I Knew It Would Be Different, but Not THAT Different!
I never saw myself homeschooling before hitting the road. Years in the classroom finally gave me a sense of confidence that I actually knew what I was doing, and there was no way I was going to give that up.
Except I had to. As we spent our first couple of months learning, I found that–for our family, at least–homeschool would not just be school at home. Here are seven valuable lessons I’ve learned educating on the road so far:
1. Schedule? Nah.
The morning was rough, so math wasn’t going to be at 9 a.m. We wouldn’t end up having afternoon social studies three times a week. I felt like I was chasing the pacing guide in slow motion. I worried that I wasn’t teaching enough content.
A couple of months in, I remembered why I started homeschooling in the first place. Yes, I wanted to give my kids the best education, but this was not working. As a former teacher at a progressive, hands-on school, I had the privilege of teaching outside the box to my students. So…why was I trying to box in my own children? I realized that now I had even MORE freedom than I was given at my former job. Sounds obvious, but when you fall into the hole of “are they behind?!” you forget.
So instead of a rigid schedule or curriculum, we settled on a routine. The difference between the two is flexibility. But how did I get there?
I began with the big ideas I hoped they learned. Then, I ditched the pre-made units and and watched them closely to see what was fascinating them in our travels. I drafted a list of subjects and skills I wanted to cover. Lastly, I designed lessons to bring it all together.
Our homeschooling routine became something like this:
- Mornings: kids wake up and play/watch TV while I caffeinate
- Skill essentials like math, handwriting/typing. Either the cognitively demanding stuff or the stuff they’re reluctant to do.
- Mini lessons as needed for writing skills they need to work on.
- Read-aloud while teaching reading skills. (We also listen to audiobooks constantly in the car).
- Afternoons: Chill. I take a break while they refuel, play, go to the pool, go outside, or watch something.
- Project time. We work on big things that incorporate the skills they’re learning and the interests they’re following, but in a way that they don’t want to stop. Projects are (mostly) super engaging.
- I take some time for myself while they go play Minecraft or hang out virtually with friends.
Of course, it’s not always like that, but it’s a peg to hang my hat on. It gives us predictability without the rigidity. If a really cool field trip opportunity presents itself or some friends are working on a cool project outside that they want to join, we can rearrange things. Routine has became a lifesaver for my sanity.
2. Go deeper!
With homeschooling, You don’t have to cover everything. In fact, you shouldn’t. My goal was to teach my kids how to learn, not to memorize everything. If I could give them the skills to research, question, and dive deeper, then my job was done.
Our first rabbit trail we went on during our homeschooling journey was rockhounding. It all began at a random roadside attraction I went to because I saw a billboard: The Petrified Forest in Calistoga, California. The kids were fascinated with how a tree could become a rock. And months of self-directed projects ensued: rock and gem research, learning to classify, mining for minerals in real life, and meeting others with the same passions
In traditional schooling, a unit may last a month. Then you test and move on. But these kids wanted more. And since I could give it to them, we all rode the steam of their natural curiosity until they were onto the next thing.
3. It doesn’t take hours.
Traditional school takes a long time. I never realized how much transition time ate up my day until it no longer did. After settling into our routine and getting the hang of roadschooling, I found that our morning skill work took maybe half an hour (for the 1st grader) to about an hour (for the 6th grader). Mini lessons took maybe half an hour combined in the middle of the day. And projects took as much time as they wanted.
At first, projects weren’t too long, but when your son gets to recreate a book scene in Minecraft and your daughter gets to research minerals to her heart’s content–it fills the rest of the day. Aside from being there to help guide their projects, my instruction time with them is maybe an hour and a half. Compare that to arriving at school at 7:30 and leaving at 5:30, then going home to work on lesson planning until bedtime. Homeschooling FTW.
4. You go back to school, too.
The more I teach my kids, the more I want to learn. When my oldest was becoming quite the rockhound, I found myself also watching agate videos, researching mining methods, and planning museum trips alongside her. It had been a while since I felt that drive to know all I could about something. When we found our first piece of brecciated jasper in a rock field on an Oregon beach, she couldn’t stop talking about it for days, and I knew then that I wanted to roadschool as long as I could.
5. It’s fun!
Watching your son who can’t sit still in the classroom make up his own math game is intensely rewarding. I love watching them take ownership of their learning, and often, they do it in a way that makes everything fun.
At a camp playground, my son was climbing some plastic stones with numbers on them. He immediately made up a game using those numbers to make up addition and subtraction equations. Then, he decided those equations should be a secret code to help unlock an ancient temple (the play structure). After playing out a story there, he ran back home to have me help him write out a “how-to” manual in case any other kids would need to escape the temple.
Watching his imagination drive his learning is fun for both of us!
6. It’s not fun!
While some days like the temple adventure project are serendipitous and learning is magical, there are some that just aren’t. They don’t want to practice their handwriting. Long division is the end of the world. Everyone stayed up late stargazing and is running on fumes. The tiny RV kitchen can’t be seen through the dirty dishes. It happens.
Although we may not make as much progress that day academically, we all practice growing our patience and empathy. I’d argue those skills are just as–if not more–important
7. It’s totally worth it.
As I write this post, I’m listening to my husband play a math card game with my son as he sits in his bed. They’re practicing math facts while winding down for the day. Over the past year, homeschooling has become a family affair. It’s not something blocked off during your day. It’s a lifestyle.
My kids’ schooling doesn’t look like the classrooms of my childhood or of my career. But I’m learning to be okay with that. I used to worry they wouldn’t learn enough on the road. That they would fall behind in some way. Now I worry about keeping up with them.