A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about education

World Schooling -- The Messy Truth

What Did We REALLY Learn "On The Road"


What Did World Schooling Look Like For Our Family?

I started writing this entry when we were at the start of our travels. I'm glad I didn't publish it because I've just gone back and deleted most of what I wrote. I imagined myself fitting in a relevant homeschool curriculum as part of our journey. I had some good plans, excellent math materials, suggested books, journal prompts. . . I am a teacher by trade after all. Look how neat my early "lessons" were with the kids.


Shift Happens

Do you believe that certain people walk into your life at a certain moment for a reason? I do. For us, they were Lainie and Miro. Six weeks into our trip a mom and her 13-year-old son strolled into South American Explorers Club in Cusco, Peru. Always on the lookout for playmates for our kids, Noah noticed them in the courtyard. He thought the boy looked familiar so he went up to him and asked if he was Miro from one of the travel blogs we followed.

Why yes! Turns out they had recently arrived in Cusco and were renting an apartment only a few blocks away. The two of them had been traveling for the past 3 years together. The kids hit it off right away while I peppered Lainie with a barrage of “How do you . . . .?” questions. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her “unschooling” approach to education. I had never even heard of unschooling, but she seemed happy and Miro an articulate, smart, thoughtful, well adjusted kid.

We were lucky enough to spend time together and we engaged in a number of subsequent adventures and conversations during the next two months. Getting to know people who truly live life to the fullest and trust themselves gave us confidence to do the same. Lainie's advice was a gift. The hardest to follow, “Let it go”.

I am thrilled to say that we did let it go. I use the word "messy" in the title not as a negative but as an apt description of what we found ourselves embracing in a real world environment. As Miss Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus" always says, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

Moving forward we decided to make the world our classroom instead of imposing some kind of classroom on the road.


Classes in our Unconventional Syllabus:


Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins.
– Cheyenne Teaching

The driving force behind our exit from the predictability and comfort of our “normal life” was the pursuit of perspective. Of course we were excited to see the world, but the specific places and experiences we chose were secondary. Looking back, it was the being away more than anything else that drove our learning. While traveling, our ever changing “normal” pushed us to prioritize and truly live in the moment. Our learning was often uncomfortable but unquestionably authentic.

Certain places naturally instilled perspective. In Mongolia we spent two weeks living with local nomadic families. On two occasions we had to drive around to try and find these families, since they had recently moved. There are miles and miles of literally wide-open spaces, no roads, or electricity, or fresh produce . . . The vastness of the land itself was humbling.

Every morning the entire Mongolian family would wake early and set to work caring for the animals, chopping wood, collecting water, and preparing food. The children were an integral part of family life and had specific and important responsibilities. Watching these small kids milking goats and carrying firewood (all with smiles on their faces) reminded us of the expectations we set for our own kids. In most of the places we visited, children had similar roles. This was something of a wake up call for Alex and Leah. Did they really used to complain about taking out the garbage once a week?


It is impossible not to notice that many people live happily with very few material possessions. We had some great conversations as a family about the nature of happiness, and work, and communities. Before this trip we knew in theory that most other people in the world did not share our lifestyle, but the opportunity to experience that reality first hand was priceless.


It is a happy talent to know how to play. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Our extended time together gave us daily opportunities for play. We carried a deck of cards everywhere, got into pillow fights, raced, had spontaneous dance parties, made up outrageous stories while people-watching, splashed in the waves, practiced hand stands in the pool, skipped stones, engaged in epic "Apples to Apples" games, took over fooz ball tables, jumped into soccer games, threw the frisbee . . . you get the idea.

I have always believed that children (all people, really) learn and grow naturally through play. I know some wonderful teachers who manage to engage their students in learning without making it all about "work". However, as children get older, the time allowed for unstructured play tends to shrink dramatically. The nature of our trip and our daily lives managed in many ways set us free of the "fit it in" lifestyle - and we reaffirm that play, work, and learning are far from mutually exclusive.

Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn. -- O. Fred Donaldson

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Communication becomes a REALLY BIG DEAL when you are traveling. Encountering new people and situations can be stressful - not to mention the importance of our family all being on the same page.

We started our trip in South America because I wanted for us to spend time living there and learning the language. Our first few weeks were really hard because sorting out the most basic daily tasks involved using our very beginning Spanish. We lived with a family for a month to avoid the temptations of seeking out other gringoes, and soon learned enough to read important signs, converse with taxi drivers, order from a menu, and arrange for laundry. The kids picked up many phrases and expressions that were NOT taught in our seven weeks of classes.


Living in Peru and interacting with the community in Cusco was by far the best natural teacher. We decided to volunteer two days a week at an after school program. We learned specific language skills while volunteering because we were in charge of a large group of children. Important statements such as: siéntate! (sit down!) tranquilo!(quiet!) despacio! (slow down!) dame eso! (give me that!) buen trabajo (great job!) maravilloso! (wonderful!) will stay with us! Both Alex and Leah were involved in teaching our English lessons and helped write and execute our bi-weekly plans. The local kids adored them and it was an even bigger learning experience for our kids to be in the teacher role.


Talking to Each Other
When we left Cusco after four months and continued to travel for another six weeks in South America it was with considerably more confidence than when we arrived. Our family communication continued to improve as well. There is nothing like sharing a single room to ensure the hammering out of misunderstandings in a timely manner. We had family meetings when there was a specific upcoming event or situation to discuss but we found that more often than not there is nothing competing with opportunities to talk - so we just did. I can't remember another time when I've had the luxury of listening to the long version of Alex or Leah's dreams on a random Tuesday morning. We continued to stay focused on trying to give each other affirmations and stayed away from the negative as much as possible. There were still challenging moments and personality style issues, but overall we found our groove.



“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.”
― George Bernard Shaw


We asked a great deal from our kids, and they delivered. Oh sure, there was some complaining and eye rolling for sure - but when it counted they rose to the occasion. Admittedly, sometimes it takes other people to point out that our kids are cool and that we aren't crazy parents. Along our journey we have been blessed by meeting people who change our perspective and inspire us. We met Jessica during our trek in Torres del Paine and she wrote a great blog post about her adventure and even mentions meeting us as a highlight. The post is HERE and well worth reading. Here is a short excerpt about us:

"My favorite encounter by far was with the Van Loens. Alex,12 and Leah, 10 are two of the most well behaved and good spirited kids I have ever met. They're out here trekking with the best of us, enduring rain, cold, wind, and never once complaining. I doubt they realize it now, but they are the two luckiest people in the park. This is my favorite part about traveling; these encounters with people who truly stimulate the imagination and demonstrate what is takes to turn dreams into reality. The Van Loen's are proof that life is what you make it- the world is their playground and their classroom, and home is where the heart is."


As expected, we faced some hardships as we traveled. I won't chronicle them here - that would be a post in itself! I do know that with every night spent sleeping on the floor, encounter with strangers, longer than expected hike, or mysterious food item - we have grown. My worrying child now has lots of examples of how she made it through. We found that laughing about what seemed so dark at the time moved the incident quickly into part of family lore. For us, newfound resilience and confidence have come from dealing with disappointment, overcoming obstacles, and finding the joy (or at least the humor) in each day.


"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." - Thornton Wilder

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People are our treasures. We have been blessed by both the support of friends and family at home and by the generosity of new friends we have met during our journey. The willingness of others to take us in to their homes and hearts has been humbling and inspiring.


Did we learn any Math or Science or Writing skills? Absolutely! Was it what they would learned if we had stayed at home? No way! We are grateful that we had the freedom to teach our own kids by taking them out of school. We discovered that this is a privilege not afforded to most families around the world. Yes, it was messy, but we wouldn't change it for the world.


Posted by annevl 11:46 Tagged education peru kids family teaching world_trip writing homeschooling home_school Comments (12)

Kid Interviews III

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Alex and Leah Interview Each Other About their Experiences at The Elephant Nature Park
(May 6-19, 2013)

" When I went to the zoo and saw an elephant I was like, I will never be close to an elephant, I'll never feed an elephant, I'll never pet an elephant, I'll never wash an elephant. Now I have and it is really really cool" - Alex

"Sitting in the shade you are still sweating!" - Leah

"The first time I took a cucumber and stuck it on a elephant's trunk and then she ate it - I was just like - I FED AN ELEPHANT! It was magical!" - Alex

"I like Jokia, one of the blind elephants . . . she is really gentle . . . When Jokia first came to the sanctuary another elephant (Mae Perm) went to help her. It's like the other elephant is her eyes, helping her. They are always together and never leave each other. They are best friends forever." - Leah


You can learn more about the elephants in the ENP herd, and How You Can Help.
Be Sure to "Like" Save Elephant Foundation on Facebook!


We have a hard time imagining how our remaining adventures will top this one!

Posted by annevl 20:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged nature education elephant thailand kids world family school volunteer video interview homeschool Comments (3)

Selective Memory: What Will Our Kids Remember?

There Was This Adorable Puppy at Some Temple . . .


Eye Witness Testimony

Eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable. If you talk to ten people who were all present at the same event, chances are no two versions will be identical. As time passes the recounting tends to take on even more of the personality of the teller. I have found that individuals notice different things and take away with them distinct feelings and impressions. This is certainly true for our family.

As four eye witnesses to the same world travel experience, you would need to talk to all of us in order to piece together the real story. Combining our individual memories is like layering transparent images on top of each other. Each sheet can stand alone, but the layered image has a depth and flavor that speaks to the bonds forged by shared experience.

Keeping it Real

There are times when I am listening to my kids describe their version of a shared family experience that doesn't come close to jogging my own memory, although I KNOW we were there together! As adults I think we sometimes pick and choose what we remember - filtering out the more unpleasant aspects. Our tween and teenager apply no such filter, so traveling with them full time absolutely keeps it real.

For Example:
Adult - Remember when we were driving from De Nang to Hoi An and first saw the swarms of motorbikes?
Child - Yeah! That driver had the worst BO ever!

Adult - Wasn't it amazing spending the day learning to weave with that family in Chinchero?
Child - Guess so. It was hot and there was no bathroom.

Unique Perspectives


Leah (age 11) is our intuitive nature girl. She is an experiential learner who cares about animals and identifies places we have been based on the creatures we encountered there. Leah is also part fish and is her absolute happiest in the water. Her memories will most likely be strongest for experiences involving one or both of these factors.

Leah's compassion for animals can make an experience wonderfully enriching or terribly upsetting. When we did a farm stay in New Zealand she woke early every day so she could help milk the goats and feed the chickens. She was perfectly happy and by the end of the week she knew all their names and personalities. In Burma, on the other hand, she spent an entire day on the verge of tears after seeing caged baby owls. We couldn't console her and it really didn't matter what other cool things we did that day - the poor baby owls will be what she remembers.

I see Leah taking what she has seen and learned in the world and becoming something of an activist. She has grown in confidence and is much less afraid to share her opinions with others. After spending two weeks volunteering with elephants and dogs at Elephant Nature Park, she will never let us buy a dog from a breeder, attend a circus, or ride a "trekking" elephant.


Alex (age 13) is our fearless hands-on boy. He wants the chance to master the ropes course, brave the rapids, jump waves, ride a camel, and drive a scooter (we said "NO" to that one). For him, participating in activities (he has been LOVING cooking classes) and the added freedom of a travel lifestyle makes the temple and market visits bearable.

He also thrives on sharing facts with us, for example:

  • "Did you know that in New Zealand the bat is the only known native land mammal?"
  • "Peru has over 3000 different types of potatoes!"
  • "You know, the Great Wall of China really CAN'T be seen from space. China probably made that up."

We aren't exactly sure where he picks these up since he rarely seems to be paying attention - but there are many more where those came from...and he is entertaining.

Alex will probably remember experiences with a few place names thrown in for good measure. I imagine him describing our "big trip" in a list form, like a brochure.

Holding on to Memories

Memories you capture on purpose are always more vivid than the ones you pick up by accident.
- Isaac Marion

As we travel we find ourselves trying to do four things at once:

  • Live in the Moment
  • Share our Experiences
  • Plan the Next Step
  • Keep Memories Alive

The last one is the most likely to get pushed off the agenda, especially during busy times. So, here are some ways we have been attempting to capture our experiences for the future.



A good snapshot keeps a memory from running away.
- Eudora Welty

We travel with two water-proof shock-proof cameras and two iPhones. Needless to say, we take lots of pictures.

Whenever possible we hand off the cameras to the kids and let them chose their subjects. Each of them brings a perspective that is a joy to see and their photos reflect their personalities and vision. Leah's photos are usually of animals, interesting artwork, or nature. Alex takes wonderful landscape shots and videos of himself jumping off boats, waterfalls, etc. Can you guess who the photographer was for each of these shots?

For us, the challenge with photos isn't taking them. It is managing them. We may have 4 cameras, but only one computer. Uploading, editing, and organizing photos is no small task and grows more daunting if it is put off for a few weeks.

One thing we found that really helps make the process smoother is making sure each camera is set for the correct date and time. iPhoto automatically groups photos into "events" based on date and we can then add a specific tag describing that group of photos. One of us then goes through the photos, picks the a selection, and exports them to a desktop folder. From there we upload to Facebook, Shutterfly and our Travellerspoint blog photo gallery.

When we have a chance for a little down time and internet connectivity, I put together photo books on Shutterfly. Then when there is a sale I order a few shipped to my parents. Of course there is a major time delay -I just put a book together of photos from December - but It feels good knowing that we have some physical reminder of our experiences. It will be especially lovely to look through them when we return.

We're also looking forward to an experiment that we're going to make using YearlyLeaf to convert our Facebook page into a physical book. That should be a fun way to keep the memories alive...


My original idea was to have the four of us keep written journals describing our daily life as we travelled. We chose notebooks together and set aside time when we would all write. I have to admit that it just didn't fly. Each writing time would leave us frustrated and angry at each other. I would never even get a chance to write anything because I would be nagging the kids the whole time.

Taking a step back, we decided that if the primary goal of keeping journals was to allow the kids to practice expressing themselves, we could try something different. Introducing - Video Journals!

Alex and Leah work together to come up with a basic script, practice, and then ACTION!
The result is an authentic capturing of their personalities and insight into a specific place and time.


By sharing our trip in "real time" with family and friends we are also helping to preserve memories. Both children contribute to our blog entries and often help choose our Facebook updates. True to form, Leah wrote "Cool Animals" and Alex, "Favorite Places"
One of my favorite blog entries was a family writing project about our trek to Machu Picchu. Keeping current on the blog is not always possible and we'll have some catching up to do on a number of places and topics we keep meaning to write about!

What Will We Remember?

Our individual memories may indeed be selective, and we will each walk away changed in different ways. However, we have done this together and together we will treasure our long lasting family memories.



This post was written as part of group writing project on the subject of what our kids may remember and take away from the long term travel experience.

Check out these fabulous posts by other traveling families of all shapes and sizes!

Nancy from Family on Bikes

Catherine Forest from Catherine et les fées

Alisa from Living Outside of the Box

Melissa from Break Out of Bushwick

Bethaney from Flashpacker Family

Jenn Miller from Edventure Project

Heather Costaras from Living Differently

Kalli from Portable Professionals

Kirsty from Barts go Adventuring

Sharon from Where's Sharon

Lainie from Raising Miro on the Road of Life (and Aimee from Suitcases and Strollers)

Nichola from We Travel Countries

CoreyAnn Khan from Adventure Bee

Tracey from The Expat Experience

Mary from Bohemian Travelers

Kris from Simon Says

Posted by annevl 17:14 Tagged dog education elephant family volunteering teaching memories family_travel homeschool worldschool Comments (7)

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