Teaching Our Kids Whilst Travelling Australia
What you need to know about road-schooling your children
We’re a travelling family of five who’s entering our second year of schooling on the road. We’ve taken a liking to the name ‘road-schooling’ but there’s many names used for the capricious challenge of schooling on wheels.
Distance education, home schooling, online learning, School of the Air, road-schooling… whatever you choose to call it, one thing is for sure: practice certainly makes perfect! This is why, after a year of teaching our kids on the road, we’d like to share some road-schooling tips we wished someone had of told us, as well as answer some of your burning questions.
Matai (year 2), Maisie (year 5) and Zali (year 7) are spirited little adventurers who love to live life on the road. They’ve been learning via distance education for over a year now, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re all studious kids who’d willingly forgo adventure for algebra. They love beach swims and mountain walks as much as the next kid, and these are the real dilemmas we face when trying to encourage education in pristine destinations rich with distractions.
If you’re considering hitting the road with your children, take solace in the knowledge that if we can wrangle our wild ones into doing their school work, you can too.
We will go into the technicalities of how to apply for road-schooling and distance education shortly, but for now let’s focus on how parents actually pull this off once they’re on the road.
The biggest tip we can give anyone who’s about to embark on road-schooling is to sit down as a family and create a schedule and defined rules. Schools have a timetable and enforceable rules, and they have them for a reason – it makes life so much easier! The kids know what to expect and when, and everyone is on the same page.
The first hurdle is to get your kids to buy-in to the idea of managing their work load whilst travelling, but this is a pretty easy hurdle to clear.
Given the choice of the four walls of a classroom or the ever-changing landscape of your family’s adventure, most children will pick the latter. This means you already have a HUGE trump card for getting the kids on board in the planning process! Educate your kids on know how many hours a week they’ll need to commit to school work to make life on the road feasible for the foreseeable future. Once they’ve committed, let them be part of the planning process for deciding when and how they will complete their school work.
Our children’s learning is structured around the same weeks as a normal school term, but requires far less contact time. We work towards an hour of school work a day and half an hour of reading, which can then be shuffled around the week to fit with our schedule. Our advice is to find a system that works, and to stick with it! Consistency and managing your child’s expectations are key to successful schooling on the road.
If you take only one thing away from this, let it be this: a routine is everything!
Admittedly it’s not always easy to encourage children to learn whilst travelling – especially when they’re your own kids – but teaching kids what to expect makes a huge difference.
At school there is a bell to tell students class is starting, higher consequences for not getting work done, and fewer distractions. This is why we created our own routine and system of rules, and it’s worked a charm.
Our children do their school work in the mornings after breakfast and chores. We have tried afternoon schooling and it’s always a disaster! In the mornings they are fresh and well-rested, and they know that once work is completed they have the whole day to play. We condense their work into two 2.5 hour slots on a Monday and Tuesday, and then schedule a call with their teachers on a Wednesday.
Whilst a schedule is vital, being able to roll with the punches is pretty pertinent too! Consider ‘routine’ your vehicle for learning, and ‘flexibility’ the wheels that deliver you to your destination. Weather, no power, and time-specific tours are just a few things that can send well-made schooling plans out the window, and force us to switch it up. The advantage to living a life on the road is that our youngest two rarely know what day of the week it is, so we can slot in weekend school work with little resistance. Long car trips provide another easy option for ticking off a few hours of work.
Zali has started high school this year and is often required to do more than an hour of work a day. These additional bits of schooling are often completed whilst we’re driving, and we’ve worked with Zali to improve her time management skills. It was a sharp learning curve, but now with the aid of a diary she is able to keep track of her due dates and schooling commitments with minimal drama.
Keeping our children focused on school work whilst travelling is not without its challenges. Let me paint the picture: the hot sun is beating down and making the ocean that laps against the sand just metres from our caravan even more enticing. Children ride past on push bikes, silently tempting our kids to join them for a game of tag. We as parents attempt to deny our children these immediate pleasures and instead redirect them to their homework.
I think you can imagine the reaction this approach might spark.
Our children are sent out five weeks of school work in a little blue folder, and this can be completed without technology. Our biggest challenge is we don’t always know where we’ll be, so syncing up our location with the arrival of their school work can occasionally prove challenging.
Although road-schooling can be done without technology, we’ve chosen to equip our kids with selected pieces of tech to make learning even easier for them whilst travelling.
The two youngest have iPads which they complete some school work on, as well as have one hour zoom calls with their teacher each week.
Our eldest has just started high school so we’ve given her a laptop and mobile phone. This means she can communicate with her teachers directly, as well as stay connected with her network of friends from our home town.
We try to discourage the kids from using their technology outside of school work, and keep the use to a minimum or offer it as a reward. If we’re honest though (and what’s the point of sharing our advice if we’re not?), we do allow the kids to use tech when we need to get our own work done, if it’s cold and rainy outside, and occasionally on long car trips too.
FUN FACT! All our children now have Instagram accounts, which is a way for them to journal daily. Their photos have also become part of their art work, and our youngest writes out his captions by hand before typing them into Instagram to help improve his handwriting. Their teachers check these accounts, just as they would their normal school work.
We try to ensure we’re somewhere with internet and power from Monday to Wednesday, but this isn’t always possible and occasionally causes problems.
The children are all provided with hard copy booklets to complete school work on, so technically internet and power isn’t essential, but it does make life a little easier. Whilst zoom calls with their teachers are pencilled in for Wednesdays, we can easily re-schedule these if we’re not going to have coverage.
This is a common concern for parents who are considering teaching their children whilst travelling, but in our opinion it’s an unnecessary one.
During the last year we’ve travelled for extended periods of time with 10 different families who we met on the road. The children end up spending weeks – sometimes months – with other children, giving them far greater exposure to socialisation than a classroom would. In addition to this, they are meeting and interacting with different children and adults almost daily!
We also endeavour to drop in on our home town every four to six months, where we spend a week reconnecting with family and friends. Our eldest daughter now has a phone too, so she can maintain regular contact with her social network from home.
This is a point of confusion for many parents. Put simply, home education focuses on the parents as the prime educators, whilst distance education involves an education facility teaching children via virtual or remote means.
Some states deem home schooling as a suitable means of learning whilst travelling, whilst other states require that learning mode to be completed mainly from ‘home’. Distance education appears to be accepted across the board as a suitable means of learning whilst travelling, and has the added bonus of not requiring parents to be the sole educators.
Our children are taught via distance education, and we love the support that this offers us, as well as the third party validation it brings to our kids’ education.
Firstly, different states have different rules. We are from NSW and aren’t eligible to home school as we’re not technically ‘at home’. For this reason we took the distance education approach, and have enlisted Southern Cross Distance Education to assist with our children’s learning.
From our understanding, Queensland and NSW have the strictest registration guidelines. This process often requires seperate applications to be submitted for each child, along with a detailed education program and curriculum developed in conjunction with a registered teacher. On the other end of the spectrum is Victoria, where a form that notifies the Department of Education of your intention to school whilst travelling is all that’s required. Every other Australian State varies again, and falls someone between these two approaches.
Below are some useful resources for exploring the rules, processes and organisations relevant for road-schooling children in your Australian State. In addition to these resources, the first point of action should always be to meet with your child’s school principal. In some states principals have the authority to grant an exemption for children, allowing them to take extended periods of time off school, which in turn gives you the freedom to school your children your way. Even if this is not an option, the principal should be familiar with the rules and processes pertinent to your specific state.
If you think this all sounds like a headache and you’re wondering why you’d consider teaching your children whilst travelling, let us explain our reasons.
We’ll be honest, teaching our kids on the road is not without its challenges, but this flexible form of learning allows our kids to experience things a traditional classroom simply can’t deliver. Our kids’ understanding of geography and culture comes from experiences not text books. Their creativity and imagination is ignited daily. Empathy and socialisation are fostered and grown within them by regularly interacting with people from all walks of life. They are adaptable and flexible with a thirst for new experiences. Our children are given endless opportunities to discover who they are.
All this aside though, there’s an even bigger basis that trumps these reasons for road-schooling. It is the connection and strong family relationships we have been fortunate enough to form. By sharing in new experiences and challenges with each-other every single day, our family unit has built bonds that will stand the test of time, and we see that as the most precious reason of all.
Road-schooling doesn’t seem like such hard work now, does it?
Until next time,
The Wallaces x