When I first began to entertain the thought of homeschooling after the birth of my first child, I never imagined how that decision would lead us on a journey of a lifetime. But it has, and the only way to describe our experience is to say just that: it has truly been a wonderful adventure.
As a child, I remember visiting Chincoteague near Assateague Island National Seashore with my own family. Later, when I read Misty of Chincoteague, the pages of the book really came alive to me as I was able to envision the sights and smells of the island that we had experienced on our trip. That vacation left me with such fond memories that I decided I would do all I could to introduce my own children to the world around them by actually visiting many of the places that we read about. I wanted my children to swim in the ocean, hike through the mountains, and crawl through caves. I wanted history to come alive for them by walking on the same soil where America’s leaders had once stepped and history had been made. This quest to travel throughout the United States on a mission to make learning fun, meaningful, and lasting, and to create a truly out-of-the-box educational experience for our children, led us to consider the unschooling philosophy.
While several aspects of unschooling appealed to me, such as child-led, interest-based learning, I wasn’t confident enough to rely totally on that method and wondered if left on their own, could my children truly develop a love of learning? After a period of trial and error, we finally settled on an eclectic mix of the Charlotte Mason/Unschooling methods. I love the living books, practice of narration, and emphasis on nature study that the Charlotte Mason method emphasizes. While combining the best of both methods with frequent outings when possible, our children have truly been given a unique education that is anything but typical. But then, that is one aspect that makes the homeschooling lifestyle so appealing—it allows us as individual families to teach our children through our own unique gifts and circumstances.
Although our dream had been to travel around the entire country teaching American history for a year or two, like other homeschooling families living on one income, this idea just wasn’t plausible. We did manage to take several small trips a year to places like Washington, D.C. or the Great Smoky Mountains. However, three years ago, as a result of my husband’s work situation, the Lord opened the door for us to travel as a family. Initially it was a huge challenge and I failed to see many of the blessings as they unfolded, but I now know that the Lord has given us a tremendous gift. Not only have we been able to visit St. Augustine, Fort Raleigh (The Lost Colony), and Jamestown, but also as a result of frequently staying in a small hotel room, we have grown much closer as a family. We are more considerate, tolerant, and respectful to one another. Of course when you take a 12-, 13-, and 15-year-old and put them in a small space with two adults and a puppy, you shouldn’t be surprised that squabbles would erupt occasionally, but they are getting fewer and farther between than when we first began this traveling lifestyle.
When we are at home, our lessons and schedule probably look pretty much like anyone else’s. It’s when we’re traveling that things get interesting. But I’ve learned that retaining some order and routine allows for a smoother transition between life at home and life on the road. Both at home and away, we tend to follow Ambleside Online, tweaked to fit our needs.
I normally get up around 6:30, as my husband is preparing for work, and the kids will rouse themselves and begin moving around 8 o’ clock. They’ll shower, eat breakfast, and help me tidy our home or hotel and tend to the puppy. We aim to start school around 9 a.m. At home, that normally means pulling all of our books off the shelves to “catch up” on our reading material. In addition to the basic three R’s, we try to finish projects and science experiments that aren’t easily accomplished in a hotel room.
While on the road, our schooling is much more relaxed. We opt to take advantage of our surroundings. That may mean hiking in the mountains, seining in the sea, watching the wild ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore, learning about the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown Battlefield, receiving a special tour at the MacArthur Memorial while learning about a the former five-star General, flying Styrofoam™ gliders at the Wright Brothers National Memorial (after receiving permission from the Rangers), or strolling the deck of the USS Wisconsin.
These field trips usually prompt a deeper appreciation for, understanding of, and interest in the cultures, people, and events that have shaped what has become the great nation of the United States of America. Sometimes I get too caught up in making everything educational. My kids tell me that I am the only mom in the world who would turn a trip to a theme park into a unit study, but what better way to learn about the physics of roller coasters or the art of animation? I say set the textbooks aside and let the real learning begin!
Copyright 2008, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.