teasing each other about their work, no refusing to do a task, no talking back and no being lazy!
If any of these rules are broken there is a warning system in place just like there would be at school! 1. Verbal warning / reminder. 2. Time out in their bunk for 5 minutes. 3. Loss of ipad time on the weekend. In the beginning, we had struggles with making the kids follow these rules which resulted in lots of ipad time lost! Now, 10 months on we don’t even need to give out warnings! Ask any teacher, if you are tough, persistent, consistent and strong in the beginning, the rest of the year will be much easier!
Don’t teach what they already know. Here’s where home schooling is so good. You know your children, you know what they can and can’t do (or you will soon!) So, if they already know their doubles (i.e. 6+6) and ten’s facts (i.e. 7+3) don’t revisit them or give them a workbook or app focusing on these concepts. That’ll just keep them busy. Try to extend their learning at each opportunity. Instead, get them to focus on mental strategies for near doubles (6+7) or near ten’s facts (7+4). Even better, make up a simple game of near doubles or tens facts’ Snap to play together. Try to make their 1 hour or so a day super meaningful.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t go to plan. The kids don’t get it, they’re crying, you’re crying and your partner is yelling! Don’t beat yourself up about it. Even the best teachers have bad days and unsuccessful lessons. Nobody’s perfect. Write the lesson off, pick yourself up and remember, tomorrow is a new day! Conversely, you may have planned a wonderful lesson about odd and even numbers but then the night before, while sitting around the camp fire, your kids are wowed by a meteor shower lightshow! So, you decide to scrap the maths lesson and watch Youtube videos about meteoroids instead! See where I’m going with this? Be flexible and adaptable. Embrace the freedom of home schooling!
We hope this blog has given you an insight about how home schooling on the road might look and helps to reassure you that you already have the tools (love, patience and motivation) to provide a quality education for your child/ren. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions we’d be happy to hear from you. Feel free to send us a message and we’ll try to answer as best we can. You’ll find us on Facebook and Instagram. Whatever educational model you choose to use, good luck with your schooling on the road!