One of the things I love most about running a family travel blog is the opportunity to connect with other families enjoying interesting adventures around the world. Such was the case when I received an email from one Sophie Ireland, who was about to set out from the U.K. on a one year round-the-world trip with her husband and three school-aged children. As luck would have it, a few months later our two families would have the chance to meet up in Whistler, Canada for dinner. I will admit to peppering Sophie with questions about the logistics of traveling the world with kids – most definitely touching on the subject of homeschooling while traveling (which is also sometimes referred to as World Schooling or Road Schooling). As it turned out, I was not alone in my curiosity. Throughout their one year family round the world trip, one of the things that people were most likely to ask was “What about their education?” Read on to learn how this globetrotting family made school on the road work as they circumnavigated the globe ! Thank you very much Sophie for sharing this valuable information !
What about their Education?
A year of ‘home schooling’ on a trip around the world
We left London a year ago full of hopes, expectations and just a few fears about our ‘family gap year’ and plans to travel around the world. Why did we do it? Well our life was good and at the same time, we were in the very busy work/school routine. I felt I could more or less predict what we would be doing week in, week out for the next ten years. We were in a fortunate position to be able to rent out our house and put our work on hold for a year, so we decided to mix things up a bit and travel the world. Given the ages of our kids, (11, 8 and 6 when we left), it also felt like the right time. Our plan was to go from west to east – starting in Canada, taking in the west coast of North America, then South America, Australasia, South East Asia, India, Sri Lanka and ending up with six weeks in our favourite European destination, Ibiza to decompress and prepare for our return. We were seeking experiences to open our minds, bond us further as a family and provide memories that would last our life times.
When asked about any fears, I often mentioned something about how I was dreading the home-school part, because I knew it would be tough, but beyond that, I was so busy planning where we’d go and when, I didn’t think too much about it.
We were taking our three daughters out of school for a year. The plan was to do ‘a bit’ of home school and together with the help of one of their teachers from home, we’d do our best to ensure they covered the essentials of the school curriculum for Math and English. Everything else we felt confident they would be learning in abundance.
It’s fair and perhaps relevant to say that academic achievement is not, for either my husband Keith or me, the be-all-and-end-all. I believe it’s important, yet nowhere near the most important aspect of my children’s development. I work in adult development and have spent enough hours with very successful executives to know that schooling and exam results play only a tiny part in what contributes to ‘success’ and more importantly happiness and inner peace, later in life.
So we left home without much of a plan regarding their academic education. Our priority was to experience the world. We wanted our girls to have their world-view changed and expanded. The main provision we made for schooling, was to plan in three periods throughout the year when we would live in one place for a month. This, we hoped, would allow us some space and time to establish a routine and focus our collective efforts on some formal education.
Once we left and were meeting people along the way, the most common question we got (I would say 90% of the time it was the first thing someone said when they learned what we were doing) was: ‘What about their education?’
All was well for the first few weeks, it was the school summer holidays after all, so no guilt trips about them missing out. It was late August before my first panic set in. We had a few days in Lake Tahoe and I decided now was the time to begin our ‘home school journey’. Oh how I wish I could erase those first couple of mornings from my memory! We asked the girls to do a piece of creative writing about one of their experiences so far. Suggestions included our trip to Alcatraz or the Total Eclipse we’d been fortunate to witness in Oregon. I had such high hopes that with all this time for family bonding, we would be far more patient and supportive parents. Well it didn’t take long for the screaming, shouting and storming out of the room to occur – and that was just me! It was a painful and thoroughly unpleasant experience.
Following that week in Tahoe, I realised that the ‘home schooling’ thing was a much bigger undertaking than we had imagined. I spent several hours on Amazon panic-ordering about 20 curriculum workbooks and by the time our South America leg commenced, we had almost an entire small suitcase filled with home school materials.
We had the first of our month-long stops, in Trancoso, a small fishing village in Brazil. We got into a routine and spent every other day doing a few hours of school work in the morning. Over that period we learnt a few important lessons:
- Teaching your kids is bloody hard work – they just don’t apply themselves in the same way as they would at school…well ours don’t!
- Home schooling was going to be the biggest cause of arguments and flared tempers throughout our travels.
- Once we (the parents) become fed up, cross, impatient, frustrated or angry, you might as well give up right there…it never, ever goes well!
- It is much easier when the kids wake up knowing they are doing some school-work, and are doing it a few days in a row, rather than it being sprung on them ad hoc.
- Now this one sounds obvious, but it really helps if the kids have had enough sleep! When you’re travelling, this isn’t always the case and does mean foregoing that meal out or family movie to make sure they get to bed at a decent time.
- We found starting first thing in the morning, straight after breakfast, is when we had the best chance of success.
- You can get through about a week’s worth of work in a couple of days (or less) when you’re working 1:1.
- When it works, it really works and the pride and sense of accomplishment you feel with your kids is amazing.
- And…they are learning all of the time, everywhere – right in front of your eyes.
So following that month I relaxed again, feeling confident that a few weeks of concentrated effort here and there would make up for the time in between where they did very little ‘formal education’. And that has proved to be the case. Our kids read often and have kept a travel journal, but when we have moved from place to place, we rarely got the school-books out. It was just too much of a mood-killer – and this is for three girls who absolutely love school! So much so that when they are asked what they miss most about home they answer ‘school’. Not their friends, just the routine and fun of attending school.
I still get triggered by seeing the occasional ‘perfect home school’ Instagram posts and have had a few sleepless hours in the middle of the night, thinking all kinds of irrational thoughts about how they’ll never catch up, but I don’t believe this is really true. Although we managed to get into a rhythm when we had the space to do so, it never became easy. Even now, as I write this from our final destination, three weeks before returning home, we’ve had a huge bust up today over school work.
So what about their education? Well after 11 months, 41 flights, travelling through 19 countries in five continents, I am pretty convinced they’ve learnt a few things. I have witnessed them growing in so many more ways than if they had spent this year in a classroom.
They can say hello, thank you and a few other words in Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, Thai and Sinhalese. Their knowledge of geography – particularly South America and Asia is a million times better than mine was up until the age of 42!
They understand different cultures and respect rather than fear those differences. They know to take their shoes off in someone’s house or temple in certain countries, how to feed wild monkeys in the garden and the wild Elephants hijacking your car in the middle of the road in Sri Lanka.
They have taught a group of children from one of the most deprived slums in Delhi how to play Bananagram and learned words of wisdom from a Buddhist monk in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
They love to eat a huge variety of food from many different countries – including spicy Asian curries, Brazilian Fejoda, Pad Thai, now even enjoying salad(!) and have become demon card players (thanks to my friend Alice in New Zealand) playing poker, up and down the river, 500s and solitaire.
They learned to ski and fell in love with the sport. They can barter with a market vendor and draw & paint really quite well – thanks to a week of art classes in Chiang Mai. Oh and tell stories… spending a huge amount of time with just your immediate family for company has meant when we meet other people, the girls love to chat and tell stories of their travels. I could go on.
Now I know school is important, critical in fact for the majority of the children in the developing world. And I know that taking my kids on a trip around the world is an incredibly privileged thing to be able to do, but the question ‘what about their education?’ was coming mostly from adults in the developed world. I sensed judgement and concern from some. Well I am fairly convinced that this last year has been the most important and precious education we have been and perhaps ever will be able to offer our children and a year that I will treasure forever.
World Schooling Resources
I asked Sophie if she could possibly share some of their homeschool resources for those of you considering pulling the plug on the traditional classroom for a spell. Here is what worked for them.
School books we used – Boringly we stuck to the same CGP books as they cover the UK curriculum and were easy to use.
I really struggled to find ‘World School’ websites that were of any help to us. For the schooling we wanted ways to make it easy to plough through for a few hours and the workbooks above were the best for us and the girls felt motivated to work through them.
As I mentioned above, we also paid a teacher at home to collate and send through some of the actual school work Betsy and Willow’s class were doing. I gathered this on dropbox and shared with other travelling families we met along the way.
We also used several apps for Willow age 6 (who was our hardest to motivate to work).
We also used Babbel to learn Portugese and Spanish.
About The Ireland Family
Sophie & Keith Ireland travelled around the world with their three daughters Lola, Betsy and Willow between July 2017 and July 2018. Upon turning 40, Sophie became inspired by an idea (and brave enough to put it into action) to disrupt their very happy, steady lives with the ‘journey of a lifetime’. Keith, who had travelled extensively in his 20’s was easy to convince and over the next couple of years their plans took shape. Home is Richmond-upon-Thames near London England. Sophie co-owns an Organisation & Leadership Evolution Consultancy and Keith is a self-employed Property Developer. Read more about their year traveling the world with kids at www.irelandhopping.com and see their beautiful photos on Instagram at @irelandhopping.