The world as a classroom
Many parents agree that an extended period of travel can provide a valuable learning tool for children of all ages. (Noel Hendrickson/Getty)
There was once a time when long-term travel was the preserve of gap year students, and grown-ups hung up their backpacks to “settle down” once children came along. But times are changing, and more families are taking a year or more to travel the world, during which their children engage in learning opportunities outside the bounds of the traditional classroom.
Many parents agree that an extended period of travel, with its exposure to myriad new cultures, playmates, experiences and languages, can provide a valuable learning tool for children of all ages. However, many also fear that removing them from a conventional educational setting might cause them to suffer academically or from the loss of structure that school provides.
So can a balance be achieved? There are a number of methods that parents can use to both satisfy their travel bug and keep their children’s education a priority along the way; make sure to check your local education regulations before embarking upon any of them.
A growing number of educators believe that educational content can now be delivered just as effectively outside a traditional classroom setting. Education pioneer Salman Khan’s acclaimed online Khan Academy, for instance, offers more than 4,000 instruction videos and practice exercises, ranging from simple addition to cosmology and microeconomics. Free of charge and accessible anywhere with an internet connection, Khan believes the strength in his lessons – which have easy-to-keep-track-of progress reports – lies in allowing students to learn at their own pace, rather than the “one size fits all” approach sometimes found in a conventional classroom.
The Khan model does not, however, embrace an entire traditional school curriculum. For this, online schools such as K12 and the highly selective Stanford University Online High School step in to provide children – unrestricted by their geographical location, nationality or citizenship – with complete, challenging content resulting in internationally recognised US qualifications, though make sure to research whether academic credits, report cards or transcripts are transferrable to your home country. Commanding fees as high as many conventional private institutions, these online schools believe they are not only matching, but sometimes surpassing regular schooling, with face-time online “classrooms”, highly individualised teaching and even active student clubs on offer.
A term most often used to describe parents teaching children at their kitchen table, many travelling parents these days opt to “homeschool” in the trains, planes and hotel rooms along their journey. Some create their own content from a combination of workbooks and online content (Mathletics is one popular tool that challenges kids to compete in mathematics competitions with peers around the world). Others take advantage of full curriculum packages such as those offered by Calvert School, a brick-and-mortar US school whose time-tested homeschooling branch has been dispensing curriculum to far-flung families (once largely missionaries and troops on overseas deployment) for more than a century. Though school materials may prove bulky for those travelling with just a backpack, curricula like Calvert’s, with its clear daily lesson plans and educational counsellors on hand, afford a consistent daily structure to the learning process, and ensure that no academic subjects slip through the cracks while off seeing the world.
“What children need,” said educator John Holt in 1969, “is not a new and better curriculum but access to more of the real world." Coined by Holt in the 1970s, “unschooling” puts less emphasis on traditional classroom curricula, and instead encourages children to learn in a self-directed manner, following their own curiosity as they navigate the world around them. Though critics argue that unschooling may leave children academically unprepared for the wider world, adherents believe children gain immeasurably from taking charge of their own education and pursuing their interests in as much depth as they desire. Plus, myriad online resources, such as the Freechild Project and the Online College’s 50 Best Blogs in the Unschooling Movement, and parenting groups including the Radical Unschoolers Network, help families who choose this method to feel well-supported.