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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)

"5 and a Half Days on the Ground"

Making the Most of My Friends' Visit - a Mini Vacation Peru Style

DSC_0368.jpgI still can't believe that Melissa and Lisa left their families and flew all this way to visit me in Peru! From the minute I received an email confirming their flight info, I saw the Cusco area in a different light. Putting back on my "North American glasses", I scoped out the really cool cafe's (with clean bathrooms), less crowded markets, and tourist sites.
I wanted them to love this place and to get a taste for our life here. I was giddy with the prospect of spending precious time with them. But how to make the most of their five and a half days??? In the end, I shouldn't have worried. These ladies know how to seize the day! I got to be part of a joyful three amigas celebrate Peru experience. Here is our story.

Day One -- Arrival and Visit to Pisac

Melissa and Lisa had a crazy long layover in Lima and arrived in Cusco at 6:30am. I met them at the airport and immediately whisked them off by taxi to Pisac (lower altitude). They were remarkably lucid, considering, and we managed to check into our hotel (the charming Pisac Inn) and seek out breakfast at "The Blue Llama". We even explored the market!
PISAC MARKET:DSC_0119.jpgDSC00118.jpgDSC00108.jpgDSC00059.jpgP1010007.jpgDSC_0136.jpgDSC_0137.jpgDinner at the Inn was lovely and then we crashed out pretty early.

Day Two -- Pisac, Ollantaymbo, and the Train to Machu Picchu

After enjoying breakfast in the sunshine and watching the vendors set up their booths (they assemble and break down the market EVERY day), we set out to explore the town. Although this was my fourth time in Pisac, I got to experience it (especially shopping) in a whole new light. We talked to local artists, purchased beautiful hand-made textiles (Melissa), found Peru soccer jerseys (for Lisa's boys), saw alpacas and guinea pigs in the local jewelry store . . . all before noon.

The Train!

In the early afternoon we headed to Ollantaytambo (train station for Machu Picchu) and boarded the Peru Rail Vistadome. We lucked out with the weather and got to enjoy the passing scenery and meet some of the other passengers. Melissa and Lisa took lots of photographs and we all enjoyed the ninety minute ride.IMG_1599.jpg9544BEAE2219AC6817B737AF6212249A.jpg
Our arrival at Aguas Calientes was a little hectic as we navigated through the crowds to our hostel, the eclectic and interesting "Gringo Bills" but we soon settled in to our triple room and happily connected to the wi-fi. DSC_0332.jpgDSC00628.jpgFinding a cool place for dinner was challenging because none of the restaurants we walked by really appealed to us. Thanks to Lisa and her handy guidebook, we decided to check out a place called "The Tree House" which was off the beaten track but got excellent reviews. What a find!! We got a table right away and had a delicious meal in a peaceful, lodge-like atmosphere.

Day Three -- Machu Picchu and Return to Cusco

The next morning we were up really early, left our bags at the hostel, and headed off to catch one of the buses up to Machu Picchu. DSC_0340.jpgDSC_0356.jpgDSC_0357.jpgWe arrived just a couple of minutes before the doors opened and got to experience the place "wake up". Here are just a few of the photographs we took in the first part of the morning:
After some exploring and more picture taking, Lisa headed off to "The Inka Bridge" while Melissa and I began our ascent of this "Big" mountain:DSC00438.jpgDSC_0421.jpg
Lisa had a great climb, ran into a pack of llamas, and took some amazing photos.
Melissa and I were glad we started early because we didn't have to contend with anyone coming down while we were going up. They only allow 400 people a day to make the climb and we were in the first group. It was a great hike! There were many stone steps to climb and lots of exploring to do near the top. Here are some photos:
IMG_1636.jpgJumping1.jpg Returning from our treks hot and hungry, we splurged on the buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge Hotel - Pisco sours too! Afterward we hired a guide to give us a tour of the ruins - he was great, and we learned a lot about Peruvian History and Culture. DSC_0613.jpgDSC00568.jpg270_DSC_0634.jpgDSC00492.jpgDSC_0661.jpg

Return to Cusco

Our return train trip was considerably more subdued considering the time spent in the sun and hiking around the ruins. We were thrilled to arrive in Cusco and check Melissa and Lisa into their fancy hotel, the Palacio Nazarenas. I returned to our apartment for the night and arranged to meet up for lunch the next day.

Day Four -- Cusco Exploring

We met the ladies at their hotel and got a tour. What an amazing place!! There is a reason the Palacio is a five star establishment! The reconstruction took years and the authentic details mix perfectly with luxury. They even have the only heated pool in Cusco! It was like stepping into a whole different world. This was not the Cusco we were used to - but the escape was awesome.DSC_0745.jpgDSC00756.jpgIMG_1643.jpgIMG_1644.jpgDSC_0709.jpgWe decided to check out the Museo Inka and had a great time exploring the many rooms of artifacts and the historical building itself. DSC_0713.jpgDSC_0754.jpgOf course Alex and Leah speed walked their way through with their sights set on lunch. We decided to head to a cafe near the Plaza de San Blas so Melissa and Lisa could see our apartment afterward.DSC_0776.jpgDSC00661.jpgDSC_0772.jpgDSC_0792.jpg
From there I packed my bag for a two night sleepover!! Leaving Noah and the kids to volunteer without me, I embraced my girlfriends luxury time wholeheartedly!! We decided to visit the cathedral and then enjoyed happy hour and people watching on the balcony of Norton's Pub. 3569C6482219AC6817458976DA9DF58E.jpgDSC00684.jpgDSC_0821.jpgNext thing we knew it was time to get ready for dinner.
We had a nice meal at "Incanto" (recommended by our trusty butler at the Palacio) right near the Plaza de Armas. Lisa was brave enough to order and eat the cuy! Melissa and I stuck with pasta dishes. We went for a post dinner swim in the amazing pool at the hotel and took loooooong baths/hot showers afterwards!!! What a day!

Day Five -- Lisa's Birthday and Carpe Diem

We were served a multi-course poolside breakfast including fresh fruit and fruit juice, coffee, cheese, bread, meat tray, and eggs made to order. The whole staff sang to Lisa and presented her with a special Birthday treat. DSC_0715.jpgDSC_0842.jpg3563297D2219AC681722DFE40412DE84.jpg
As a special treat, we all visited the hotel spa. Lisa and Melissa both had massages and I had a manicure AND pedicure (much needed). The room for massages had authentic Inka waterways running through it. Here is a photo: DSC_0858.jpg
It felt great to be able to chat in Spanish for an hour with my manicurist. 90_DSC_0885.jpg90_DSC_0873.jpgFresh from our relaxing morning, we set off on a shopping mission. We got treated to a local lantern parade, my kids came over for an early evening swim, and we all went out for a Birthday Happy Hour at "Fallen Angel". The table that was a bathtub with real fish in it was awesome!DSC_0893.jpgDSC_0908.jpgP1010083.jpgDSC_0902.jpg. Dinner saw the three of us enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel restaurant with a bit too much complimentary Birthday champagne. A great day all around!

Day Six -- Fond Farewells

Too soon I had to say goodbye as my friends headed back to their homes. Five and a half days wasn't nearly enough time - but I am grateful for every minute!

Posted by annevl 18:49 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains animals food accommodation peru hotel train shopping museum friends cusco pisac machu_pichhu Comments (1)

Favorite Places in Cusco, Perú (by Alex)

A 12-year old Boy's Perspective

semi-overcast 65 °F

Hi, This Is Alex, And These Are Some Of My Favorite Places In Cusco!

The Meeting Place Cafe

The Meeting Place is my all-time favorite place to get breakfast in Cusco. EVER. The waffles are amazing! They also have delicious cakes and awesome cupcakes.P1010065.jpgP1010067.jpg A cat lives at the The Meeting Place too. Her name is Socks. She likes to snuggle up on the furniture and in people's laps.
P1010071.jpgYou Should Definitely Go There!!!


CORASON is where we have been volunteering. It is an after-school program for kids in Cusco. Some of the kids are really little, a few are older than me, and lots in between. Club CORASON is a very cool place on the side of a mountain. Kids go there to hang out after school because it is safe and has games and activities.

This week Leah and I helped mom teach an English lesson. They are learning about different jobs and this week was waiter/waitress. We wrote a script and acted out a skit for the class. We did it twice so they really got to hear the words and then they did an activity with mom.

The club is a charity connected with "The Meeting Place Cafe" which is how we found out about it. We pretty much get to play the entire time and there are lots of dogs hanging around. The kids are all really nice, even though half of them act like they just had a bucket of sugar :P

South American Explorers Club (SAE)

SAE Is the place where we're staying for the rest of our time in Cusco. We Have been staying here for more than 2 months! I really like it here. We bought extra mattresses so that we could all sleep in one room. The shower is usually hot and doesn't give us an electrical shock - yippee! They have very nice rooms, a cool garden, a big library, DVDs, and a kitchen! (My moms favorite part). Im really glad we are staying here, and I'm going to be sad when we leave :(

Cusco is great. I hope you get a chance to visit here!

Posted by annevl 09:54 Archived in Peru Tagged peru kids spanish family dogs volunteering accommodations cusco waffles Comments (6)

Cool Animals!

Leah's Story and Pictures of Animals We have Met in Peru


First of all, this is Leah and I LOVE animals!
One of the best things about being in Peru is that there are animals everywhere! Here are a few of my favorites.

Mr. Gibbs the Bunny

I met Mr. Gibbs at our very first hostal in Cusco. The owner told me that he was named by her daughter for one of the sailors in "Pirates of the Caribbean". My Gibbs was a playful rabbit and totally fine sitting on our laps. There was a garden in the courtyard and Mr. Gibbs liked to go there and eat the plants. I wish I could visit him again.

Socks the Cat

Socks is an interesting cat. She has mysterious patterns on his fur and sometimes knocks things over. Socks lives at a cafe called "The Meeting Place" where she likes to hang out with people and take naps. Socks gets mad when a dog comes inside. I like Socks because whenever she sees us he runs over to welcome us. She likes being curled up on a lap and has a great puuurr.

Mattias the Dalmation

Mattias is a really crazy dog! He belonged to the family we stayed with for a month. He hated fireworks and would do anything to get into our room if he was scared. He liked to jump up on our bed and on people. His hair got on all our clothes! There was a baby gate so that he couldn't get into the kitchen or living room. Zillah is way better behaved but it was nice to have a dog in the house. Mattias was certainly entertaining!
As a thank you and parting gift, we bought Mattias a new ball. I think he liked it a lot! Here is a video.

Federico the Flightless Parrot

On our trek to Machu Picchu we stayed with a family in the Jungle and met Federico. You have to be careful with him since he likes to nibble on your fingers and has a sharp beak. He is also very loud when he squawks. It was fun to hold him. He treated my finger like a tree branch.

Llamas etc.

We have seen lots of llamas and alpacas, sheep, cows, chickens, guinea pigs, and horses as well. Here are a few pictures.

We See Dogs Every Day


Thanks for reading my story about animals!

Posted by annevl 01:17 Archived in Peru Tagged animals peru kids dogs cusco Comments (7)

A Day in Our Life

A Glimpse at What We Do and Experience During a Typical Cusco Day

It has been a month since we first arrived in Peru - a month packed with new sights, sounds, experiences, and learning for us. Each day continues to provide unique moments and discoveries but we are also striving for some sense of normal. I can't promise you exciting - but here is a snapshot of a day in our life.

Good Morning!!!

On weekdays we wake around 7:00am, get dressed, use the munchkin bathroom etc. Showers are especially exciting. There is an electrical heating unit in the shower head that provides between 4 and 7 minutes of warmish water - depending on the strength of the pressure. We found that if you touch the knob with wet hands you get an electric shock. We now keep a dry washcloth nearby to use, much like an oven mitt.
Alex and Leah are not always super excited to get out of bed (it IS cold in their room). Note: there ARE 2 beds . . .


No surprises here. Breakfast is our most predictable meal. It looks exactly like this every day:
Our host family provides rolls, jelly, margarine, manjarblanco spread (toffee flavored), juice, tea, and coffee. We have bought ham, eggs, and yogurt to add to the selection. Gluten free eating is very difficult here - white carbs (potatoes, rice and bread) are an integral part of most meals.

On Our Way

By 8:10am we are out the door and looking to catch the eye of an approaching taxi driver. With Noah in the front of the taxi and the kids and I in the back, we embark on the 10-15 minute ride to school. As our Spanish improves, so does our conversations with taxi drivers. They are always surprised that we are staying in Peru for more than a couple of weeks and that we have not been to Machu Picchu. We have yet to meet a driver who has heard of Seattle - but there is always tomorrow. The rules of the road are still somewhat of a mystery - we only know that they involve invented lanes of traffic, horn blowing, and no turn signals. The trip costs 4 soles ($1) and saves us 45 minutes of walking uphill through the fumes of the morning commute.


There is a lovely view of Cusco from our classroom window. Classes begin at 8:30am. Noah and I are enrolled in group classes. The school is international but our current group includes fellow American Gabby (high school student from New Orleans) and Andrew (professor at UPenn). We are with one teacher 8:30am -10:20am and another from 10:50am -12:30pm. Lessons are a mix of grammar and conversation with some peruvian culture and history thrown in as well. Class begins with a review of the homework and questions from the previous day. New material is introduced and we have reading, writing and speaking activities.
Alex and Leah have a teacher to themselves and are in class from 8:30am -10:20am. They really like profesoro Alfredo who makes balloon animals, does card tricks, and keeps them learning Spanish. Noah and I meet them at the break and share a snack. They are then given either a math or writing assignment for the remaining time while we return to class.


After classes our first priority is finding a place to eat. Our family home is too far away and the school serves lunch only to residents - so we are on our own. There are at least 30 cafes to choose from within a couple of blocks. We've discovered that our best value option (besides Chinese food) is to find a good menu of the day.
At this cafe we each got fried wantons and a big bowl of soup as an appetizer, a main dish, a drink, and fruit salad for dessert. Total bill for 4 =40 soles ($16) - YUM!

Homeward Bound

At about 2 or 2:30pm we head out in the general direction of home. Any walk in Cusco involves at least a few stairs . . .
and diversions . . .
We usually stop at a market to pick up more water and/or other essentials. This one is our favorite because it is well lit, inexpensive, and close to our host family's apartment.

Afternoon & Evening

By the time we get back we are quite tired and tend to relax for the first hour or so. We check email and facebook, do our Spanish homework, watch the Olympics, read, etc. The four of us tend to hang out in one room (the warmest). Here is my view:
Dinner is served by our host mom between 6:30 and 7:30pm. After dinner we get organized for the next day, read, play a game, or choose a movie to watch as a family. Bedtime is around 9:30pm - which is quite early by South American standards but works for us. Ah, sleep . . .

Thanks for reading!
All the Best,

Posted by annevl 15:29 Archived in Peru Tagged food peru kids spanish school budget cusco Comments (7)

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