Let’s Talk About Education: An Introduction

September 6, 2012 in Asia, Education, Thailand, Travelogue

Gabe schooling on his bike in Italy

As I sit to write this Tony is at his desk working. Hannah is at the kitchen table slicing a pear and eating the slices off of the knife blade like her Gramps does. Elisha is dumping a huge bag of lego all over the tile floor. Ezra has emerged, victorious, having just located his long lost blue swim shirt. Gabriel is wading through a lecture on Medieval European History. It is 10:34 a.m, on a “school day.”

We get a lot of questions about schooling.

People are immediately worried, when you live in an outside the box way, that the kids will remain ignorant and become social freaks. I guess the jury is still out on that, since they’re not still adults, but since the whole reason we travel is for their education and social development, we’re hoping very much for better results!

If you ask 100 homeschoolers how they do it, you’ll get 100 different answers. It’s the thing that worries the critics most, there’s no “set program” and it’s the thing that is actually most beautiful about the homeschooling life. We’re free to mold an education to a particular child, or to a particular life and we’re free to flex and bend as the winds blow us, the situations change and people grow.

Ez RV schooling in the USA

So, if you’re reading this post hoping for a formula, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. I can’t tell you how to do it.

What I can tell you is how we do it and that I’m fully convinced that if it’s in your heart to do it, you can be wildly successful with your own children.

Here are a few things to know about our family upfront:

  • We’ve homeschooled from the beginning. Our kids have never attended any sort of school.
  • We have a well defined educational philosophy that is a blend of Charlotte Mason and Classical approaches (if that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, it doesn’t need to).
  • We are not unschoolers, instead, we are believers in a parent directed education with great consideration to the natural bent of the child.
  • The reason we homeschool has nothing to do with sheltering our kids and everything to do with properly exposing our kids to the world.
  • There is nothing we are “afraid” of our kids learning or being exposed to, we invite differing opinions and lifestyles actively, but we don’t believe dropping a 5 year old into the deep end of the pool is the way to go either.
  • We homeschool because we genuinely believe that we can do a better job, for our children, than any institutional school could.
  • We are not in any way trying to replicate “public school,” their “standards” are a bare minimum in our opinion, a bar set far too low for most children.


Real world Phys. Ed. in Belize

Since this post is just an introduction to what education looks like at our house, I’m just going to give you a snapshot of our day. I’ll go into depth with recommendations for curriculum, if that interests you, in another post. I’ll explain how Charlotte Mason became one of my great heroines some other time. I’ll tell you how we’ve taught our kids to write by not expecting them to write at all later on.

So here’s a “school day” for us with kids aged 10-16 (grades 5-Uni):

7:00 a.m.– Everyone is up (theoretically) and moving. Kids are expected to get dressed, do their morning hygiene, feed themselves breakfast, and do their morning chores before 8:00 a.m.

8:00-12:00 p.m. has always been set aside for our book work, four days per week. We take Wednesdays off for fun, we always have.

During these morning hours kids will be working on their lessons, mostly independently at the ages they are now. Gabe interrupted the writing of this article to bring me a blank map of Asia to be tested on identifying the countries, blind. Ezra interrupted to ask me for a thesaurus. I make myself available to coach, but their learning is their responsibility. They follow the plans I lay out in advance (with their input on curricular choices… that will be in another article too!) and they decide when they are “done” for the day. The catch, of course, is that by the end of the week, they have to be done with that week’s work. I don’t care if it all happens on Monday, or if they work daily. They are responsible for their own time.

Over lunch we read. Right now we are working our way through Shakespeare’s stories while we munch. History is read after dinner. Each child has his own reading he’s working on independently.

What are they studying? 

Writing, Math, Geography, Literature, History, Science and Art are our organized subjects that fit into the school mornings. Of course there is much being learned around the margins as we travel.

The reality is that the kids are usually up well before seven.

They’ve learned, early on, that it is in their best interest to get up and sneakily get started on their school so they can be “done” earlier in the day. That’s why, at 10:30 on a Friday afternoon my 10th grader has time to help his 10 year old brother overhaul his lego fleet. One of the big perks of teaching your kids this way, in my opinion, is that you create active learners, not just students who do their time. There is incentive to work hard and fast. There’s a reason to apply yourself with diligence! That diligence is rewarded with hours a day to do as you please (inevitably this includes continued exploration and learning) and a chance to get on with your “life.”

Both of our older children are working to develop online income streams. They’re both doing freelance writing and are awake to the potential they have to create a career before they are even old enough to be “legal adults.” They wouldn’t have time to do that if they were locked into a school schedule.

Art & Science, Anne of Green Gables House, Canada

Are there things our kids “miss out” on?

Of course! They haven’t joined boy scouts, they’ve never played an organized sport, they don’t bond with their peers over their hatred of homework. To choose one life, is to not choose another.

Will they hate us for the lack of those things? I don’t know. Perhaps. But the evidence thus far is that they don’t.

They understand that they have traded those experiences for pick up games of soccer on beaches and in campgrounds in Thailand and Holland. I think that they’d tell you that boy scouts and bus rides and weekend camp outs are not things they’d wish back if they had to give up camel and elephant rides, cross-country trips with their best friends when other kids were headed “back to school,” or their best friends from Germany and the Czech, to get them. No one can have it all. Every life means you’re “missing out” on something. Our focus is on what we’re gaining, instead.

It’s odd to find myself, all of a sudden, the mom with kids flapping their wings and one foot out the door.

It seems only yesterday that I was mired in diapers and finger paint. Since lots of people have been finding us and asking, I’m going to write a series of posts on schooling, how we do it, why we do it, our philosophy and how we arrived at it, what we would recommend if you asked us personally, and a range of other practical things.

I preface all of those posts with this: DO IT YOUR WAY.

Not my way, or anyone else’s way. It’s great to read about other people’s processes, but find your own way. Pick and choose what works. Let go what doesn’t. Don’t cram your kid into any box, not even mine! 🙂

If you have questions, ASK THEM. I’m happy to share anything I can with you. If I don’t have an answer, the odds are good that in our circles I can find someone who has one for you.

Art lesson, Hanoi, Vietnam

History re-enactment: Colosseum at El Jem, Tunisia