Making the decision to Travel Australia, with two school aged children in tow, is not one that can be taken lightly, yet it is one that we are finding many families are doing. We left home, from the Hunter Valley in NSW on 27 January 2016. At the time of writing this article we have been on the road for 816 days. We are either really crazy, or we really do like each other! Even we are still trying to figure that out.
We are a family of four – with Pete (dad), Annie (Mum)), Liam (14 yrs) and Mia (9 yrs). We also have a trusty pooch Diga Dog (a 3 yr old chocolate Labrador) with us along for the ride. It is sometimes scary to think that when we left home, Liam was 12 and starting High school, and Mia was 7 and going into year 2. So, rest assured, even on the road, time flies just as fast as it does when living the 9 to 5 life. One of the biggest questions people have about Liam and Mia, is how do they get schooled?
I find it interesting that this is of great concern for many, but also humbling that people consider traditional education such an important part of a child’s development, because it is very much at the forefront of our everyday experience on the road.
Liam and Mia have the advantage of traditional schooling, through NSW Distance Education, as well as through learning on the road in a home schooling/unschooling kind of environment. It makes for an awesome learning environment, and through this combination, we have seen the kids grow in self-confidence, self-awareness and in maturity.
So, how does it all work? Well, Distance Education in NSW supplies all the traditional school work that any child of similar age would be doing. They even attend class on a regular weekly basis – the difference is that they only attend school for a short period of time.
Mia is in year 4 this year, and for the first time since leaving home, she has access to what they call Satellite classes. This means, that Mia logs into a server at the school with all the other children who attend Distance Education for year 4, as well as their teacher. It is a little bit like Skype, the kids can all speak to each other and their teacher, they can write messages, and see each other (If the teacher turns their individual videos on). They can see the work the teacher wants them to work on, and they can work on it together as a group. This lesson is usually for about an hour, and that is all the lesson time Mia has with her teacher. This means, that Mia and I often spend a day together completing her set work for the week.
Liam is 14 and year 9 this year. This means that he has 8 subjects that are required within the curriculum to be completed. This also means that he speaks to 8 different teachers each week. Now, before you think this is a huge commitment, each lesson lasts about 30 minutes, and many times he finishes the work within that time. It is after all, one on one teaching. For this reason, we have two set days a week where Liam and Mia do school work, speak to their teachers and get the week’s work completed.
So out of 7 days in a week, we commit two days to their traditional schooling requirements. We are usually out and about in the afternoons of these days, as this helps the kids to clear their heads and burn off some energy. Liam may have some extra work to complete, and he usually commits to this during the evenings, after dinner and when we have down time. Travelling allows us to incorporate unschooling into their lives, and lets them focus on what they want to learn more about, and we are finding that the travelling community has helped in this area.
Liam has taught himself a lot about website design, drone flying, movie making, Photoshop and other editing software. Thank goodness, I have a background in relation to technology and can help him sometimes with what he wants to do. Otherwise, YouTube and Google are great ways to learn.
As Liam learns to use his new-found skills, he is finding that many in the travelling community are encouraging, supportive and even offer help to increase his skills and knowledge base. Part of his movie making and recording of our travels is also about learning about the area, from first explorers to native plants to current ecological issues.
Mia has taken a keen interest in Australian History, particularly Bush Rangers and Ned Kelly. She has read books, had me read her books, watch movies and spoken to people at length about the history of the bushranger. So much so, that she even convinced her teacher at school last year to change her English work so as she did a whole project on Australian Bushrangers. She did everything, from research and write about a few to writing and performing a song to building a bushranger’s camp.
Schooling doesn’t stop because we are living in a caravan and travelling. I think it is more concentrated, and many times you don’t realise they are learning until they say something out of the blue. Our favourite fact that Mia learnt early in our travels was: Why do Giraffes have blue tongues? A: To protect them from sunburn.