We travel a lot & with two kids. The most common question people are asking is about them and their schooling approach. I must admit, that before the school age, we thought that the camping road trips will simply end when the kids begin to attend the first grade. And we would return back to traditional living. But, it didn’t happen! So let’s see what is possible to keep the rewarding lifestyle.
Majority of vanlife & overland travellers begin as single or in pairs. Family travels are way more complex in planning and in emotion waves, so to say. On the other hand, they are much more rewarding and there is way more fun to experience. We began travelling in the caravan when first daughter was 2 years old, and the second was 3 months old newborn.
Do we steal local friends from our kids?
Pretty common fear of people is, that we might take away friends and schoolmates of our kids when we travel with them and isolate them that way. Sure, we take them out of their communities for a few months a year, so they would not have a strong relationships with their mates as others. Still, they are not away for all the time, just for a few months in a given year. So for the remaining part of the year, they are in the school, with their friends and they do the same, what the kids of their age do too.
On the other hand, there is one significant question floating in the air. And that is, wether we should control & correct their course in this. Wether we should keep them in the local community and strengthen their relationships there, or we should rather show them the world and extend their ability to understand different cultures, languages and life situations. Therefor giving them a better kickstart for the coming adult life. Which is the better way? Will they thank us for the local or international approach? We don’t know and to be precise, nobody can know in advance. I personally know a guy who was homeschooled, and who travelled Europe with his parents, and he is now wealthy & well equipped investor, who remembers his childhood time with dignity and happiness.
I base my decisions on the trends I see around me and online. That the society is drifting away from being local, to becoming way more international. More people travel and therefor more people will need to be ready to understand cultures, timezones, lifestyles and values of other, way more different, people than those in our village.
If it was common, before we had cars, to travel in a perimeter of about tens of miles, now it is common to travel anywhere on the planet. And I feel like it is good to help our kids be ready for such a future. I want them to understand that there is not just Czech culture, as Ken Weary from Hotjar, who also travels with kids, mentions in his interview. He says, kids are better prepared overall — they are choosing better who is good to be friend with, they have broader view of the World, they can compare travellers with those kids that never crossed the borders of their country.
We ask our girls a lot too. Their opinion matters to us. We need to know to tell us, that they enjoy the travels as we do. So far, the experience is that their schoolmates miss our girls more than girls miss them. There is always something to do, something to learn on the road and in the far away places. We go to towns, we draw when it rains, we school them, they have a break when it fits. So they enjoy it, even that they enjoy the school at home as well.
Homeschooling is fine, unschooling is not allowed
Kids education at home does not have just a single form. No. There is traditional homeschooling as we know it, so teaching kids in one’s house or abroad. And where parents need to visit local school office to get approval for upcoming semester, by getting good enough to pass verification exams. Typically the families are diplomats, or stationary families working and living in a different country.
Then there is more radical form, called unschooling, where nobody really is teaching the kids. There is no plan, no schedule. Parents simply answer any questions the kids might have. And kids learn their way, choosing their pace. Some start earlier with something that we can call formal learning, some start later. It is up to them. Sounds cool? It might, but for example in Czechia unschooling is not allowed. Children need to attend at least some years to formal school, or at least pass the semestral exams.
On the other hand, in USA the education process is fully in hands of the parents, so if you would be considering this path, you’d need to register your kids in an US school first. And also, you’d need to prove, that you do not live in your, more strict country, for major part of the year. In Czechia, the limit is 3 months. From the unschooling approach, one might easily be doing worldschooling, which is unschooling, practised on the way.
We do live in Czechia, most of the year, and we are happy. Because there are more strict countries in Europe, such as Germany or Greece. Those two countries does not even allow homeschooling. In Germany, your kid, missing in the school, might even be taken by police to the school. So yeah, there are differences across the globe.
In most countries, the regulation is similar to that in Czechia. You are allowed to homeschool your kids once you, as a parent, have some degree yourself. Say high school or university, depending on which grade is your kid studying.
Would my kids be able to learn fast enough?
Our travels could look as a gorgeous vacation, lasting for several months. Well, we know how difficult the logistics can sometimes get. The fact is, that we do it mostly around the same schedule when we travel — five days of work plus two days of resting. Not necessarily strictly like that, but some 70% of time we work or do school, and the rest is exploration and playing. The benefit is, that new things are around the corner, not days away from place where we are at the moment.
Also, schooling works better & more efficiently than at home. There is one teacher for two students in the van. So the process is intense, there are not many school-related distractions by schoolmates, as well as no waiting for other students to finish a given task. The trade-off is that Renata, my wife, is spending significant part of the day as a teacher. So the money part of our life is more dependent on me.
What about a regular school day?
What we found out was, that education performs better when we don’t force it. When we go with the flow. Some days we have a whole day to do school, so we start after breakfast and finish with the dinner. And some days the kids (or parents) are simply tired and so they skip schooling even during the week.
That means we are sometimes behind, but overall we’re ahead of the school plan. So we leave the school, usually a little behind, and we return ready and better prepared than if the kids would stay at school for the whole year.
Sometimes girls like to read, sometimes they write — as some weeks they are more into some parts of the workbooks, some days into others. Based on experiences they had on the way. It does not balance itself, so we sometimes need to push even the non-favorite task to be finished, making it somehow attractive enough, or slice it into smaller chunks. And we try to explain the reasoning behind each lesson, instead of just saying to do this and that because we say so.
Constant fight with distractions — the most challenging part is to ignore the outside attractions, such as sunny beaches & unknown playgrounds, for the kids. We do all kinds of strategies to keep the girls focused. Usually they do school at the same time, so that they don’t feel like the one is missing something the other is experiencing. Or they need to do their activity so that the other one does not feel bad when learning.
We teach — read Renata does — our kids often and without much of a strict plan. Sometimes they are happy while learning, sometimes they hate it as we all do. So we give up for that hour, or that day. The best part of the concentration is definitely mornings. Still, some days end up not finishing a simple task trough the whole day and then we have school day even on Saturdays and Sundays.
Is the education system ok with all that?
When the girls were about to join the first grade of the school system, we examined all schools around our village. There were sport based schools s well as nice little gems, even in the state operated schools. In the end we found a well run private school for a pretty good monthly price. They follow the traditional schedule, but they skipped grades, they don’t motivate students to winning over others, and they simply edited what they are allowed by the federal regulations. It is a good school. They focus on social skills, they help the kids know the nature, by being one day a week outside in forrest or elsewhere and they do it in a friendly way.
According to a Czech law, whenever a teacher has a feeling that a kid is not doing well, is behind others, they might test them. The same applies when a student is out of school for longer periods of time, say months to whole years. Each student must be registered in a government approved school and either come on daily basis, or perform exams every semester. If the kids don’t come to the school every day, the parents take over the responsibility of teaching the kids so that they do well on the exams.
Real World & individual learning
The critical thing is to show your kids how to learn. How to do it the way they like, so that they want to get educated, they want to explore and see new things. That is a thing many European schools don’t really do well. We tend to overestimate history lessons & memory skills before logic, money skills and ability to adjust to reality of current world. That might be one of the reasons we ended up in a private school — where the philosophy is more in line with our, not so usual, lifestyle.
Blending education process into existing reality is the best approach. You simply use the beach, the city, the things around you to tell your kids a little bit of history, logic, language and they digest it in the most natural way. Sometimes we count trees or cars, sometimes we write words by chalks to an asphalt road, or we build castles or other objects in the sand.
So — is it good or bad?
I, myself, will be happy when our kids will live a happy life. What I experienced, for example in USA, was that even the common jobs can be loved. No matter if it is white collar or blue, no matter how hard it is. You can sell hot dogs at the corner and it can make you happier than say, being a Wall Street broker. And in the end, even the schooling time is time spent together with the kids, which most parents simply don’t have.
The problem could be, that I don’t know what our kids will like to do in their future. So we need to watch out for what they like, what they stick with and we must help them improve those skills by supporting them, by paying for courses, by helping them be better in that.
Freedom of the mind is more important than huge wealth or social status. Those values we cherish with my wife, where we know that freedom is not for free, does bring a huge happiness, a huge value to us. And we try to explain the inner workings of a man’s life to our kids, so they come to adulthood better prepared. We tell them that money play its role in life, but true happiness is coming from other direction. That there are types of jobs that simply does not allow people to travel much. That working means doing it in a way that gives you freedom. And we do all that over and over, hoping that our girls will live an even happier life than we do.
For sure the pre-school times were easier. Now, when our kids are in 2nd and 4th grade it becomes a little more complex and difficult to keep the pace. We need to force the kids a little more and sometimes give them awards or keep them focused even when they feel like playing would be much more beneficial for them.
Overall we are happy. The homeschooling approach takes about 2-3 hours a day and the rest we can explore nature, geography, cultures and such. In Greece we do more antique stuff, in Italy we talk about Christopher Columbus.
That short part of the year is way different to the rest of the school year, where the school does the job and we barely touch the education subjects at home. Which works well, as at home there is so much else to do, related to broader family, friends, house and all the local maintenance, that we don’t have much time to teach our kids much anyway.